The Flexible Mind - Part 2
By: Sherri Robbins, MA, LCMHCA, NCC
Welcome back to The Flexible Mind blog series. The information in this series comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a form of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). ACT offers valuable resources and concepts for overcoming anxiety and other emotional disturbances.
Part one of this three part series outlined that an important aspect of having a flexible mind is the ability to defuse thoughts that dominate and overwhelm. Today, in part two of The Flexible Mind, we will focus on taking thoughts from a place of dominance to a place of presence. With endless distractions from phone notifications, media feeds, text messages, video games, streaming services and to-do lists, our minds have lost the skill of staying focused on the present. Learning to have a flexible mind will offer the ability to stay present and enjoy life and relationships at a higher level.
Distraction from the present
Have you ever driven home and had no memory of driving down the roads that got you there? You arrived safely, but it was as if your body was on autopilot while your mind was somewhere else. Or have you ever turned on your phone to do something, only to immediately be distracted by social media notifications, followed by twenty minutes of scrolling. When you remembered why you turned on your phone, it was hours later and you had failed to follow through on the original task. When your mind lacks attunement to the present, it is very difficult to stay connected and observant.
Awareness of the present
Being present is not just about noticing your thoughts. It is also about being aware of how you feel emotionally and what you are sensing physically in regard to sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. You cannot be fully present all the time or nothing would ever get done, but a flexible mind is able to practice being present for brief moments throughout the day. This habit of practicing presence will strengthen your ability to defuse overwhelming thoughts when it really matters. It will allow you to enjoy what is happening in the present instead of worrying what may or may not come in the future or ruminating on difficult things from the past
Two Ways to Be Mindful
Below are two exercises which will help you develop a flexible mind that can focus on the present. These examples will help you get started. Use these as templates to create additional opportunities to notice what is happening around you and how you are feeling at any given time.
- Mindful while driving. The next time you get in your car to drive somewhere, take a moment to notice what the steering wheel feels like. Move your hands across the surface, noticing the texture of the leather. Pay close attention to how your fingers feel as they come into contact with the material. If your mind starts to wander, accept the distraction and redirect your attention back to the wheel. Take notice of what else your fingers can feel in that moment. Is there air blowing on them from your air conditioner? Do they feel hot or cold? Squeeze the steering wheel with a tight grip. Does it change the sensation in your fingers? Keep focusing and see what else you notice.
2. Mindful of emotion. The next time you notice an obvious feeling like joy, anger, or sadness, pause to notice where you feel it. Try to be aware of the sensation in that part of your body. Take some breaths as you notice that feeling. As you start to breathe in and out, notice how your lungs react as they fill with air and then release. After a moment, notice what the air feels like as it comes in through your nose and out through your mouth. Just like the other example, if you become aware that your mind has wandered, take note of it and redirect your attention back to the present.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy teaches the flexible mind skill in creative and intentional ways. Developing a flexible mind is about “learning not to turn away from what is painful, but instead turning toward your suffering in order to live a life full of meaning and purpose”1. It’s also about “moving your life in directions that are important to you and building habits that allow you to live life in accordance with your values and aspirations”1.
We hope that you found this blog post to be helpful, and we encourage you to return next week for the third and final article on The Flexible Mind. Here’s to wishing you lots of mindful practice this week!
- Hayes, S. (2019). The Liberated Mind. A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters. New York: Avery.
Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.