“Psychological Flexibility” sounds amazing. Shouldn’t we all want that? After all, psychological flexibility has been significantly positively associated with wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic, and negatively associated with anxiety, depression, and COVID-29-related distress and worry.
(But what is it, anyway?!)
Psychological Flexibility is about being fully in touch with the present moment and, based on the situation, either continuing or changing your behavior to live in better alignment with your values.
Let’s break that down a bit:
Being fully in touch with the present moment: We spend a good chunk of our lives not fully present. And there are times when it makes sense – we don’t necessarily need to be fully present for every moment of a long drive. As long as we’re present enough to drive safely, we don’t need to observe the exact quality of red in the tail light of the driver in front of you.
But when we spend most of our lives zoned out on our phones, or rushing from one activity to the next (probably partly so we don’t have to sit down and just be), we aren’t truly present.
Better alignment with your values: We all have values, although perhaps some of us haven’t fully articulated them. We might value raising an independent child, but then step in every time they struggle. We might value emotional closeness but struggle to actually do it because our parents didn’t model it for us. When we articulate our values, we define what we’re working toward.
Based on the situation, either continuing or changing your behavior: One of my favorite parts of ACT is the Choice Point: the point at which something doesn’t feel right to you. At this point you get to decide: Am I going to keep doing the same thing I’ve always done? Or am I going to do something that brings me into better alignment with my values?
Want to know more? Dr. Diana Hill, co-author with Dr. Debbie Sorensen, joins me on this episode to discuss their new book ACT Daily Journal: Get Unstuck and Live Fully with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (this is an affiliate link, so I will earn a small commission through your purchase which does not affect the price you pay). The book walks readers through a series of exercises to help them become more psychologically flexible, through the practice of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The concepts in ACT are ones that I’ve found to be enormously useful both personally and in working with clients, so I’m excited to tell you about them here!
Jump to highlights:
- (01: 26) What is ACT or acceptance and Commitment Therapy
- (02:07) What is this thing psychological flexibility?
- (03:48) What are the components of psychological flexibility?
- (08:07) Cognitive diffusion
- (11:38) The idea that we could believe that our thoughts are not true is mind boggling to a lot of people
- (16:36) Values and parenting in particular is such a good one to discuss
- (18:20) Values are something that are deep within you, that you can pull upon, when you’ve got nothing left
- (19:10:) The idea of the choice point
- (23:36) Perspective taking is probably one of the most important skills we can do for ourselves
- (27:01) How do we live out committed action
- (33:55) Our children are naturally beginner’s mind
- (35:18:) One of the things that actually sets humans apart from robots, is our ability to think outside the box
- (39:58) We can start to teach our children, that it’s not about the answer. That there’s many ways to solve problems
- (41:51) The IKEA effect
- (45:33) Another thing that’s really important with embodiment is modeling
Click here to read the full transcript
Jen Lumanlan 00:03
Hi, I’m Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives. But it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research on principles of respectful parenting. If you’d like to be notified when new episodes are released, and get a FREE Guide called 13 Reasons Why Your Child Won’t listen To You and What To Do About Each One, just head on over to your YourParentingMojo.com/SUBSCRIBE. You can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners in the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you’ll join us
Jen Lumanlan 00:48
Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We have a guest here today to talk with us about a tool that I actually discovered through her show and I found it to be incredibly helpful both personally and professionally. So our guest is Dr. Diana Hill, and she’s co host with three of her colleagues of the Psychologists Off The Clock podcast, and one of her co hosts is Dr. Yael Schonbrun, who we had on the show to discuss work life balance. And then Dr. Hill actually hosted me on Psychologists Off the Clock and we talked about homeschooling and social justice and parenting and stuff like that. And now she’s here with us today to discuss one of her favorite topics, which is acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is shortened to act. So Dr. Hill has just published a book with her colleague and Psychologists Off the Clock at co-host Debbie Sorensen, called Acts Daily Journal: Get unstuck and live fully with acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which isn’t geared specifically toward parents, but there’s so much in it that’s going to help parents. So welcome Dr. Hill. It’s great to have you here.
