AC (Acceptance and Commitment) Coaching applies the principles and practices Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to Coaching.
ACT theory revolves around four key concepts:
1. The mind as a 24/7 thinking machine.
2. Current thinking and feeling are filtered through past frames of reference.
3. Words and language play key roles in well-being.
4. Thinking can’t be controlled, but behavior in response to it can be.
It’s essential to understand these concepts in order to grasp the notion of psychological inflexibility and getting stuck. I’ll discuss the first concept.
The Mind as a 24/7 Thinking Machine.
ACT research has found that the mind is a 24/7 thinking machine, working nonstop at churning out thoughts and feelings. Like a computer that runs continually, the mind constantly processes information and is capable of running multiple programs at the same time. Instead of word processing, spreadsheets, or other computer programs, the mind’s programs are thoughts, emotions, mental images, and personal scripts.
Like the operating system and other programs on a computer’s hard drive, the mind’s programs run in the background without our even realizing they’re on. For example, as you read this page, your mind is also listening to sounds in your environment, processing sensory inputs (changes in lighting, temperature, smell, and so forth), and even daydreaming without your even being aware of it. Your mind never stops; you couldn’t even turn it off if you wanted to.
Like viruses that invade a computer and cause it to freeze, troubling thoughts, painful emotions, and the unhelpful self-talk that accompany them can invade the mind’s programs, slow down its processing, and cause it to freeze up (like a computer processor), get stuck, and function improperly. You’ve probably noticed, for example, that when you’re really stressed out, you just can’t seem to think clearly, you feel jittery and tongue-tied, and sometimes your mind just shuts down. The same thing happens to your clients when their minds get stuck on unhelpful thoughts, personal scripts, mental images, and emotions.
Personal scripts and mental images combine to form your mind’s home movies about your life. Mental images are like scenes in a movie, which in this case is your client’s life. Most clients are stuck on painful mental images, called scary pictures by Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap and other popular ACT books. To help clients become more mindful of these painful images ask them to close their eyes and tell you what they see when thinking about what is keeping them stuck. Some clients are more visual than others and will relish the opportunity to describe these mental images. A personal script is the dialogue related to the scene that accompanies the mental image.
Just as you have personal scripts about everything from your career as a coach to where you will go on vacation next month, so do your clients. They have scripts related to the goals they have set and their perceived ability or inability to achieve them.
Personal scripts and mental images (like thoughts and emotions), are based in part on the past frames of reference, what ACT calls past relational frames.
As a coach, your job is not to analyze these past relational frames and determine why and how the occurred. Coaches do not go back and rehash the past and spend lots of time talking about it. Rather, your job is to help clients be more mindful of their past frames of reference and how they often serve as barriers to their values-congruent goals and current behavior.
A few years ago I wrote a book, Maximize Your Coaching Effectiveness with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It has become the go-to-resource for coaches who want to apply AC Coaching and ACT to their coaching practice.
I also developed a 10 CEU-Approved Training course of the same name.