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How to Stop Struggling & Start Living July 9, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Happiness, Life Balance, Mindfulness.
Cover of

Cover via Amazon

In The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living, Russ Harris offers proven tips and techniques based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to help you accept yourself, as you are, while working to: reduce stress and worry; handle painful feelings and thoughts more effectively; break self-defeating habits; and find true satisfaction in life.

ACT focuses on six core principles: Defusion; Acceptance; Contact with the Present Moment; The Observing Self; Values; and Committed Action. The first four principles are collectively known as “mindfulness skills” ~ a mental state of awareness, openness and focus, similar to that espoused by many Eastern religions and practices such as yoga, and meditation.

The author emphasizes that ACT is a scientifically based approach, with no religious or spiritual beliefs attached to it, that teaches mindfulness skills rapidly and effectively:

Mindfulness + Values + Action = Psychological Flexibility

Instead of prescribing ready-made values, like most religions, ACT asks you to clarify and connect with your own values and beliefs. ACT is about creating a life, not becoming enlightened. While ACT is not a religious, mystical, or spiritual path, there are many parallels: accepting what is offered; staying in the present moment; and acting on our core values.

Our brains were designed to protect us from danger, real and potential. As a result, our thoughts are constantly evaluating the scenery around us, and judging situations as good or bad. At the same time, we are struggling to fit in with the group, because our odds of survival in the past increased when we banded together.

In other words, our minds are pre-programmed to worry about things that, more often than not, never happen, and to seek approval and acceptance from others, rather than being true to ourselves.

Since it is difficult to control what we think and feel from moment to moment, it makes happiness an elusive commodity.  However, when we start to view our thoughts and feelings with detachment, we learn to peacefully co-exist with unwelcome thoughts and feelings.  We learn to fuse with helpful thoughts, and defuse unhelpful thoughts (such as self-limiting beliefs and harsh criticisms).

Thoughts are just words, which may or may not be true.  If we treat them as the absolute truth, and give them all our attention, we have fused with them.  If we see them as distorted, we can choose to disregard, or defuse them.

We don’t actively try to chase them away . . . we just observe them, and turn our attention to something else, until they disappear.

Once we realize that the words and images streaming through are brain are not real, we find that unpleasant feelings and sensations dissipate more quickly.

We are both a thinking self and an observing self. The thinking self plans, judges, compares, imagines, analyzes, thinks, and daydreams. The observing self is pure awareness. It observes what is happening, right here, right now. If your observing self pays attention to the running commentary of the thinking self, you lose direct contact with the moment.

Our thinking self is like a radio, or TV, playing constantly in the background, broadcasting “stories,” often filled with doom and gloom. While it is hard to turn it off, it is relatively easy to tune it out.

Mindfulness teaches us to tune in to the thinking self when it is broadcasting something helpful, and tune it out at other times.

Unlike positive thinking, which tries to drown out the doom and gloom station, mindfulness encourages us to let the radio play softly in the background, while we focus our attention on what we are doing.

When we practice mindfulness, we connect with the world directly, rather than being caught up in our thoughts, judgments, complaints, and criticisms.

We learn to accept things as they are. We are mindful of our thoughts and feelings, without getting attached to them.

We are fully aware of our here and now experiences, instead of being lost in thoughts broadcast by the thinking brain. It’s about waking up, noticing what’s happening, and appreciating what’s offered.

Through connection with the present moment, we can experience joy and find lasting happiness.

No rules. Just write!

What about you?  Have you ever used mindful awareness of your thoughts to help defuse them?

Do you T.H.I.N.K. ~ by asking whether your thoughts are True, Helpful, Informative, Necessary, and Kind? 

Related posts:  The Serenity Principle * Zen & The Art of Happiness * C.H.A.P. (Carl D’Agostino) * Attack of the Killer ANTs * Watch Your Thoughts


1. Tilly Bud - July 9, 2011

No, I can’t say I have.

nrhatch - July 9, 2011

Maybe you have no unproductive thoughts to defuse? Lucky you! I had to bring in an entire bomb squad to defuse my inner critic. 😉

Tilly Bud - July 10, 2011

I wish! Just haven’t tried your method, though I actively positive-think 🙂

nrhatch - July 10, 2011

That’s key! Looking for things to laugh and smile about is a terrific way to defuse the less productive thoughts that might otherwise surface.

2. Piglet in Portugal - July 9, 2011

I am not sure about accepting life as it ‘is’ otherwise we would never move forward. I’m a person who likes to have goals – now whether I achieve them or not that’s another matter. 🙂 I am rarely still and perhaps I am my own worst enemy!

nrhatch - July 9, 2011

Mindfulness helps us defuse some of the thoughts that KEEP us from moving forward. For example:

I can’t do this. It’s too hard. I’ll never be a writer. Others are so much better, funnier, and more creative than I am.

Or . . . I can’t lose weight. I’ll always be fat. I’m not going to even try to exercise. Why bother? It’s just a waste of time.

Or . . . I don’t like being called a “label.” People should NOT call me that. They should know it hurts my feelings. Just because I’m sensitive doesn’t mean that I’m a “label.”