Diana Hill 01:45
Thank you, Jen, it’s so good to be here with you and my interview with you is one of my favorites. So it’s time to have the table’s turned here and talk about ACT and and specifically around parenting because it turns out if you’re more psychologically flexible as a person, it rubs off on to your parenting, and then that rubs off on to your kids too. So I love to talk more about it.
Jen Lumanlan 02:05
Yeah, awesome. So maybe we can start there with Firstly, what is this thing psychological flexibility? And why does it matter? Why does it make a difference? How does it make a difference in our lives?
Diana Hill 02:14
Well, a psychological flexibility is a construct that’s been researched for decades now. And some of the research is actually starting to get into the general public. And what it is, is, it’s your ability to stay present, open up to your full life experience, not get hooked by your thoughts, and orient your actions towards your values towards what really matters to you, even when life gets difficult. So you can see how even just that term could be helpful as a parent, right? And
Jen Lumanlan 02:43
keep going. I’m not saying it.
Diana Hill 02:47
And what the research has shown is that there’s really these Six Core Processes, ways in which you engage with the world that help you become more psychologically flexible. And when you’re psychologically flexible. Not only do you have less chances of developing things like anxiety and depression, but specifically with parenting, some of the meta analyses that are showing up with parenting is that psychologically flexible parents engage in more positive parenting practices, they’re less harsh, as well as not super overly permissive, you see less spillover effects of stress onto kids. So they did some studies looking at psychological flexibility during COVID with parents and parents that were more psychologically flexible during COVID. Not only did they have less conflict in their relationship with their partners, there was less impact of the stress of COVID on their kids. This set of processes is turning out to be in the research one of the key factors in human flourishing and functioning in lots of different domains of our lives.
Jen Lumanlan 03:47
Okay, I’m convinced. So what are the components of psychological flexibility?
Diana Hill 03:52
Well, there’s six of them and you can kind of think of them Steven Hayes, who’s one of the cofounders of ACT or Acceptance a Commitment Therapy talks about like sides of a box. So six sides of the box, that together build your psychological flexibility. And some of them are fairly familiar to folks we’ve all heard about being present. That’s one of them, being able to stay present in the moment sort of mindfulness, but it’s a little different in ACT being present has more to do with being present where it matters, because you can’t be mindful all of the time. But in that moment, when your kid is showing, like pulling out stuff from the backpack, and they’re showing you a piece of artwork and you’re on your phone, this is a time to be present because they’re bidding for attention. They’re bidding for connection, right? So being present when it matters to you as a parent. A second process is about acceptance. And in Act, acceptance isn’t sometimes that can be a term that people don’t like. It’s like I don’t want to accept that.
Jen Lumanlan 04:52
I don’t want to just roll over and let things happen.
Diana Hill 04:55
Yeah, so acceptance is not about being passive, actually acceptance is not about approval or liking something, but it’s really allowing it to be, right. So for me with my youngest child, he had colic. And for the first four months of his life, he screamed, non stop. And so I did all sorts of stuff to try and make him to stop crying I, I bounced, and I walked in, I played music, and I sing. And then I remember one day, when I was so exhausted, and burned out, and just really tired of getting him to stop crying, I decided I was going to stop trying to get him to stop crying. And instead, I was going to accept that this is how he is expressing himself. He’s working it out, neurologically, whatever was going on. And what I chose to do is to love him, and bond with him while he was crying, instead of trying to get him to stop. So that’s an example of acceptance and Act, which is really opening up and allowing for our full inner experience.
Jen Lumanlan 05:53
Yeah. And just a pause on that for a second, how did your experience shift after that happened? Because I think that’s the profound part, right? What was different for you, after you decided that you were just going to accept that?
