A New Perspective on Storytelling

Now notice who is reading this book. Again see if you can connect with a sense of looking out at the world from behind your eyes. Notice that you are here in this moment reading, and notice too that the person behind these reading eyes was there when you ate breakfast this morning and was there when you were a child. You’ve been you your whole life, though there have been many changes in your thoughts, your feelings, your roles, and your body. At the very moment that you gaze at these lines of ink on paper, notice who is gazing. Hello. You have been you ever since you showed up in early childhood as a conscious human being, and your infantile amnesia fell away (about the same time that these deictic frames of I/you; here/there; and now/then made their appearance). This “I” is what some call the observing self (Deikman 1982). It is a sense that transcends both time and space, not literally but experientially since this sense is everywhere you go. Whatever happens to you, it is this “I” that will be part of your verbal knowledge of that experience.
That is a quote from one of the most useful and interesting books I have read this year: "Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy" by Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith. I read one of those agony aunt-columns in a newspaper, and became curious about this so called ACT, acceptance and commitment therapy. I decided to investigate and picked this book out from a selection available on amazon.

Bottom-line, this is about the practice of mindfulness, which I have learned a bit about from Eckhart Tolle. The root to suffering, says Hayes and Smith, is that we (or as Tolle calls it, our egos) tell stories about ourselves, other people, our lives, and our world, that define what we are and what we are able to do. This can be empowering, but often also causes distress and in some cases hinder us from doing what we want or need to do.
This is our point: humans suffer, in part, because they are verbal creatures. If this is so, then here is the problem: the verbal skills that create misery are too useful and central to human functioning to ever stop operating. That means suffering is an unavoidable part of the human condition, at least until we know how to better manage the skills language itself has given us. 
The therapy part of this book is about learning to defuse from the stories, and go beyond these self-imposed limitations. It is not easy though, to defuse from labels put on oneself by parents, friends, teachers and others.
There is an alternative: you can learn to look at your thoughts rather than from them. These cognitive defusion techniques are a core component of ACT. They help you to make the distinction between the world as structured by your thoughts, and thinking as an ongoing process. When your thoughts are about you yourself, defusion can help you to distinguish between the person doing the thinking and the verbal categories you apply to yourself through thinking. Defusion leads to peace of mind, not because the mental war necessarily stops but because you are not living inside the war zone anymore.
This is so interesting, and I have learned some useful techniques for my hangups, although I must say that considering some of the examples of problems patients struggle with, I can only say (and with a great sense of gratitude) that I really have no problems. Perhaps the most useful thing about reading this book, for me, is a greater understanding of the suffering of some of my friends, which has at times been incomprehensible to me.
...the conceptualized self fits into a story that provides reasons for your actions and a self that provides coherence for your experiences. It is a kind of comfortable but suffocating coherence that leads relentlessly toward “more of the same.” Have you ever noticed that if someone thinks he is unimportant, most events in his life appear to confirm that view? Or have you ever observed that if someone sees herself as a victim, somehow she keeps ending up (in her mind or in actuality) being victimized?
If you are interested in how the mind really works, how our thoughts govern our lives, and want to try some interesting new ways (at least they were new to me) to deal with whatever levels of discomfort or behavioural limitation that you experience, this could be a good read for you.


  1. I am so glad to find out about this book! Thanks! and Happy New Year from across the pond!

    1. I am happy if you find it useful. Wish you a great year!