Monday, December 2, 2013

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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Targeting Psychological Flexibility

The ACT Matrix
Psychological Flexibility is at the center of the ACT Matrix. It's as if the crossed lines form the familiar cross-hairs of a scope.

It's easy to think of ACT as mainly being about getting us moving toward who and what's important. That side of the diagram just looks and sounds more appealing than moving away. However, moving away is a very necessary part of life. For example, if we did not move away from the feeling of fear we would all be dead.

Psychological Flexibility is being open to moving in the moment AND being open to the consequences of the move. Might be a toward move and it might be an away move. Over time the consequences will shape you toward workable moves.

Kevin L. Polk, Ph.D.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Verbal Aikido: The basic 'move'

Verbal Aikido

Aikido is a martial art focused on redirecting energy. That is, if you are being attacked, the energy is redirected. This is much easier than taking or blocking the attack directly. Aikido beginners use more energy to redirect than masters use. When energy is redirected no one needs to be injured. Some Aikido masters say that they are showing attackers the way to peace.

Verbal Aikido has nothing to do with being verbally attacked. Instead 'stuck' energy in language (words and non-verbals) is redirected toward psychological flexibility.

The 'stuck' is referring to fusion and the psychological flexibility is less fusion as predicted by Relational Frame Theory (RFT). RFT predicts that because humans are so good at transforming both sensory and mental experiencing onto language, a person can start living as if language were real. A little bit of that is required for language to work. For example, as you read the word LEMON some stuff happened inside your skin. You probably experienced the color yellow, the taste sour and you salivated a little bit more. [Note: The salivation response to reading or hearing LEMON can be measured.] In RFT talk this means that yellow, sour and the salivation are fused to lemon.

A little fusion works great for language. However, in some contexts the fusion may be too strong and start to control our behaviors in ways that don't work for valued living. For example, we might avoid going outside sometimes because just the thought of dogs frightens to the point we can't open the door. Or just thinking that the girl might say "no" keeps us from asking her out.

In the old Cognitive Behavior Training (CBT) days we might have transformed our irrational thoughts, (dogs will always bite me and girls will always say no to me) into rational thoughts. The problem with this approach was that the old 'irrational' thoughts were still there right next door to the new rational thoughts. RFT predicts that creating rational thoughts results in increased fusion with the irrational thought because to come up with the rational you have to also think of the irrational. Therefore, the irrational will pop up when you least expect it and get in the way.

From an RFT view, you instead just notice the thoughts of dogs and girls saying no. You don't make them any more than they are. This is easy if you are not very fused (stuck) on the thoughts, and not so easy if you are stuck. Acceptance and Commitment Training or Therapy (ACT) has many exercises for getting less stuck and moving toward values (e.g., going outside or asking girls out). Verbal Aikido is part of ACT, but it's the art of flexing the fused stuff right as it happens.

Imagine you are doing a presentation and someone says, "I can't go out because there might be vicious dogs out there." Those words (and probably the person's body language and tone of voice) seem stuck. You might feel the urge to say, "That's ridiculous! The chances of vicious dogs being out there are almost nil." You would basically be telling the person to not think those thoughts. Therefore, they will think the thoughts all the more. So what do you do if you want to flex the words instead of making them stickier?

If you use the Matrix diagram when you do presentations, then you probably have a matrix diagram up on a dry erase board behind you. It has sensory experiencing at top, mental experiencing at the bottom, toward to the right, away to the left and Psychological Flexibility in the middle.

The simplest Verbal Aikido 'move' is to simply turn, look at the matrix for a moment, then turn back to the person and ask, "Where would you sort, "I can't go out because there might be vicious dogs out there" onto the diagram?" This works for increasing psychological flexibility with any words.

There are many, many more 'Verbal Aikido" things you can do with words. Come join my online Verbal Aikido training to learn more. Click Here

If that training has passed when you read this, no worries. Just Click Here for my training calendar.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Matrix for Entrepreneurs

An Entrepreneur 

is someone who organizes some new process. Could be a business, could be a nonprofit. An entrepreneur is a special breed of person; driven to create that new process to do some cool thing. 

