This exercise is an adaptation from an Acceptance and Commitment teaching practice by Russ Harris (Oct 02016) called "Dropping the Anchor". CC3.0-NC-BY-SA
Practice first when you are not feeling stressed, so that you can use it when you need the extra strength.
Start by imagining your emotions swirling around you like a furious stormy sky: clouds, wind, movement. It's hard sometimes not to get swept up in the pain, fear and discomfort. But you can stay with it. The primary purpose of this exercise is not to distract ourselves from the storm. Because trying to force it into a bottle has just led to a lot of exploded bottles, and additional glass shards in the storm - making it worse.
So we will instead experience our feelings a little bit more at a time, through the visualization of a storm. Connect first with that imagery, and then acknowledge them as symbols of your difficult feelings.
With courage and recognition that your will has the ability to make changes in patterns of behaviour, we face the storm. In the midst of the turmoil and unrest, you create steadiness. You regain your center to regain control of your actions. Imagine these happening, so that you can engage in behaviour that leads to a more positive future.
The storm swirls. Acknowledge to yourself that you are hurting, label the feelings that are happening: anxiety, fear, guilt, etc.
You are still here in the core of this,
and the storm is happening to you.
It is not you.
Resolute to stay with it, you drop the anchor.
Press your feet down into the floor, grounding you.
Place your hands together in a way that is meaningful/appropriate for you: palms together, in prayer, just fingertips. My preference for this the hands clapsed one on top of the other, with the heels of the hands touching.
Push your hands together firmly, but not so much that it hurts in any way.
Create solidity and firmness, not a feeling of pain to displace the originating discomfort.
Visualize a structure made in your body, combining the posture of your arms and shoulder, with the pushing down of your feet, making you feel very steady and solid.
Exhale completely and sink into this heavy solidity, a psychic force of weight thudding down to the bottoms of your feet. For me, the image comes to mind of a great big cartoon lead weight, like the type dropped on Wile E Coyote. But use whatever dense, heavy thing in imagery you like best: an anvil, anchor, boulder, gold bar, asteroid, etc.
Down and solid amidst the storm.
Okay, now that we are fixed and steady in the present. Observe the storm.
Start with listening, what sounds do you hear first? What else? Look further.
Now what's in the background?
Between the sounds?
Open yourself to hear them all at once,
separate and together.
Thoughts, memories and feelings may continue to arise. Coming at you from out of the storm. Listen in order to acknowledge they are saying things, but just let them be. You don't have to answer them right now. But note that they are happening. Let the storm whip them away, as you rest here, solid. And be open to paying attention to others as they come.
Open to your physical sensations again. Your feet on the floor, your shoulders relaxing into the steadiness of your structure - when you are heavy and established again it is relaxed and can be effortless to maintain.
Now, what do you see? Notice things about where you are.
Try to open your visual attention so that you are able to inspect your peripheral vision without moving your eyes too much from the direction that you are facing.
What were you doing?
Acknowledge that you are exerting your will doing this exercise here,
in the midst of a storm, solid in its swirling.
What will you do now?
Slowly and intentionally,
do a small next step on what you wanted to do.
You maybe cannot do everything right now,
just start where you can.
If the storm rises up and is difficult to bear,
take a moment to breathe and visualize your solid shape in the storm,
slowly opening again to the storm's sensation,
the reality around you,
and your engagement in the actions of moving forward.
By opening our awareness to the experience of the many sensations that are happening in our emotions and reality - The storm and anchor plants you firmly in your present moment experience. This practice is so that you can engage in behaviour that leads to the positive action, and the ability to do so in the face of difficult emotions.
Are you willing to: being, feeling and doing
in the present moment?
If this practice works for you, it would really help me out if you could share it with a friend or with someone who might need it. Thanks, and best wishes. Aaron :)
"The single most powerful technique for extreme fusion" Russ Harris 2016 www.ImLearningACT.com retrieved from https://www.actmindfully.com.au/ January 2018
Let's indulge in a bit of fantasy
This piece is a thought experiment to promote cognitive flexibility and bring your internal motivations into awareness. A 2010 study showed that the anticipation and expectation of a satisfying experience can exceed the actual attainment of it. It's part positive thinking, and part visualization.
So, bear with me as we simulate a bit of amazingness for your life. Suspend disbelief and savour the excitement that comes up with this exercise. Just let any doubt and guilt melt away. Maybe they surface, but let them dissolve into the background as you choose to focus on the positive feelings that arise while you read this.
Imagine if a perfect life were possible.
For now, let's play pretend. Even if the idea seems impossible.
Imagine that somehow, somewhere, some version of you was able to stumble upon or create a perfect life.
Suppose you could define what a perfect life is and then describe it in detail. This hypothetical life would be everything you'd dreamt of and more. You would be happy, free to choose, surrounded by loved ones and good at what you do.
If we could observe this perfect life of yours over a series of days, weeks and months, we would be able to see patterns of behaviour: Where time was spent, what choices were made, what opportunities were declined.
Perhaps if we watched for long enough we could devise a system of advice or a set of rules to be able to live in this way. Maybe we could write a book like "7 Habits for Highly Successful People" but specifically tailored to your version of what a highly successful life was like.
In this book would be a set of rules and guidelines that, if followed, would allow you to replicate that perfect life. Remember, this is fantasy, so all things are within our control, but even where they are not, we could observe this perfect self as they responded to difficulties to provide guidelines through our own challenges.
Imagine this book in your hands right now. A guidebook to make your dream come true.
What colour is it?
