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Fusion Happens, or Why This Blog is Late

“I don’t want to.” 

“I don’t know what to write.” 

“Everything I think of is boring.” 

“This feels pointless.”

Those thoughts are an example of what you might have heard if there had been a bullhorn attached to my mind over the past few weeks. My thoughts got "up in my face" as we say in ACT, and I got totally bossed around by them. This process, which in technical terms we call cognitive fusion, led to me missing several self-imposed blog deadlines.

If you could observe avoidance, you would have also seen me avoiding difficult emotions: vulnerability, discomfort, shame, confusion, anxiety, overwhelm, boredom. For me, sitting down to write often involves a veritable smorgasbord of feelings. By not sitting down to write a blog post, I was able to avoid feeling hard feelings…at least in the short term. 

If you’re a human being, you’ve probably experienced something similar when starting a task or a project. From an ACT lens, all human suffering—including suffering related to undertaking a task or project our mind labels as difficult—is rooted in psychological inflexibility. 

Psychological inflexibility is made up of six different components: avoiding hard feelings, getting bossed around by our thoughts, losing connection with the present moment and our values, becoming frozen and not taking action, and losing perspective or getting overly attached to ideas about ourselves.

These ACT concepts feel pertinent as we travel into the new year, a time of resolutions, intentions, mission statements, choosing a guiding word, developing a mantra, etc. And while a new year can be a rich time for reflection and forward momentum, it can also be an easy time to slip into psychological inflexibility. 

Fusion with self-improvement related thoughts such as “I need to journal more”, “I need to keep my Tupperware drawer more organized” or “I need to lose weight” are often based in shame and self-loathing. We might avoid fears and anxieties about the year ahead by getting busy with tasks and projects. And it is very easy to lose connection with the present by getting overly focused on future outcomes. 

So, as you are exploring the possibility of change in the new year, you might keep in mind the concepts of psychological inflexibility. You can ask yourself: “is my desire for change based on being hooked or bossed around by my thoughts?” “Am I trying to avoid hard feelings by making this change?” Are you imagining a future where if you change x about yourself, you won’t feel sad or down or shameful ever again? 

A more psychologically flexible way of approaching 2024 would be to explore the year ahead via your values. In ACT, values are about the type of person we want to be in the world. They are an ongoing compass, a lodestone we can return to again and again, and something we can always choose. 

Sometimes we confuse domains with values—people might say they have a value of “family” or “finances” or “friendship.” Family, finances, and friendship are all domains of life in which you can act in a values-aligned way, but they aren’t in and of themselves values. Think about the myriad of ways one could show up in the realm of family or friendship: attentive, present, loving, patient, or boundaried. 

One way to think about values is to imagine fast-forwarding 6 months. If you were to look back on the first six months of 2024, how would you like to have shown up? In July, will you say to yourself “I’m proud of my authenticity” or “I feel really good about how honest I’ve been for the past six months” or “I really took care of myself in the first half of 2024.” This imagined scenario can help you determine the values that are important to you at this moment in your life. 

I’ve also been thinking about dialectics as we head into the new year. In the mental health world, we often think of dialectics in the context of dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT. DBT is a skills-based approach to dealing with the complexities of being human, and, as the name implies, dialectics are a key component.

What is a dialectic? In DBT, dialectics are often talked about as holding two seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time. One of the core dialectics of DBT is the idea that people are doing the best they can with the skills that they have…and that it is going to take effort, hard work, consistency, and practice in order to experience change.

I recently cringed a little bit when someone said “new year, new you”—even though I know it was well-intentioned—in part because I was thinking about dialectics. We don’t flip the calendar and become completely new versions of ourselves. Instead, can we go into the new year holding a dialectic of worthiness and enough-ness while acknowledging the possibility of change?

Need some support in exploring your values in the new year? Schedule a complimentary 15 minute consultation call to learn more.