Diana Hill 06:04
Well, I think for many of us, as parents, we’ve all had that experience of wanting to fix our kids. And when we’re engaging and fixing, there’s actually something in motivational interviewing called the fixing reflex, which is our tendency to fix things that we don’t like, what it does is it actually can derail us from engaging the very values that we care about. So for me, when I was trying to get him to stop crying, I was walking around in circles of my dinner of my dinner table, and my other child was watching, like, His head was circling back and I was not engaged with him, because I was so focused on getting my child to stop crying, right. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t sued or, you know, care for our crying babies. But when it becomes that you are trying to fix something, some kind of internal experience inside of yourself as a parent, and you’re trying to make it go away, at the cost of you engaging in the world parenting in the way that you want to be, then it’s called something called experiential avoidance, which is actually the opposite of acceptance. So for me, it was liberating my child did not he didn’t cry less by me doing that I just related to the whole experience lesson, it freed me up a little bit to be there with him be present with him, which is ultimately, what he probably really needed most from me.
Jen Lumanlan 07:21
Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. Okay, so what are some of the other components of it?
Diana Hill 07:26
Okay, so there’s six and you can see why Debbie, and I wrote a book on this? I’ll break it down. And in the act, daily journal, we take each one of these processes, and we really do break them down into little tiny nuggets that you try out in your life day by day. So the two that we’ve mentioned, are more acceptance based processes. And there’s another one that’s really kind of fun, because it’s unique to act or to these new modern approaches to psychology, so act as sort of research based approach to psychology that has taken a different approach to thoughts than what a lot of people maybe even know about, like cognitive behavioral therapy. And in Act, we do something called cognitive diffusion. And I could do a little, it’s actually I think, this is best demonstrated not necessarily described, so I’m going to have you imagine or maybe if you wouldn’t mind being fully my, my guinea pig. A thought that you struggle with as a parent. It could be a self critical thought, it could be some, so some of the ones that you know, are common are like, I’m not doing enough, or, you know, even as I’m talking people are listening to these psychological flexibility skills. And they’re like, Oh, that’s I’m not flexible. I’m not good enough.
Jen Lumanlan 08:47
Alright, let’s go with, there isn’t enough of me to go around that my husband and my daughter will often talk over each other at the same time asking me for things, and I feel pulled in different directions.
Diana Hill 09:00
Okay, so one of those is I feel pulled in different directions, which I would say isn’t a thought that’s just an experience, like that. We’ve all had that feeling of like, Oh, I feel pulled, I want to be in many places at once and that probably points, we’ll talk a little bit more about values that probably points to some of your values, things that you care about. But there isn’t enough of me to be around. What I hear in there is that that could be a sticky thought it could get in the way of you being able to be present when when your husband and child are talking over you. So I want you to imagine that thought were written across your hand, Jen, there isn’t enough of me to go around. And imagine you’re at the dinner table with your partner and your child. And that thought were just like really close up to your face. So imagine it’s waiting on your hand and put your hand right up to your face like the thought.
Jen Lumanlan 09:48
Covering my eyes?
Diana Hill 09:49
Aha, covering your eyes. Okay. Now, if that thought were written across your hand and your hand was in the spot, how well could you see the thought for what it is? So close up to your eyes.
Jen Lumanlan 10:02
WelI, I mean, it’s blocking my view, although it’s blurry.
Diana Hill 10:05
It’s blurry. Yeah. And if it’s really close up, actually, the thought itself is blurry, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to read it and how well would you be able to see your partner and your child?
Jen Lumanlan 10:17
Hmm, very little.
Diana Hill 10:18
Very little. This is what we call cognitive fusion. We’re so stuck on our thoughts. We can’t even see what’s around us. Now, what I want you to do is slowly move your hand away from your face. Imagining that that thought is still written on your hand? And can you look down and and read the thought if it were written on your hand? Okay. And then could you look around the dinner table, engage with your partner? Have a conversation with your child? Right? Okay. And notice that I didn’t cut off your hand, I didn’t ask you to write a new thought on your hand.
Jen Lumanlan 10:53
Yeah, you didn’t change anything about at all?
Diana Hill 10:57
Yeah, I didn’t tie your hand around your back. And in fact, if I tied your hand around your back, you’d have one less hand at the dinner table to work with. Right, what we did is we did something called cognitive diffusion, which is getting a little bit of space from your thoughts. And as parents, as humans, we all have thoughts all the time running through our heads. What can get in the way of us being effective parents sometimes is when we believe those thoughts to be true. And those thoughts dictate our behavior, or they cloud us so much that we can’t see what’s really happening in the present.
