In a recent post I discussed the six components of psychological flexibility.
- Valued living (defining valued directions).
- Contact with the Present Moment (mindfulness).
- Committed Action (commitment).
- Acceptance (acceptance).
- Observing Self (self-as-context).
- Disentanglement (cognitive defusion)
One of the goals of Acceptance and Commitment (AC) Coaching is having clients cultivate and view the world from the perspective of the observing self – that silent, quiet part of the self that persists through time, observing and noticing change in the world, containing all the changes that go on inside a person’s head but which does not itself get caught up in those changes (Anstiss & Blonna, 2014).
The self is not a single thing. The self can be sensed or viewed from different perspectives including the narrative or biographical self (self-as-content) as well as the observing self (self as context).
When clients take a self-as-content view and see the world from the perspective of the narrative self, they see themselves as collections of their thoughts and feelings. In other words, they see themselves as the same as their thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories, stories and images – including such adjectives, labels and judgments as ‘bad’, ‘unworthy’, ‘unlovable’, ‘selfish’, ‘stupid’, ‘weak’ or ‘lazy’.
Taking a self-as-content view places tremendous value on thoughts and feelings. It also sets clients up for believing that because their thoughts and feelings are so important, they can work out all of their problems and decisions in their heads without having to directly experience them in real life.
Additionally, a self-as-content view tends to place the same value on all metal activity. Instead of accepting that some thoughts are not very accurate or helpful, clients tend to feel that “if my mind is telling me this then it must be true.” In fact, much of what our minds tell us is not very accurate or helpful and in many cases downright silly.
This kind of view contributes to getting stuck. Clients often fuse with unhelpful and outdated views of themselves that keep them stuck in a rut and afraid to move forward. This cognitive fusion is a major barrier to meeting their coaching goals.
The AC coach helps clients adopt the perspective of the observing self. This view shows clients that they are more than a mere collection of thoughts and feelings. It allows them to view themselves as living beings comprised of flesh and blood, with a rich history and living presence, part of which includes their minds.
The observing self view allows them to step back and become impartial observers of their thoughts and feelings. Observing their thoughts and feelings from the safe distance of the observing self allows clients to see that their mental activity is just that, things going on in their minds. It also helps them observe whether or not this mental activity is accurate, helpful, or contributes to reaching their coaching goals.
Being able to step back as an impartial observer and assess what is going on in their minds is a key component of becoming more psychologically-flexible. The observing self can be considered a kind of viewing or observing platform where clients can go to help them defuse or disentangle themselves from unhelpful, unwanted or unpleasant thoughts and feelings.
As a coach, you can teach them how to do this by using exercises and activities from AC Coaching. The following is an example of one such activity. It is taken from my book, Maximize Your Coaching Effectiveness with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Self as Context Activity # 1: A Drink of Ice Water
Purpose: The purpose of this exercise is to help clients start to adopt a self-as-context view of the self using a very concrete item a ballpoint pen.
Information: Adopting a self-as-context viewpoint begins with clients being able to discriminate direct experience through the five senses from thoughts about direct experiences. Clients often confuse their thoughts about situations with the reality of experiencing those things first hand.
You will need a glass of water (real clear glass) with ice cubes for this activity.
- Explain to the client that you are going to ask them a series of questions regarding an object you will hand them.
- Explain to them that you want them to simply notice certain things about the object. They don’t need to evaluate or judge anything, simply notice.
- Hand your client the glass of water and say the following things:
- “Please hold the glass in one hand and notice the weight of it.”
- “Now rotate the glass in your fingers and notice its shape. You may use the fingers of both hands to do this”
- “Notice how the glass feels in your hand when you lift it to your mouth to drink.”
- “Notice the size of the glass and the level of the water.”
- “Notice the ice floating in the water.”
- “Notice the clarity of the water and the ice cubes.”
- Notice how the color is affected by the light as you hold the glass up to a window or light.”
- “Close your eyes, move the glass closer to your ear, and roll the glass so the ice cubes bounce against the side. Notice the sound this makes”
- “With your eyes still closed, notice the smell of the water.”
- “With your eyes still closed take a sip or the water and swirl it around your mouth. Notice the taste and temperature of the water.”\
- With your eyes still closed take another, longer drink and notice how the water feels as it slides down your throat and reaches your stomach.”
- When you are finished with these instructions put the glass down.
- Now I want you to close your eyes and think about the glass of water and taking a drink from it.
- Is this the same thing as actually experiencing the pen with all five of your senses?
- How do the two experiences differ?
Process this activity by explaining to the client that people often confuse their thoughts about something, particularly something in the future that is troubling, with actually experiencing the event. Often people avoid things simply because they think their thoughts about the event are the same as actually experiencing it.
My AC Coaching Course will show you how to help your clients become more psychologically flexible by using Acceptance and other easy to learn techniques derived from AC Coaching and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Find out more by getting a free copy of my Training Course. This 30 minute training course (a $79.00 value) is yours free .
Antiss, T., Blonna, R. (2014). Acceptance and Commitment Coaching. in Passmore, J. Ed. (2014). Mastery in Coaching :A Complete Psychological Toolkit for Advanced Coaching. London: Kogan Page Publishing.