Once we realize that not all our thoughts are true, we can defuse the power they have had over us . . . freeing us to proceed along the way.

Piglet in Portugal - July 9, 2011

I can’t learn French. I’ve tried to learn another language and failed 😦 So the principles of mindfulness would help?

nrhatch - July 9, 2011

Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t . . . you’re probably right.

The Miracle Man proved ALL this doctors wrong by learning to walk and breath on his own. If he can do that . . . you can learn French:


Start small. Learn a few popular phrases ~ Good Morning, How are you, Lovely weather, etc.

Keep building. Brick by brick.

nrhatch - July 9, 2011

BTW: Part of the post about the Miracle Man is in FRENCH. How’s that for a coincidence? 😉

3. Carl D'Agostino - July 9, 2011

Very similar to empowerment therapy and self care. Main thing we become participants in our own recovery with proactive protocols.

nrhatch - July 9, 2011

I thought this might be right “up your alley,” Carl.

When we become mindful and aware of the thoughts we think, we can embrace productive thoughts and let the less helpful thoughts drift away.

4. the island traveler - July 9, 2011

“finding true satisfaction in life.” Love your post.It’s what I need to enlighten me of my daily struggles, handling stress and more importantly accepting myself and finding happiness- true happiness from within. thank you. have a great day.

nrhatch - July 9, 2011


When we master our thoughts, we master our life. That doesn’t mean that everything will be “smooth sailing,” but it does means that the storms will not be self-created. 😉

5. Maggie - July 9, 2011

Another empowering book to add to my reading list. Thanks, Nancy!

nrhatch - July 9, 2011

I found it empowering, indeed.

So did many others. It got terrific reviews on Amazon . . . an average of almost 5 stars. 😀

6. Barbara Gunn - July 10, 2011

Thanks Nancy, I needed the reminder that it is our thoughts that due us in and keep us from living a peaceful life. I am going to turn the volume down.

nrhatch - July 10, 2011

I find that regular reminders help me stay on an even keel. It’s very easy to fall back into “well worn tracks” of thought.

7. Penny - July 10, 2011

We learn to accept things as they are. We are mindful of our thoughts and feelings, without getting attached to them. This is true, but there are times we can get stuck in the moment of thought-I have this terrible habit of analyzing every detail of my thoughts at times. The good thing about this process, I see all sides of the situation at hand. 🙂

nrhatch - July 10, 2011

If I’m “happy and content,” I don’t focus on my thoughts much ~ except using them to deal with the moment at hand. If I start to fret and worry about the past or the future, I tune in and examine them for Truth, Helpfulness, etc.

If I need to give myself something more positive to think about . . . I count my blessings.

8. kateshrewsday - July 10, 2011

This looks like a must-read, Nancy. I must cyberscuttle off to Amazon and order a copy.

nrhatch - July 10, 2011

I borrowed most of these books from the library . . . using a simple search for books on “Happiness.” 😀

9. Tammy - July 10, 2011

Interesting. I’m still working on this Nancy as an unquestioned mind can invent fiction. I think questioning pour thoughts is helpful.

nrhatch - July 10, 2011

I’ve been more mindful of my thoughts for 14+ years (since right after I stopped practicing law) . . . and they still sneak away from me at times. Cheeky monkeys! 😉

10. SuziCate - July 10, 2011

Yay, it’s available on kindle! Though I am “mindful” much of the time, I find when I’m hit with highly emotional situations it is difficult to get back on track. thank you for this review.

nrhatch - July 10, 2011

Yay! Suzi’s back! Hope you enjoyed being unplugged for your week in the Wilderness.

Happy Birthday! 😀

I find that when I could most benefit from being in control of my thoughts . . . my thoughts resist being reined in. It’s a constant battle of wits to master our mind.

11. Booksphotographsandartwork - July 10, 2011

I try to use mindful thoughts at the dentist. Valuim works much better 🙂

nrhatch - July 10, 2011

I definitely use creative visualization at the dentist ~ the light is the sun and the drill is the crashing surf. 😀

12. eof737 - July 17, 2011

Very interesting… I see a lot of the same concepts in yoga/meditation as I do in mindfulness theory… The observer here is what is called the witness of the self. I guess at the end of the day, there are no new ideas just re-interpretations. TY! I enjoyed reading this post… 🙂
Again, I’m catching up on blog comments after another long 4 day yoga retreat in Boston… I got back Thursday night to over a thousand emails. Will begin a marathon commenting effort shortly! TY! 🙂

nrhatch - July 17, 2011

Mindfulness meditation has been with us for thousands of years, but some people are afraid of Eastern Practices.

When we brought those practices West, some people wanted to reject the ancient wisdom and did so by calling it “New Age” feel good hocus pocus. 😀

Silly rabbits!

It’s not all exactly the same, but the overlap between Buddhist practices and ACT and other cognitive therapies is extensive since they all have the same underlying goal:

Master your thoughts. Master your life.

Aah . . . that’s better. 😀

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