Friday, 23 June 2017

Personal Resilience & Peak Performance with ACT!

I use Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) in my work with organisations and individuals. I can honestly say that ACT has changed my own life and that is one of the reasons why I am passionate about sharing this behavioural science. 

This post is a brief introduction to the psychological skills training I have developed with Dr Paul Flaxman at City, University of London. I'm currently delivering this skills training to teachers, the NHS, Civil Servants, private sector organisations and ballet companies.

We have adapted ACT to make it relevant and useful for the workplace. The evidence for training based upon ACT in the workplace is strong and will be the subject of a future blog post. 

We present the framework for the training using this illustration.

In the training our aim is to practice and develop three key skills (represented by the pillars) over a series of workshops. 

AWARE - We know that the mind's favourite place to hang out is ruminating about the past or fretting and planning about the future. This is the central pillar of our training and relates to the skill of being in contact with the here and now. This skill is a form of mental training where we can begin to recognise times in life when we are on autopilot and learn to change gear to shift us into noticing the present moment. The skill we're developing enables us to be more effective at gathering the 'scattered mind'. Let's be clear - I'm not knocking autopilot, some consider it to be the greatest evolutionary advance of the human mind, but sometimes in our lives we're on autopilot when it's not so useful.

ACTIVE - We talk about values as being the personal qualities we most want to express in our daily behaviour. This ACTIVE pillar is all about 'who we want to be' or 'what we want to stand for'. We may have some personal values that are a rich seam throughout our whole lives, others may become more prominent in different phases of our lives and some may be very useful for specific life events. We may also have different values that are important in different areas of of life. For example, if I'm presenting to the Executive Board I'll pause before the meeting to connect with who I want to be during my part of the meeting and this then serves as a beacon for my behaviour. That's what values are all about for us - using them as a guide for our actions and behaviour.

OPEN - As humans we know that we can often get hooked or hijacked by our own inner experience and this is the theme of the third pillar, OPEN. By our inner experience I mean our thoughts, emotions, urges, memories and sensations. We are particularly interested in the 'chatter' of our inner experience and how this can interfere with us being who we want to be in different areas of our lives. The skill we focus on here in our training is to identify this inner chatter and notice the impact on our behaviour. Our aim is to change our relationship with this chatter to lessen its impact in our lives and on our behaviour.

Through building these skills we support the development of psychological well-being and life vitality across every area of life. We aim to enable the awareness of the present moment, an exploration of what matters and noticing what happens inside of us that makes it difficult to move towards what matters.

We typically deliver this training to small groups over four or five sessions to allow people to practice the skills and share their experiences. We are collecting both qualitative and quantitative data which we will be analysing over the coming months.

Thanks for reading!

Ross

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Your Cycling Mindset

Click here for a link to a guest blog I did for my mate Dan, who founded the cycling apparel start-up OnTor in Tavistock in Devon. It's a great opportunity for me to apply psychology in a different context. This blog is about the concept of mindset. As Dan says: 

" So do you go in search of new open roads or do you flog that same old Strava segment? Here's some sports psychology from Ross to help you recognise your 'cycling mindset'"

Although it's written about cycling the concept can apply to every career or life situation. Click here to read more!

Friday, 3 February 2017

Boost those Goals!

As we edge into February it set me thinking about goals and New Year's resolutions. It seems as though it's a tradition as commonplace as sprouts and holly to make resolutions at New Year. There can also be an associated ironic attitude, perhaps an expectation, that failure will rapidly follow. For example, take gym membership, some sources say that 80% of the New Year's Resolution crowd drops off by the second week of February. Now I'm not a gym member but it's a good example to illustrate my point.

A Problem with Goals

In my experience of our society, culture and workplace we're very goals driven. Now I'm not suggesting we should entirely ditch goals but I am proposing that we can loosen their grip on us. Why? In a nutshell - for me, a goal can imply a deficit. 

For example, consider the goal "I want to be X by time Y" or to make it more concrete "I want to be fitter by June 2017 and will go to the gym three times a week." 

The trouble for me with such a goal is that X is something we currently are not (or do not have).

We know the way our minds work and the second we veer from the path towards our goal (e.g. miss one session at the gym) our mind can produce thoughts along the lines of;
  • "you've failed", 
  • "you don't have time for this", 
  • "I knew it wouldn't last",
  • "I've blown it, let's go for a beer",
  • and "what were you thinking, you know the gym isn't for you". 
These thoughts can be quite dominant and drive our behaviour (or inertia) potentially causing us to give up, sometimes until 31 December 2017.

The Alternative - Values

My proposition is to consider an alternative, your personal values. Your values can work on their own or in tandem with your goals. 

If we selected a personal value as something with meaning for us, it could act as a beacon for our behaviour. For example, we could choose;
  • Fitness - to maintain or improve my fitness; to look after my physical and mental health and well-being;
or 
  • Self-care - to look after my health and well-being, and get my needs met;
We could use it as a focus for what's important to us and something that reflects the qualities we would like to express in our behaviour. We can also choose to adopt a value right now, there's no implied deficit and no need to wait. 

In psychological skills training we often compare using values as a guide to using a compass to navigate. We use a compass when we're looking for a direction or when we are lost. We decide on the direction that is important to us and then, each step we take is guided by that compass point. That's what it's like using values as a guide for our behaviour.



We can also set milestones (or goals!) along the way and record our progress. 

Importantly, when we veer from the path and perhaps miss a session at the gym we can acknowledge those unhelpful thoughts produced by our mind and not criticise ourselves further. Instead we can choose to recommit to our values. 

It takes practice but the evidence shows us that using values as a guide for our action can be highly effective.


In a Nutshell

Finding the meaning behind our goals by defining our values can ignite our sense of purpose and provide a compelling focus for our actions.

Why not give it a try! 

Cheers

Ross