Action. It’s activity. It’s taking charge and doing. It’s creating great moments every single day rather than waiting for them to finally come into your life. Action means not having a good day or good moments but making a good day and good moments. Action is something that we can all do, right now, regardless of how bad things in life might be. If taking action seems easier said than done, keep reading. There are things you can do to empower yourself to act and create the life you want.
Research in psychology and mental health has identified four major problem areas for people, and, consequently, helping professionals usually choose to place their focus on one of the areas (often more than one is addressed, but the primary focus is on one) in order to help people overcome difficulties and improve their mental health and wellbeing. The four areas are
- background (things in someone’s past that impact his/her present)
While all areas are important and relevant to our mental health, one area stands above the others in its ability to empower us, to put us in charge of ourselves and our lives: action. We have more control over our actions than we do our background, emotions, and thoughts. Taking actions to create the life we want helps us overcome events in our past (sometimes we need to process those events with a professional, but that is part of taking action to deal with our past). Also, when we feel negative emotions and think anxiety-provoking, depressing thoughts and take action toward our goals anyway, we empower ourselves and build a sense of self-efficacy, the belief that we are competent and can achieve our goals.
Our actions are in our control. By acting, we become unstuck. Unfortunately, though, sometimes we really are stuck. We might be wrestling with mental illness or external stressors or traumatic brain injury (TBI) or loss or a host of other struggles that come with being human. Sometimes, these things are paralyzing. Sometimes, they make it nearly impossible to feel able to get out of bed and stay out of bed.
This feeling of being stuck, these thoughts that you can’t take positive action to get out of the hole you’re stuck in, are real and legitimate and are something to accept rather than fight with. These feelings and thoughts really can’t physically control us, though. Step by step, small goal by small goal, it is possible to take action to move forward toward the life you want to live.
How, though, do we do what feels insurmountable? In my own life and with others, I’ve used the principles of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT — aptly pronounced “act” instead of a-c-t). ACT teaches six principles for taking action to improve ourselves, our lives, and to actively create our own life worth living. Because I believe in the power of action and the power of ACT, I wrote a book/workbook entitled Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Three Steps – A Workbook for Overcoming Self-Doubt and Embracing Life. I combined the six principles into three practical, do-able steps:
- defuse from your thoughts, emotions, and difficulties and accept things you can’t change
- be present in the moments of your life and understand yourself
- define your values, identify what, exactly you do want and set action goals to live according to your values
The very important bottom line: no matter what, you have the power to choose, to decide what you want in your life, and to set goals and take small actions every day to achieve mental health (that’s an action!) and live the life you want. This is, in the image at the beginning of this article, precisely what Oliver Graham’s psychiatrist is helping him do. A Leave of Absence implies return to action. What are you going to do to create great moments today?