Tag Archives: mindfulness

Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Self-Compassion

You may have noticed that “mindfulness” and “self-compassion” have become popular phrases on magazine covers and in self-help books. Unfortunately, it’s also true that people sometimes refer to mindfulness, self-compassion, and acceptance as if they are synonyms for the same idea.

These three words actually represent distinct concepts, although they are interconnected. In short, mindfulness is a practice that gives us a starting point for acceptance, and self-compassion is like an advanced level of acceptance that gives us the space for a new way of being in the world and within ourselves.

Here is a simple guide to understanding the differences between these terms, as well as the ways that mindfulness and acceptance are important building blocks for self-compassion.

Mindfulness: Starting with where you are

We have to begin with cultivating mindfulness, which is about noticing what is occurring right now in this moment. Mindful awareness will always be the necessary starting point. It makes sense that we cannot accept something or be compassionate about it when we have not yet become aware of it.

Being mindful means making contact right now, in the present moment, with our own experience. This can include our thoughts, feelings, urges, and physical sensations. Our societal conditioning has led us to always be focused on the future (what will happen next) or the past (what has already happened). This can distract us so much that we are barely aware of how we are reacting to circumstances right now.

What mindfulness teaches us is that our sensations and inner experience exist only in the present. When we practice mindfulness, we create a habit of noticing our own experience from moment to moment. For example, noticing the physical sensations and thoughts that accompany an emotional trigger can help us to understand and change how we react to that trigger.

Acceptance: Letting go of the urge to resist

Acceptance is about willingness. Accepting our experience means dropping the struggle. Often it is our internal resistance to negative experiences that makes them so painful for us. When we use our mindfulness practice to observe our thoughts, feelings, and sensations without automatically reacting, we can then choose to accept the reality of what is happening without needing to control or change it.

This does not mean that we have relinquished responsibility for the situation, or that we are resigned to allowing these circumstances to remain unchanged. Acceptance just means that we are willing to engage with the reality of what is actually happening rather than pretending things are different or attempting to force an outcome. It’s about accepting what is out of our control and taking responsibility for what is in our control. It is about staying present and willing to have all of the experiences that are occurring in the moment.

You are probably familiar with the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The most difficult part of that equation is knowing the difference between what we can and cannot change. The practice of mindful awareness and acceptance can help to get us to that point of discernment.

Mindfulness and acceptance are not passive

It would be easy to assume that mindfulness (noticing the present moment) and acceptance (letting go of resistance) require us to passively observe what is occurring without intervening in any way. However, these tools actually allow us to become active creators of our own circumstances.

Mindfulness is about observation, but it is also about action. Our values can guide our behavioral choices, helping us decide what actions to take in the moment. We refer to mindful and intentional actions as “values-based actions.” The human tendency is to revert to old coping behaviors that lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. These behaviors tend to be based on what has happened to us in the past, rather than what is actually happening right now in the present moment. Mindfulness practice helps us to break this cycle by taking action intentionally based on our experience in the moment.

In the same way, acceptance is not a passive state, but an active way of opening ourselves to reality. We use the phrase “radical acceptance,” first coined by Marcia Linehan (founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy), to describe the complete and total acceptance of our experience with all its flaws and frustrations. When we are able to fully accept our experience in this way, we are able to learn how to replace unhelpful behaviors with values-based actions.

The next step beyond acceptance: Self-compassion

Self-compassion takes acceptance one step further—not only accepting our internal experiences as they are, but also sending them loving kindness.
Dr. Kristin Neff outlines three aspects of self-compassion on her website, self-compassion.org:

1. Self-kindness vs. self-judgment. Instead of ignoring experiences that are painful or uncomfortable, or criticizing ourselves for handling a situation badly, we can choose to hold those experiences gently and with warmth and compassion.

2. Common humanity vs. isolation. Self-compassion requires us to understand that there is nothing unique or special about suffering, which is an experienced shared by all humans. It can be freeing to remember that no matter what we experience, we are not alone in feeling that way.

3. Mindfulness vs. over-identification. We must be able to find a balance between acknowledging the particular sensations of our experience without being overwhelmed by what is happening.

Using mindfulness, acceptance, and self-compassion

As you can see, there is more to mindfulness and self-compassion than is commonly implied. But it’s good news that these tools are interconnected, because mindful awareness plus acceptance can lead you to a place where self-compassion is possible—creating a more sustainable way to be and act. Therapists who are trained in mindfulness can guide you through this growth and transformation process.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we offer individualized therapy that provides the tools you need to reach your goals and be more fulfilled. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.

Ride the Waves with Urge Surfing

How do you tend to respond to a powerful urge? Are there certain experiences that show up more frequently for you? Are there particular experiences that you attempt to avoid? Let’s be proactive by getting curious and mindful of these urges and learn how urge surfing and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can help.

 What urges come up for you when you:

      • get home from work?
      • wake up in the morning?
      • get rejected?
      • when a relationship ends?
      • are faced with a challenge?
      • feel bored?
      • feel lonely?
      • have a need you want to express?
      • feel criticized?