Jen Lumanlan 11:32
Yeah, I just want to pause there on what you said, we believe our thoughts to be true. And I talked about this concept with a lot of parents over the years. And the idea that we could believe that our thoughts are not true is mind boggling to a lot of people. And I’ve talked to some people who have said, You know, I was grew up in a religious commune. And I was trained to believe that my thoughts were a direct channel from God, and so they must be true, they are true. So there’s sort of that perspective coming through sometimes. But even if you don’t have that perspective, this idea that I think things and they might not be true is absolutely mind blowing to a lot of people. What do we do with our thoughts? If they are potentially not all true? Like, how could the thing we’re thinking not be true?
Diana Hill 12:16
Well, that’s just that the human mind does is it produces all sorts of thoughts. And actually, when you look at some of the psychological disorders out there. Some of them have more to do with trying to stop yourself from thinking or change your thoughts than they do with just allowing the thoughts to come and go. So you know, a really good example, Insomnia. Right?. One of the things about insomnia that’s really interesting is that it’s this paradoxical thing that the more you try and make yourself fall asleep, the less likely you’re going to sleep, right. And when you have thoughts, as you’re going to bed, oftentimes, I call it the, you know, the middle of the night, sort of crisis moment where everything seems so intense and real and true. And we have to figure this out now. And it’s so important that I solved this problem at 2am, which I have no way of solving, right. And then the next morning, we wake up, and we’re like, oh, yeah, that wasn’t, it’s not as big a deal. Right? So if your thoughts were true, then you would have the same feeling at 2am, as you do at two o’clock in the afternoon.
Jen Lumanlan 13:18
It still be a big deal. Right?
Diana Hill 13:19
It would still be a big deal. Right? So the nature of our thoughts. And what’s interesting about the human mind, and sort of what neuroscience is showing is that evolutionarily, our brain is designed to create certain types of thoughts that would have protected us, right. So things like even self critical or judgmental thoughts are there, because they were a protective mechanism, right, we have an error detection, we have a warning system, that sort of like a better safe than sorry, brain. And that keeps us a little bit anxious. We are the ancestors of people that were pretty anxious, they survived because they thought it was a bear and they ran away. But what’s happened is that there’s an environmental mismatch. And what that means is, our biology hasn’t quite caught up to the current modern day environment. And so we’re not only do we have old brains that tend to be self critical, and tend to be a little anxious and tend to be negative and also tend to create in groups and out groups, right? That we also live in a culture that is bombarded by messaging. Through the media, through our early childhood experiences through we have a culture that is feeding thoughts into our brain. And if we don’t start to question them, we’re going to be in a whole lot of problems even bigger than just insomnia. Right? Yeah. Yeah. So thoughts are an act we don’t think about thoughts as to or not, we don’t actually get very entangled in them. Rather, what we do is we look at is this helpful helpful for me? Is this thought workable, like and is this thought aligned with my values? Is it pointing in the direction of the type of person that I want to be in the world? And when those things are true, then maybe those thoughts can come along for the ride, and when they’re not we let them go or we can just acknowledge like, oh, thank you mind, you know, there it is my mind talking again, it tends to do tends to do that, and it tends to, you know, have certain qualities to it.
Jen Lumanlan 14:37
Yeah, and just like with the insomnia, just telling it to shut up, you know, I know there’s research, researchers asked participants to not think about something for a period of time, and then all the person can do is think about that thing. So if you actively try not to think about something, or until something to shut up or go away, then it doesn’t necessarily tend to be an effective way of dealing with that unwanted thought.
Diana Hill 15:12
Debbie writes, in our book, we had these little vignettes, we’re both therapists, and but we also both apply these practices as moms and as partners and friends. And so we write these little vignettes of how we use these practices in our life to illustrate like, this is this is acting, the day to day living. And what Debbie wrote this story that’s so sweet about, she tried to cut back carbs. And one day, she’s cutting back carbs, and she, she sees this big potato, and she’s like, I can’t eat that big potato. And then by the end of the day, the big potato was like, you know, the size of the room, that’s all she could think about was that one big potato, right? We’ve all had that experience of trying to control our thoughts, and what how research maps on at this point in time is really demonstrating that our attempts to engage in thought control have a paradoxical effect, that you tend to have a greater rebound of thoughts. Also, the same is true for our emotions, when we try to suppress our emotions, they tend to come back stronger.