However, entrepreneurs can become frozen in their tracks; unsure about what to do next. It's easy to forget that by being an entrepreneur you are inventing a new process, a new set of behaviors. In other words, an entrepreneur does not know exactly what to do next. "What to do next" is a work in progress; it's a process.

That means being an entrepreneur is often about getting unstuck and back in the process, and that's got Matrix written all over it.

For those unfamiliar, the Matrix is a simple diagram that looks like this:

You can draw one for yourself on a piece of paper or dry erase board. In the lower right you write people and things that are important to you. For example, spouse, friend...being entrepreneurial. These are known as Valued Directions because you don't reach them, you move toward them every day.

In the lower left goes the stuff that can show up inside of you and potentially get in the way of moving toward who and what's important. Fear is the big one, but anger, self-doubt, thoughts like, "This will never work!" and more show up in the lower left.

In the upper part of the diagram you write behaviors that other people can see you doing like walking, talking, etc. Behaviors are up with the 5 senses because other people use their senses to notice what you are doing, plus you need your five senses to move around.

In the upper left you write behaviors that you do to move away from the unwanted stuff in the lower left. For example, you might run to move away from fear. You might pace to get away from self-doubt. You might say, "Yes I can" to move away from thoughts like, "This will never work." Notice it's the intent of the behavior that important. You you take deep breaths to lessen anxiety, then those breaths are an away move. There is nothing inherently wrong with away moves. Moving out of the way of an oncoming bus to reduce fear is a very good thing. The problem is that people can get stuck in a pattern of away moves, which is not so good for entrepreneurs.

Finally, in the upper right of the diagram you write the behaviors that you do to move toward who and what's important to you. Since we are talking about being an entrepreneur, this is where you put entrepreneurial behaviors. Of course, some of those behaviors need to be discovered. The trick is to try lots of new behaviors, keep the ones that work and discard the ones that don't work.   

So while the entrepreneur is looking for what to do next, the mind gets to work. Self-doubt shows up, worry often shows up, "I'll never know what to do..." and other unwanted mental activity show up. Fighting that "unwanted" stuff can blow tons of time and energy. The best idea is to just know that those unwanted thoughts and feelings are going to show up. Notice them showing up and choose to move away from them or choose to do a toward move with them.

Recall that Away behaviors are attempts to get rid of that unwanted stuff. "Working on other things" is popular. Sitting and thinking is also a popular away move. If you have a bit of entrepreneur in you, you probably know your favorite away moves. Again, after you notice the unwanted stuff showing up inside of you, you can choose an Away move, or a Toward move.

So what are your Toward being an Entrepreneur moves? Some of them you know and others will need to be created. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There are behaviors that we can do to set the context of success. It helps to connect the behaviors to our values--people and ideas beyond just being an entrepreneur. Is your entrepreneurial 'thing' connected to who's important to you? Is it part of what you value like education or global citizenship? Do you value your health? Connecting Entrepreneur with who and what's important to you makes it much easier.

So what's a simple behavior for an entrepreneur to start with? Exercise is a great one. This is a no brainer. Entrepreneurs need to be creative. The odds of being creative are increased with an oxygenated brain. Another big one is meditation. Meditation is intense noticing of 5-senses and mental activity, and intense noticing can help you learn what entrepreneurial behaviors are working and which ones to stop doing.

Note: Be careful, meditation can get framed up as an Away move from unwanted mental experiencing. For example, lots of people say they meditate to get rid of tension. That's an away move. While that can work for you in the short term, it's not a long-term fix for tension. For the most part you want to frame meditation as Toward move.

Eating well and getting plenty of sleep finish off the basic entrepreneurial behaviors list. These are all behaviors that set up the best internal context for entrepreneurial behaviors to get started. Can you think of more behaviors that you could do everyday day to move you toward who's important you and enhancing your entrepreneurial spirit? Quick, write them down in the upper right of your entrepreneurial matrix.

