When life doesn’t go the way we planned.
A quote that really resonates with me is “Life is a journey to be experienced, not a destination to be reached.” If you are anything like me, then you probably have a vision (maybe even a checklist) for how you want your life to go. Perhaps you wanted to be married by thirty, have travelled to a certain number of countries by fifty, or have worked ten years in your dream job before you have kids. But now more than ever, we live in uncertain times. So, what happens when things don’t go according to our plan? When suddenly you lose your job, the world shuts down and you can’t travel, or your relationship comes to an end?
It’s human nature to want certainty in our lives and to be in control of our environment. And when things don’t go according to our plan, it’s natural to find ourselves feeling completely derailed. It certainly felt that way for me when I encountered a roadblock that didn’t fit my (rigid) plan. But if I have learnt one thing, it is the importance of embracing uncertainty.
It should come as no surprise that those with a higher tolerance for uncertainty report feeling less stressed and more content in life. Because the reality is, we can’t control our environment. We will come across roadblocks, we will be thrown curve balls and yes, it will (and does) suck.
I have discovered that life isn’t about having a plan that allows no room hiccups, nor is it having no direction or intentions at all for your future. But IT IS about embracing and appreciating the scenery whilst on a detour, if life happens to call for it. Because the thing is, many people achieve their goals and aspirations and still feel utterly miserable. Which is testament to the fact that the destination, however that may look, does not guarantee blissful happiness. So, if I were to give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to throw away that damn checklist and simply embrace the present moment.
You are probably thinking “cool… so how do I embrace the present moment?” One of the core messages from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is to bring conscious awareness to your here-and-now experience. ACT has two major goals:
- To create acceptance of unwanted experiences which are outside of our control
- To facilitate commitment and action towards living a valued life
Dr. Russ Harris posits six core processes in ACT to help achieve these goals:
- Contact with the Present Moment
Having a conscious awareness of our experience in the present moment enables us to perceive accurately what is happening. It provides information that allows us to decide whether or not we continue or change a behaviour. Being present in the moment enables us to engage fully in what we are doing.
Acceptance means to actively face psychological experiences directly, without defence.
Defusion involves observing and taking note of thoughts, seeing them for what they are and not getting caught up in them. The aim is not to remove unwanted thoughts, but to reduce the influence that maladaptive thoughts have on our behaviour.
Also known as observing self, it is the awareness of one’s awareness. A perspective from which we observe and accept our changing experiences. The idea that we are not the content of our thoughts, but the consciousness experiencing them.
Recognising and highlighting the things you stand for in life and what subsequently guides your actions, the things you want to do and the person you want to be.
- Committed Action
The process of acting to live your life in alignment with your values.