A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters
Author: Steven C. Hayes
Publisher: Avery, psychology
There’s good reason that our human species has prevailed so impressively, and for longer, over any other: Our capacity for language has enabled us to advance in ways our ancestors could scarcely imagine.
From the advancements of medicine to the invention of the Internet, the words of Shakespeare to the music of the Beatles, the ability to communicate and cooperate with each other has led to an existence rich in wonder, innovation, and beauty.
And yet, just as our capacity for language has lifted us to great heights, many people today experience its power to drag us to the depths of despair, anxiety, and depression. Our minds can be our worst enemy as much as our best friend.
Research into “mind-wandering” has shown that, on average, our minds wander into the past or future almost half of our waking hours. Some studies suggest we can be anywhere but in the present for up to 90% of the time.
Squeezing out the present comes at a huge emotional cost, and it’s a habit so deeply ingrained in us that we have to literally learn to live in the present.
In his latest book, A Liberated Mind: How To Pivot Toward What Matters, psychology professor Steven C. Hayes (see interview here) delivers an engaging presentation of his life’s work developing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and how we can apply its principles to quieten the “dictator within”.
Prof Hayes uses this term to describe the inner voice we all have that constantly tells us how we should be, how we should feel, and reminding us that we’ll never be as good as those we constantly compare ourselves to.
Prof Hayes – who’s spent the past 40 years researching and simplifying ACT for use in therapy and as a self-help tool – writes a great deal about his own struggles from his time as a young academic as he struggled with anxiety and panic attacks.
As he says in the book, our coping strategies (ie, to run from our suffering) seems like the logical response to our psychological struggles. The trouble is, the more we try to run, the worse our suffering becomes.
He writes, “We fall into patterns of psychological rigidity, where we try to run from or fight off the mental challenges we face, and we disappear into rumination, worry, distraction, self-stimulation, work without end, or other forms of mindlessness, all in the attempt to evade the pain we’re feeling.”
The answer to alleviating our suffering lies not in running away or distracting ourselves, but rather to “let go of finding a way out and instead pivot toward finding a way in” to whatever troubles us.
It might feel counterintuitive – who in their right mind would want to stay with their suffering? – and yet, wisdom traditions and psychological research alike point to this approach of leaning in and understanding our suffering as the most effective way to deal with it.
A Liberated Mind offers readers a rich blend of accessible research describing why our minds work in the way they do, personal anecdotes and insights from Prof Hayes on how he learned to deal with anxiety, and practical guidance on how we can use evidence-based techniques to handle challenges ranging from chronic physical pain to dealing with the loss of a loved one.
As a respected psychologist for over 40 years, Prof Hayes has shown that when we develop psychological flexibility – when we open up to our experiences and become present to our suffering – we are able to enjoy a purposeful and meaningful life, even when we’re dealing with hardship and sorrows.