Jen Lumanlan 16:28
Alright, so I think we made it through three of the six. I think we covered let’s see, we cognitive diffusion, being present actually made? Do we only unacceptance. Okay, so what comes next maybe values, because you’re just talking about how it’s linked to living in alignment with your values.
Yeah, absolutely. And values and parenting in particular is such a good one to discuss. Because sometimes we mistake values for morals, or external expectations. And in Act values are personal and chosen, chosen by the individual. So just like your favorite color may be black, and my favorite color may be blue, black is not better than blue, and blue is not better than black. It’s just our personal chosen favorite, right? And values are also enact an adverb. So a lot of times when I’m working with clients, I’ll ask about their values. And one of the first things they’ll say is, I value my health, or I value parenting, or I value the environment. And those aren’t really values as much as they are domains, under which you live out your values. So if we were to look at parenting, in that domain of your life, how do you want to be, if I were to follow you around in a day where you feel like you were really aligned with the type of person you want to be as a parent? And you were engaging in activities and actions that demonstrate that? What would it look like? What would I see that I could be like, Oh, yeah, that person really values being playful, or that person really values compassion and being present, right. So there are these qualities that you bring, and the nature of values and the reason why values is such a powerful component of Act, and even just in guiding our behavior, is that as parents, and I’m sure your podcast because you’re super, you know, up to date educated is that values are intrinsically motivating. So, as opposed to like gold stars, and you know, good jobs, values are something that are deep within you, that you can pull upon, when you’ve got nothing left. When you’re exhausted, if you dig in deep to your values, it can help rejuvenate your parenting, it can help make you get a sense of purpose and meaning. And that is very key to not only happiness in life, but also being able to pursue actions that are important to you. So things like you know, this summer when folks were depleted and at their limit. And then you saw these incredible actions that people were taking even with nothing left. Oftentimes, that’s because they were digging deep into their values and acting from there.
Jen Lumanlan 19:09
Yeah, that reminds me of one of the key ideas about this approach that I took from Stephen Hayes’s book, which I read after I learned about it from your show, which is the idea of the choice point, when something difficult is happening, we have this moment where we get to make a decision about whether we go down this well worn path that is not serving us or whether we move towards something an action that’s aligned with our values. And that has been such a central concept for me to recognize, okay, I’m at this point, how do I want to respond here? Do I want to go down that path? Or do I want to go down this path and it links to cognitive diffusion as well? Right, because you have to have some distance from the situation to be able to, to see that choice point and to decide, am I going this way am I going that way? I’m not perfect at it by any stretch of the imagination, but I am finding Knowing that increasingly I can make a choice that is aligned with my values. Because I recognize that I’m at this point right now. And this is where I want to go.
Diana Hill 20:09
Yeah, there’s really simple skill that we teach is an act daily journal is pause, notice choose and crying babies was me whatever, nine years ago, now it’s children bickering. If I could choose any sound, the sound of my children bickering, I would be a happy person, right? Give me like a drill, give me a jackhammer, I would prefer it to my children fighting. And what that does for me in that moment, is it actually I get flooded, like I get flooded with anger, irritability, I want to control this situation, I want to get in there and get them to stop just as much as I did with my crying baby, right? And so that’s a choice point. And here’s where values come in and here’s where these components of psychological flexibility come in is that you start to get clear on Okay, here’s, here’s the moment like this, is it this is the moment that matters here? Because not only how am I responding to my kids in that moment, gonna lead me to feeling good or bad about myself as a parent, right, obviously, but it’s more about what am i modeling to my kids about? How am I handling strong emotions? How am I handling conflict resolution, these are deep values for me of teaching my kids how to engage in conflict resolution, how to engage in being present and prospective take with each other. So that’s a choice point for me and the practice of act in that moment would be pause, like, acknowledge it. This is a meaningful moment, just like the kid bringing me the picture. This is an equally meaningful, although painful moment.
