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No Fear: How Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Can Change You, with Dr. Steven Hayes

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Our nervous system doesn’t come with a delete button, therefore the triggers for our emotional reactions won’t just go away, making it crucial for us to find healthy ways to process emotional triggers. In this episode of the podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are joined by clinical psychologist Dr. Steven Hayes for a discussion on exactly how to do this. Through the use of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), we can help our brains to react more positively when trouble arises.

For more info on Dr. Hayes book, visit https://www.amazon.com/Liberated-Mind-Pivot-Toward-Matters/dp/073521400X

Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome to The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I’m I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.

Welcome back. We are still here with Dr. Steven Hayes, and we are talking about his book, “The Liberated Mind”, and ACT therapy, which I think is so interesting, Acceptance and commitment therapy. So, welcome back, Dr. Hayes.

We are going to talk about practical applications of ACT therapy in this session, and you can tell our listeners what they can do to get unstuck from some of their thoughts.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

Yeah, I was giving some examples in the previous section of sort of, little techniques that’ll help you notice your thoughts in the present. But it’s not an end in itself. You have to be careful not to think that you’re going to distract, diminish. There’s no delete button in the nervous system, and you’re adding to it. It’s a sort of brain injury.

So, you’re going to carry your history with you. That’s the kind of creature we are. And then, language increases that. I could ask you right now to think of something that’s shameful or painful, or a betrayal that’s happened in your life, and just, it flares right in, into this conversation, just because an old bald guy made sounds.

And so, that’s how far away you are from any part of your painful history. And so, when you put the mind on a leash with some of these diffusion methods, it isn’t to distract or eliminate. It’s to give you the flexibility to attract yourself with what’s important. But you need to take on the emotional piece.

So, the next thing I would put in that practical thing is, learning to open up to what your emotions are giving you, and especially to get more, then, centered in the present. And then, we’re doing the things that people listening probably know about, these kind of and mindfulness work.

But I think we can do really simple things. I’ll give you an example. The follow the breath methods that so many of us use and oriented meditation. Here’s one that’s come out more recently that I really like, because you can do it with children, and you can do it while you’re doing anything. You can even do it while you’re talking, which is hard to do when you’re following the breath.

Which is, become aware of the soles of your feet, and to focus just on one foot. And then after awhile, focus just on the other foot. And then after awhile, focus on both feet. That intervention, Nirbhay Singh was the editor of the journal Mindfulness, came up with it. An old behavior analyst, actually, so it came out of the behavioral therapy tradition has been shown with children, for example, to reduce conflict on the school yard and stuff, where people are, “You’re dissing me.” And getting into fights and quarrels.

You know, like 50 percent reductions with these tiny mindfulness interventions that just encourage you to have your attention under control where you can either shift or stay, broaden or narrow. If you learn to do that, then when the scary thought shows up, you can respectfully decline the invitation of your mind to focus on it. But you’re not distracting.

Because distracting is like a bad cell phone commercial. Is it gone yet? Is it gone yet? Is it gone yet? Every single time you ask that question, you just created another neuro biological pathway from this moment to that very core.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

And so instead, move your focus towards what’s here and now, and what really brings meaning and purpose into your life, which is the next flexibility process that follows.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I love that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So say that again, when a scary thought shows up …

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

You want to attract, distract?

Dr. Steven Hayes:

Well, I’m asking you to also then, look for the emotions that show up, the bodily sensations that show up, and then to bring that into present moment focus by working on your attentional skills. I give you an example of soles of your feet.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah, I love that.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

And then, bringing that back to difficult emotions or thoughts, use those emotional skills. These kind of meta-cognitive skills, to notice the thought or notice the feeling. Take what’s useful, leave the rest. But not as a matter of subtraction or elimination.

As soon as you’re thinking that what you need to do is diminish, subtract, or eliminate, you are inviting this new kid on the block that’s only been around a couple hundred thousand, a couple million years … We know that the language-trained chimps don’t do it. Your 12 month old baby does, that leads to symbolic language. So, it’s very recent. You’re actually sort of fighting it, because you’re taking that new tool and you’re saying, “I need to get rid of this. I need to get rid of this.”

If I gave you the sense of, my life’s not going to open up until I get rid of, and fill in the blank. And if you find something that’s in your psychology … Maybe until I get rid of poverty, until I get rid of this physical illness, I get it. Until I get rid of this thought, but you just created a pathway to that thought.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right, it’s almost like saying don’t think of the color blue.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

Yeah.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

It’s like, if you just automatically think of the color blue.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

You’re right on the edge of thought suppression, which is just a horror. And yet, it seems so logical. Who wouldn’t, like for example, let’s say you want to be confident, who wouldn’t want to get rid of thoughts that you’re not good enough, feelings that you’re not good enough, right? And yet, confidence means the word, originally, con, with, fidence, the same as the word fidelity, and the root in Latin, fides means faith.