The other night I did a webinar called "The Matrix for Entrepreneurs." It's about an hour of three of us working through each of the four quadrants. Click below to purchase.

Be well,


Thursday, October 3, 2013

16 Steps

Hi folks,

For those who don't know, I do a lot of webinars teaching people how to use the ACT Matrix diagram to increase psychological flexibility. You can check the webinar schedule out. Just click the link below.

Lately I have been teaching my students 16 steps around the Matrix diagram as a way of learning how to increase psychological flexibility. Fifteen sounds like a lot, but once you get into the routine, one step flows right into the other, so they are easy to remember.

Why the 16? Mostly because it's structured way to learn what is otherwise a very freeform activity. Think of it like martial arts training. In the dojo you learn forms or Katas because they are a great way to learn the basics. 

So the 16 steps around the matrix are a structured way to learn your way around the ACT Matrix. Once you learn the 16, then you are free to branch out on your own and discover new ways of increasing psychological flexibility.

Note: This presentation is for anyone. I've heard of a kindergarten teacher using this stuff with her students. I personally have presented this very routine to a wide range of folks; fifth graders to business owners to college professors and all sort of people in between.

The steps are:
  1. Ask if it's okay if you show your listeners the psychological flexibility point of view.
  2. 5 senses experiencing.
  3. Mental experiencing.
  4. Notice the difference.
  5. Toward experiencing.
  6. Away experiencing.
  7. Notice the difference.
  8. Who is important to you?
  9. What shows up inside of you and gets in the way?
  10. What do you do to move away?
  11. What do you do to move toward?
  12. Noticing the two differences, who is important to you, what shows up inside of you and gets in the way, what you do to move away, and what you do to move toward is the psychological flexibility point of view.
  13. Ask if it's okay if you work with them using the psychological flexibility point of view.
  14. The unworkable change agenda (stuck).
  15. Time Sharing.
  16. Noticing Hooks and what you do next homework.
After doing these 16 steps, there's a good chance increased psychological flexibility will show up in you and in those listening to you.

There is cool philosophy and solid language theory running behind the scenes of the 16 steps. Check out my webinars if you would like to learn more.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Yes, ACT is Counterintuitive

One reason why some people have trouble getting their heads around ACT is that it is counterintuitive. That simply means that when you use ACT you are using a different set of assumptions about things.

You grew up in a world that basically states: Everything in it's place and a place for everything.

In other words, there is a Right place to put things and a Wrong place to put things.

It's the same with words. There is a Correct definition of the word and an Incorrect definition.

This goes further. Since Newton humankind has tended to think in linear, cause and effect relationships. For example, the cue ball strikes the billiard ball at a certain velocity and angle, sending the other ball off in a predictable path. This is "Cause and Effect" thinking and it's works great out in the physical world.

HOWEVER (and this is where ACT comes in) the inside of your skull, a.k.a., the Mind is not a Cause and Effect place. Lot's of things happen all at once. Plus, if you want to get rid of a physical thing, you throw it away. If you want to get rid of a mental thing, well, you can't. The more you try to not have the mental thing, the more you have it.

ACT (and the Matrix) keep that last You Can't Get Rid of Mental Things concept in focus. That also means that while doing ACT we let go of Cause and Effect thinking. We even let go of Right and Wrong thinking.

With just a bit of practice it's easy to use the ACT way of thinking. If you want a diagram of it, see below. It's called the Matrix.

The two lines represent noticing two differences. That's it. There's no right or wrong noticing, there's just noticing the difference, and then psychological flexibility shows up.

Be well,

For the Webinar Schedule Click Here:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Big Post-It Notes

Hello Matrix Users!

I took the plunge and used big sticky notes (available at office supply stores) instead of my usual dry-erase board. These things are close to the size of a flip chart.

They are just the right size to be rolled up and taken away. Many of my students have told me that people then bring them back next time to talk about "Toward" moves.

I won't give up my trusty dry-erase boards completely, but these big sticky notes are cool.