Jen Lumanlan 21:47
Yes. People Yes. And, and it is hard for me. I’m strugling in this moment, yes.
Diana Hill 21:52
And struggling. So there’s a little self compassion in there, wove that in, that’s the first chapter, but also pausing, noticing what it’s like in my body opening. So that’s the acceptance part, like, here it is, this is what it feels like when I am flooded with all the neural hormones that are associated with hearing my children bickering, right, and then choosing what type of parent I want to be right here and making that move towards my values. And when we do that on a repeated basis, it frees us up, we start to feel like wow, I have choice in my life, to engage, like even when I’m flooded, I may need to pause and regulate a little bit, right? But then I can go in with intention. And it it spills over into our kids, because more than whatever you say in that moment, to your child, it’s what you’re doing with your child, how you’re interacting with them, that’s getting encoded into their bodies and
Jen Lumanlan 22:52
Stop fighting as you creaming.
Diana Hill 22:56
I’ve done that, no, I’ve done that a million times. Like I struggle with this all the time. I mean, like I said, I prefer a jackhammer. But I also can see with with practice, and that’s why these are all skills that can practice that you can just like you can learn a language at 45. It’s hard. Yeah, e2asier to learn a language 2. Same with these skills, you know, but you can do it with practice. And it takes repeated practice on a daily basis. There’s a million choice points throughout our day. And if this one doesn’t quite go exactly how we want to go. Good news.
Jen Lumanlan 23:27
You got 10 minutes from now. 10 minutes. Yeah, okay. And so we’ve sort of touched on the last couple of elements of perspective taking and committed action as you were talking us through that. So do you want to just get sort of rounded out with me? How does perspective taking fit into this? And then how do we get to committed action from there?
Diana Hill 23:45
Yeah, well, perspective taking is probably one of the most important skills we can do for ourselves, in terms of developing our own sense of self compassion. It’s also key and compassion for others. And one of the most important skills we can teach our children, right, not only because it benefits us, when we can step into a grander view of things in the book, we call it sky mind. So a lot of our daily experiences, sort of like the weather. And sometimes there’s big storms, like when my children are fighting, sometimes there’s beautiful sunny days, right? Sky mind is the ability to step back and observe those weather systems and also recognize no matter how bad it gets, those weather systems won’t harm the sky. So be able to tap into what’s more transcendent version of ourselves, the observer self, the Wise mind, someone that I studied with, they calls it sort of sitting at the back of the heart. Right? And when we can do that with our children, and I do we do a lot of in our household, not only do I do that for myself as a parent, as for perspective, like this moment, when you’re, you look at your child, and you sometimes I feel like my children get older and I just always see them as older than they are right? And then I look back at a picture of them and I’m like, Oh my gosh, I thought that they were So old when they were five, just tiny legs, how much would I give to have that five year old back, right?. And if we do that kind of perspective taking, we can also then take perspective on our child right here in this present moment, like, they’re not always going to be this way. Every day, they get older every day I get older. There’s impermanence here, right? So perspective taking can help with that of like, getting oriented around what matters. But it can also help with things like empathy, and training our kids to be more empathic, training our kids to have more flexible minds. I do that a lot. You know, everything from just the other day. So one thing about COVID is that in homeschooling during COVID, as my parent, my kids have gotten to be really good cooks. Because I’m not always cooking for them anymore, right. And the other day, I came into the kitchen, and my son was seven o’clock in the morning, and had a big bowl of pesto pasta with broccoli, seven o’clock in the morning, and he didn’t cook this, but he got his like, gotten it out of the fridge, and he was eating it for breakfast. And I was like, wow, that isn’t that’s an interesting breakfast, not when I’m expected. 7am, right. And he said, Oh, mom well, we read that book, because we’ve read books as part of our homeschool. There’s this book called This is how we do it that follows children from all over the world throughout their day. And it shows what they ate for breakfast, what they How did they get to school with their houses look like, right? And then for our homeschool, we’ve been writing our own book, this is how I do it. So that we have this perspective, taking exercise of children all over the world and all over our town, do things differently and live in different environments, right, and we live. And he said, I read that book, and they saw that people have fish for breakfast. And people have noodles for breakfast. And so why can I have pasta for breakfast? And I was like that is psychological flexibility. So perspective taking is really helpful just in those little, you know, to get our kids unhooked from shoulds. Right. But also really helpful in the way we think more about social justice and a desire for our kids not only see their worldview.