So, here you’re doing the things that is with the least amount of faith you can have, “I got to change. I got to eliminate. I got to be different before I can start living.” You couldn’t get more non-faithful to yourself than that.

You’re saying, “I have to start from where I’m not.” Good luck with that.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Wow.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

What would it be like instead, if you made that leap of faith, and opened up to your history that’s coming to the present without being entangled with it, without running from it. Noticing it, learning, focusing, and doing. And that shift will open up your life. So, it’s a complicated set of dance moves, kind of. But it’s a very small set. So, you could learn those dance moves. You learn how to put together several things in one integrated thing.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I think that’s so interesting, confidence is really the ability to move with faith in yourself. I love that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So, I was on CNN last week because of election anxiety.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

Yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And it’s so high.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And now, hopefully, by the time we release this, we’ll know who won and … But yeah, there’s a whole bunch of people who are struggling with anger, with frustration …

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Acceptance.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… with acceptance. How can ACT help them?

Dr. Steven Hayes:

Well, here’s one thing. Let’s just take the painful part, the acceptance. The root word of acceptance, that cepteri part, is the Latin word that meant to receive, as if to receive a gift.

And so, I’m not talking about tolerance, resignation, I have to put up with it. It’s more like what’s still in English where you’re giving something precious to someone, you say, “Here, would you accept this?” And you’re asking for the person to willingly take the gift.

So, these are painful gifts. But if we willingly take it in, you know, what does this election teach us about who we are, what our values are, where we’re up to about community, cooperation, connection, respect of taking, anyone looking what’s going on politically knows that this is not going to be solved with a left or the right winning.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

No.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

We have a group problem. We have a “me” problem. And it starts with the “me” problem.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I love that.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

When we enter into, “They’re not smart enough, something’s wrong with them,” whether you do it from the right or left doesn’t matter, because you start objectifying, dehumanizing. Do you know, hate towards others has gone up in the last 15 years.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

And it isn’t just the recent administration. It’s been going on.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

No, right.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

And I think it’s because we’re living in the modern world, where we’re just hit with so much diversity, that the tribal primates that we are, that grew up with we, meaning just our mates, and they … which is part of why we learned how to speak, I think this is an extension of cooperation, what you and I are doing right now. But, and it allowed us to compete and ban some troops. So there’s a lot of folks that think cooperation came from that.

But now, the we is all of us. And boy, take something like COVID. You know, if your neighbor, who may have a different political point of view, gets ill, that’s a threat to you. If your neighbor doesn’t have health insurance, that’s a threat to you. If something’s going on in Africa, that then will get on the plane and go to Europe and then, come to the U.S., that’s a threat to you.

And so, climate change, immigration, what this is is the “we-ness” of the modern world is having to come in, and these kind of processes that are ancient, that are about me and our little group in competition, have to expand out towards all of us.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right, become more global, too.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

Oh, it’s so hard. Coming back to the point, I would walk into the pain of this process, and then see, is there anything inside the pain of this that we can learn and use, that I could bring into my personal life, into my family, my community, my business, my city, the nation, the world.

And I’ll suggest one, which is how do we cooperate? How do we learn to listen? How can we share? How can we deal with difference? And when you’re in a world where the person next to you might be on a prayer rug, then you’ve never seen anybody on a prayer rug, or the person next to you is a different ethnic group, and you didn’t grow up that way, or you’re seeing things on the television that are completely foreign to you, you better figure out a way to be able to take perspective. Or, you’ll retreat into this kind of hold them off, keep them off, kind of posture, which will be bad for your heart, bad for your health, and bad for the world.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

That’s so interesting. I like that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And I think one of the reasons we’re so divided is, fear drives clicks, and clicks drive revenue.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Well, and you touched on social media. I mean, social media has changed everything.

Daniel Amen, MD:

We just finished watching The Social Dilemma.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And it’s just horrifying how artificial intelligence is manipulating our minds for money. And so …

Dr. Steven Hayes:

If they can drive us into the little clicks and sell things to us, and sometimes on the basis of despising, disconnecting.

So, if that process you just talked about, there’s also an avenue back to fear. There’s more fear.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right.

Dr. Steven Hayes:

I think the whole nation is living inside fear right now.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right. It’s all fear. I mean, it’s honestly, we hear it all the time. It’s fear-based.

Daniel Amen, MD:

It’s fear based. All right, so when we come back, I’d really love to talk about how people can use ACT for specific anxiety issues, and then maybe in the last one, we’ll do it with depression. Because with all the studies, I’m sure you have thoughts and techniques.

We’re here with Dr. Steven Hayes, author of “A Liberated Mind”. You can learn more about him at his website, Steven with V, Hayes.com. Stay with us.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

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Daniel Amen, MD:

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