In my last blog post, I wrote about the ACT concept of values, or principles that guide us toward a more authentic and meaningful life. Today I’m going to discuss a topic that goes hand-in-hand with values, which is committed action.
Committed action is an important part of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), a form of psychotherapy that involves accepting and experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings to promote behavior change. Rather than attempting to change or avoid uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, ACT teaches us to mindfully experience these thoughts and feelings while moving toward values-driven actions.
According to ACT expert Dr. DJ Moran, “committed action” is defined as “behaving in the service of chosen values . . . even in the presence of obstacles.” The “commitment” part comes from the notion that one will move in the direction of their chosen values even if there are challenges along the way.
That last part is important. Sometimes, acting in service of our values may involve experiencing uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. For example, my decision to return to higher education to become a therapist involved some uncomfortable and challenging experiences. But because my values are so strong, I did it anyway and experienced/accepted all the difficult thoughts and emotions that came along with going to graduate school.
Sometimes, I experienced sadness. Sometimes, I felt angry and frustrated. Many times, thoughts such as “I’m not good enough” or “I’m never going to get through this program” crossed my mind. But because I was bound and determined on becoming a therapist, I knew that it would all be worth it in the end. (Spoiler alert: It was!)
So, how do we overcome those obstacles that may present themselves when we take committed action? We use other ACT tools such as acceptance, mindfulness, cognitive defusion, and the observing self to stay present, detach from unhelpful thought patterns, and keep our eyes on the prize: a more enriching life. It may not be easy per se, but it becomes easier with the right tools in place, including therapy.
To sum it up, the concept of committed action can be helpful when conceptualizing goals. While the word “goal” can sometimes come across as superficial or vague, committed action takes things one step further by helping us get clear on the “why” — i.e. the values — behind our goals. Why is it important to you to switch jobs, move to a new city, or give up certain behaviors that no longer serve you?
Once you begin to examine your values, you can determine committed actions to take that will move you closer toward achieving a life that’s more authentically you. Committed actions can be big (“I am committed to saving up X amount of money to go back to school”) or small (“I am committed to going on a walk one day a week to improve my well-being”). Regardless, they’re all valuable. (I couldn’t resist.)
As mentioned previously, values serve as a sort of roadmap that guides us toward what is important to us. Committed action is the vehicle that moves us in the direction of those values. When we choose to act in service of our values, we become more aligned with the core of who we really are.
Gina Henschen, MA, LPCC is a People House Affordable Counseling Program alumna and a graduate of the University of Colorado Denver’s clinical mental health counseling program. She currently works as a therapist at Road to Growth Counseling in Westminster, CO, where she specializes in working with adolescents and adults who have experienced trauma, depression, anxiety, and disordered eating. Visit roadtogrowthcounseling.com or Psychology Today to connect with her.