Jen Lumanlan 27:08
Yeah. Okay. And then that takes us to committed action. And how do we live out committed action.
Diana Hill 27:14
Committed action is the behavioral science of it all. So act at its core is a behavioral psychology. And what that means is, it’s really based on some core elements of what we know about behavior change. And it really breaks down to just sort of, there’s a cue, there’s a behavior that we engage in. And then there’s a reward for the behaviors that we engage in and an act what we do is we try and create contexts that support the behaviors that we want to engage in our life. So for example, one of my values is having more movement, as a family. And because we live in a sedentary culture, and also I just really believe in the mental health benefits of movement. So one of the things that I did to work on that cue, the contacts that can trigger our behavior was to remove most of the furniture from our living room. So there’s like just a big open space, where, you know, moment of the day, there’ll be a kid like running through it, throwing something tumbling, right takes a little psychological flexibility is a parent to allow some movement in your household, right? But it’s important to me, that’s one of my values, right? So creating context that support the values that you want to grow is one part of committed action. Another part of committed action is reinforcing and rewarding the values that you are engaging in when you engage in new activities, making them small, and then reinforcing them for yourself. So say you want to, as a parent, have more time as a family family conversations, right? So one of the things that you could do to reinforce that is engage in family conversations that are fun and playful, and are reinforcing to the kids and reinforcing to you. So at the dinner table, sometimes, we will play games, we’ll do math at dinner, we’ll do bedtime math, because we want to engage in these activities that we want to grow with our kids, but in a playful, fun way, as opposed to like a punishing way. So that would be an example of committed action. But really committed action is whatever value you want to pursue with your children that’s personal and chosen by you creating contexts that support it, and then reinforcing it in your daily life.
Jen Lumanlan 29:31
Yeah, and just going back to what you said about the taking all of your furniture, most of your furniture out of the living room and thinking about conversations I’ve had with parents about you know, how do I get the kid to stop jumping on the coffee table and the the conversation so often is focused around how do I get my child to stop doing this thing that I don’t want them to do? And this given that there needs to be a coffee table in the living room. We get ourselves locked into these visions of what a living room has to look like. And maybe they served us before we were parents. And maybe they’re not serving us so well now, but we just can’t imagine a living room without a sofa. And because every living room we’ve ever walked through or seen on TV has a sofa in it, and having the flexibility to be able to step out of this and say, you know, I would actually be more comfortable in a different kind of chair or in a beanbag, and my child would have more space to do whatever they might enjoy doing is swinging from a swing in the middle of the room or something. To get myself out of this mindset that a living room must look like this.
Diana Hill 30:30
Yes, the mindsets, right. So that’s when my son was three, he was hanging on the towel racks in the bathroom, and he kept pulling the towel rack off the wall. So we put a trapeze in the middle of the playroom. And now I go up, I hang from it. We spend all of our you know, child’s I was just talking to a parent the other day that said that, in her first grade son’s classroom that was on zoom, the teacher spent the most of the time trying to get the kids to keep their heads inside of the little box. Okay, so it’s not even like keep your body on the carpet square anymore, its keep your head in the box. Oh, my gosh, yeah. So yeah, so getting psychologically flexible is, is that really important? And why? What is important to me here, right? We spend a lot of our kids child, you know, keeping kids in chairs, and you know, sitting in boxes, and then as adults, we’re trying to have standing desks and going to move more with what is this about? But getting flexible with these should and you can tell this is the perspective taking part of it is that you can tell it’s a shirt when there’s things like I always, I never, I have to this is just the way it is. And being more playful with those things is important because it can help you get clear on like, what are the rules that I’m holding on to that aren’t really useful here. A lot of our inflexibility as parents has to do with trying to get our children to comply.
