This Mind-Bending Tactic Helped Me Deal With Negative Emotions

The Flex [a way of thinking I live by] is based on the concept of psychological flexibility, defined as “the ability to stay in contact with the present moment regardless of unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, while choosing one’s behaviors based on the situation and personal values.” I first heard about psychological flexibility from the work of clinical psychologist Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D., the codeveloper of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a highly effective psychotherapy for anxiety and depression.

Hayes’s teachings have us bend with our negative emotions, not deny them. I loved this idea of bending thoughts like not good enough, people hate me, or I’m a fat, ugly loser, rather than forcing myself to push through them with “grit.”

I was getting tired (and sick) from trying to be gritty all the time. I pressured myself to bounce back when I was still walking wounded. Resilience training gives me horrible flashbacks to boot camp classes, being completely out of breath, hair frizzing, face beet red, muscles burning, and the instructor screaming, “Keep running!” You are so wary of being the only one in the class wanting to stop and crawl, that despite feeling like you’re about to collapse, you carry on.

Urgh, my worst.

Pre-Flex, my whole life was like boot camp; my brain screamed, Ignore the pain! Don’t give up! And I didn’t. But ignoring pain does not make it go away. It only makes it worse. I’ll repeat that for my stiff upper-lip readers: Ignoring pain does not make it go away. It makes it worse.

We need a new strategy and an exit from boot camp life. The mentality of pushing ourselves to the breaking point because “that’s just how it’s done,” is making us chronically sick and miserable. There’s a better alternative: living life flexibly!

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