How big is it? Is it a paper back? A hardcover with glossy jacket? A weighty textbook?
The font of the title, how does it make you feel?
You flip open to the table of contents.
The chapters are neatly laid out in areas of your life, with sections of step-by-step instructions.
It looks as if this is a complete system, a full set of rules to create your perfect life.
Would you follow a perfect set of rules?
If this set of rules were to be followed in your life exactly as needed to create the ultimate existence, whatever that looks like for you...
Would you do it?
Would you still do it if it was really hard?
Would you even do it if it felt too easy to be true?
Just assuming that there were a way that a system implemented in your life, when followed, produced an optimized, maximized version of happiness and fulfillment.
Such a system would guarantee success and create abundance, and probably love too, right?
A perfect system, designed for you from the heavens (or an infinitely intelligent inter-dimensional species). Looking at all the possibilities and probabilities, this set of rules produces the best outcome.
Would you do it?
Would you follow that system to the word?
To the best of your ability?
Would you willingly surrender all resistance and move into the fear and the difficulties, knowing full well that it was necessary in order to get the best life you could?
There's no way to know for sure what this system is. The book was written in hindsight, remember?
But if you are constantly doing your best to improve, that guarantees you are taking at least some steps towards this life rather than away from it.
We can use this present life to imagine the path towards this perfect life.
- be aware of our choices
- make our best effort for action
- revise our approaches as our understanding of situations improves
- measure outcomes and track efforts
- envision wonderful possibilities
- make behavioural changes that create positive feedback
And that's really all we can hope for. We can try to do our best, and build upon the momentum as we go.
But, this book does not physically exist. No one is able to give you all the answers.
Can a perfect life exist outside of fantasy?
So, can such a life exist?
If you can conceive of the possibility, that conceptualization exists, even if just in your mind.
If you can visualize how it might look in detail, then it can be reality tested through experimentation.
If you can take actions that test your hypotheses in the world, then you will have data to see whether your assumptions are true.
Any life that we can dream of now, could not be that perfect life exactly. We haven't lived it. We don't know all of the challenges and difficulties and changes that are necessary to grow through. But look, there's even a chapter titled "How to face your hardest moments".
If you wait around for outside saviours you're giving up your freedom.
If you wait for Heaven to give you a sign, or for the aliens to show up and make everyone enlightened, you might end up waiting a long time…
You cannot rely on the external world to provide answers if you're not truly looking.
Your choices in the present moments, are written permanently in the crystals of time.
Every action changes the future and cements the past. Every action is so small that it does not matter on its own, but as a whole creates an intricate and unique story. All these moments given to you are the true gift of this life.
But what of the future?
It is unwritten.
If you believe that the Many Worlds Hypothesis shows that infinite parallel Universes exist to create all possibilities, then your perfect life (all infinite versions of it) exist somewhere out there in those crystalline hyper-surfaces. And in an infinite realm of probabilities, even the most remarkable outcomes are non-zero. Sure, some things seem impossible, like throwing fireballs from your hands. But what if a neutrino collided with a particle at that exact moment you tried? Well, you'd probably be instantly dead in the fiery explosion, but however incredible, it still could happen.
And actions that you can conceive of in everyday life are a great deal more likely than finding exceptional cases in the laws of physics.
So the system for a perfect life can and could exist. It does exist in your mind as an idea. It exists in the realm of possibility. Whether it is a true probability is unknown.
You won't know if it's true until you get there.
Just focus on pointing towards it.
How to integrate this lesson
So, now what? You can take inspiration from this article and apply it to your life.
What can you do to change your current system of habits for the better? What are some tiny steps in your day to day rhythm that you can adjust a bit to make it easier for you to succeed?
I don't have all the answers, but I can help you find your own.
If you'd like to read more posts like this I invite you to subscribe here.
Nawijn, J., Marchand, M., Veenhoven, R., & Vingerhoets, A. (2010). Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 5(1), 35–47. doi:10.1007/s11482-009-9091-9
Over the course of years of personal productivity experiments, I've tried so many different phone applications, web applications and various strategies to try to increase the effectiveness of the humble but essential ToDo list.
Time and time again I always come back to using paper. I recommend you run your own experiments and use what's most comfortable for you, but I like using paper most.
Specifically I consistently use a bullet journal method that separates:
- my top 3 focus projects for the week,
- a continually growing list of small subtasks for these projects that get crossed off within a day or two of writing them,
- a separate page for recurring chores and errands
- daily logs of productivity.
- ideas of related steps or possibilities that may or may not get carried forward
If you want to optimize your personal ToDo lists, it's worth taking a look at how they fit into your life. What's working? What's not working?
Take a look at your relationship with your todo list.
Some people hate ToDo lists, and I think that's largely a function of a discrepancy between what they want them to do, and what they are actually doing in their life. This builds emotional expectations that can lead to self-judgement when they are inevitably derailed.
For our examples, here's some possible solutions:
The nice things about paper todo lists
As an environmentalist, I tried time and time again not to use paper to be more conservation minded. Digital alternatives have the advantage that you can have them with you in your phone at all times. But we all know that the phone has so many other things that are crying for your attention, that a separate paper list sitting next to you can more easily signal that you're in "getting things done mode" which allows for less distraction.
Here's my top three for why I like paper.
If you also prefer paper ToDo lists and have something that you like that wasn't mentioned here, I'd love to hear more about your tricks and tips in the comments.
Aaron Ball. Recovered Academic. Grieving Environmentalist. Evidence-Based Transformational Coach. Electronic musician. Transrationalist.