What exactly is an urge?

Urges are very interesting to think about. An urge is a strong desire or craving to act impulsively and out of habit. An urge occurs right before a behavior and is experienced as an intense physical and emotional experience. Urges get triggered by an event, a thought, feeling, memory, or image and pull us towards automatic ways of responding. Urges can feel like waves, they rise in intensity and tug and pull us towards using old behaviors that may provide us a temporary relief, but often lead to negative consequences in the long run. Rather than struggling and fighting an urge we can ride it by staying present and mindful, noticing the moment it peaks and the moment it crashes. acceptance and commitment therapy, ACT and Alan Marlatt For example an individual may have developed the urge to log on to Facebook or reach out to someone as soon as he/she experiences any sign of loneliness or boredom. Others may have gotten conditioned to have a drink right after work or in social situations, creating a link between a common uncomfortable experience and a behavior that has temporarily relieved the discomfort. Now they continue to use the same old behavior to avoid feelings of anxiety, loneliness, boredom, or distress. They continued to reinforce a bad habit as a coping response to challenging situations and experiences.

Using a short-term solution to resolve long-term struggles will only increase the distress in the long run. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) refers to this outcome as “secondary pain”. The more that we use old response styles, the more that our pain grows. Rather than fighting our experiences lets practice staying with our experiences, befriending them, and getting curious about them by using urge surfing.

What is Urge Surfing?

Urge surfing is coined by Alan Marlatt in preventing relapses among patients recovering from drug addiction. Urge surfing is not only used with addictions, but with any coping behavior that results in a short-term decrease in suffering, but exacerbates our pain in the long run. The principle advocates that fighting the craving is futile. The urge is seen as a water force such as a wave or a waterfall that we can’t control. In fact, fighting them could only feed them. Instead, we can observe the waterfall or surf the wave and watch it go right past. Urge surfing is an empowering tool because it trains us to stay mindful of our urges and impulses so that we have more control over the behaviors we choose.

5 Simple Urge Surfing Steps:

1.    Identify the Physical Sensation in the Body

Stop for a few minutes and be mindful of your physical responses to your urge. You can close your eyes or simply sit in a comfortable position. Pinpoint which specific body part is being affected. Where in your body does this sensation feel most intense? Is it your stomach? Your gut? In your chest? Your jaw?

2.    Focus on the Sensations

Now, having that specific body part in mind explore the sensations related to it. For instance, if it is the head, do you feel a bit dizzy? Is there pain? Does it feel warm? Is it more on the right side? If you feel the need to focus on other body parts, you may do so following the same process.

3.    Notice Breathing

For 1-2 minutes, be mindful of your breathing pattern. It may be a good idea to think of a body part specifically related to breathing such as your diaphragm, lungs, or nose. It is better to inhale through the nose and slowly exhale through the mouth.

4.    Refocus on Your Body

After noticing your breathing, gradually refocus on the body part that has been affected by the urge. Visualize how each breath lessens the weight, pain, or distinctive sensations. It may be helpful to imagine each cleansing inhalation as white light rejuvenating your body and each exhalation a dark smoke that you are happy to get rid of. Pay attention to how these processes change how you feel.

5.    Stay Curious and Present

Think of your physical and psychological sensations as a wave that you can successfully ride out with your breathing. See if you can gently make space for the experience. Send loving kindness and compassion to the deep longing and yearning that is showing up for you, if you’re your mind starts selling you stories or distracting you, just simply notice the mind and the thoughts that it pops up and return to your breath and the physical sensations. Anticipate it’s coming and breathe it in as it peaks and exhale as you think of the urge crashing down. Then after 2 minutes or longer, congratulate yourself for a surf well done!

By recognizing how urges pull us towards old avoidant coping strategies, we can have the effective tools to choose behaviors that benefit us in the long run and bring us closer towards our values. By focusing on who we truly want to be in our life and what we want to stand for, we can learn how to successfully surf our urges.

PRACTICE MINDFULNESS:

Training our minds to stay curious and open with our urges will make us stronger not only for specific addictions, but in our overall existence as well. Practicing mindfulness can help us train our brain to stay more present and observe our internal experiences and discomfort without having to act on it. The more we can sit and tolerate our uncomfortable experiences and urges the less influence they have over our behaviors. When we practice breathing and staying present with our discomfort, we can become more able to ride out the cravings that lead to damaging consequences and engage in more effective and consistent behaviors.

LET IT PASS:

Urges are temporary. Therefore, you don’t have to act in them for them to change and morph. Whenever you feel the impulse or have the nagging thought, bring your attention to your breathing and bodily sensations and stay curious and present with your present moment experiences. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that you should suppress your urges, but that staying mindful of your urges increases your behavioral choices. It is understandably challenging specially in the beginning. However, after practicing this skill your urges will no longer act as barriers or be your enemies, instead your urges will inform you about what matters to you and what kind of person you want to be. If we learn to get very curious about our urges and extend the moment when these impulses arise, we can start creating behavioral flexibility. By being aware of our reactions, we can better manage our actions and decisions.