Jen Lumanlan 31:53
Yeah. Even without the word comply trying to get our children to dot dot dot,
Diana Hill 31:58
Right. And the reason why we’re doing that, is because there’s something uncomfortable that shows up under our skin. When our children are not complying. Yeah. And it’s everything from what do other people think when my kid is acting in this way to what my parents told me the shins in my head, the belief systems to fear if my children don’t comply, what does this mean about the Self Storage? The future tripping of like, Oh, no, they’re gonna be like, where a lot of shoes in our house or outdoors? And also, you know, there’s all sorts of conversations about that, right? And it’s freedom. When you get hooked into what really matters here, what are my values, what I really care about? And then how am I going to structure my life around that instead of structuring my life around getting my kids to comply or some rules or shoulds? About what it’s supposed to look like?
Jen Lumanlan 32:51
Yes. I’m just thinking, Okay, how could we actually start to do this? And it reminded me of one of the concepts of the book, beginner’s mind. And as I as I was reading through the book, and reading about what is beginner’s mind, my thoughts immediately went to somebody who’s in my parenting membership, and a couple of my other programs as well, where she posted in one of our communities recently, and she said, normally, when I go for a walk, I have an agenda. This is where we’re going, this is what we’re going to do. And today, I went out for a walk with my three kids, and we had no agenda. And we just decided to see what would happen. And she said her kids spent half an hour putting little stones on a bench and knocking them off with sticks, and saying that they were playing golf. And she said, I was absolutely in awe of them. And it seemed to be such a powerful mix of being present. And also having beginner’s mind this idea that we can go for a walk and not have to have a destination. There’s no measure of success of this walk. And and I’m guessing she’d never even noticed those stones before that they were playing with as well. And though I’m wondering that, you know, where I want to go with this is, I’m guessing our children have a thing or two to tell us to teach us about having beginner’s mind. Do you see ways that we can learn from our children on how to do that more effectively?
Diana Hill 34:08
Absolutely. I mean, our children are naturally beginner’s mind, because they don’t have life experiences created mental models of the world. So if you look at the neuroscience of it, basically, our brain creates categories and mental models to make things more like easy to navigate, right? So we know what this drive looks like. We know what this walk looks like. We know what a orange looks like. For children they’re approaching many, many things as if it were the first time or maybe it’s only the third time they’ve approached it. And so they’ll do things like slow down and pause and get curious and ask questions. And what parents do that interfere with that process? Is that we answer those questions. I’m not kidding. We answer those questions, and we answer them too quickly. We also have engage in a lot of scaffolding. So you know, this sort of like we set things up so that we, our kid will will kind of go that direction. With our questioning, maybe maybe we’re asking semi open ended questions, but we know where we want them to go with it. And what that does over time is two things. One is that it really limits creative thinking, problem solving, because part of problem solving and being a creative thinker is in one of the things that actually sets humans apart apart from robots, is our ability to think outside the box, right. And so we need to have that as a skill that our children are learning to be future problem solvers, you know, solving the problems of our planet. These are big tasks that we’re passing on to our children. And we don’t have the solutions as parents, so let’s keep them fresh keep their beginner’s mind. The other thing that is really problematic about answering those questions, too quickly, or too much scaffolding is that it erodes the relationship. If you come in and you answer it too quickly, they’re not able to just sit in the wonder and the curiosity and the reinforcement of thinking outside the box. If I came into my that kid eating pesto pasta for at 7am. And I said, What are you doing? That is not breakfast? Why are you eating pesto pasta for breakfast? I just eroded an out of the box thinking moment, because he was able to say I’m eating pesto pasta for breakfast. I’m realizing people all over the world don’t eat, you know, muffins and bagels for breakfast. And, and then I was able to tell me why you chose this and what was that like? And what does it taste like and get curious that I can use his curiosity to evoke curiosity in me as a parent, and then all of a sudden, we’re feeding off on each other in this place of beginner’s mind curiosity. And it’s incredibly rewarding to see our children in that way, they open our eyes to the world, in ways that we wouldn’t be able to see, as they just see more clearly.
Jen Lumanlan 37:03
Yeah, it’s such a beautiful idea and actually dovetails super nicely with a couple of the approaches that we take in a membership that I have to support for parents to support their children’s learning, we help them basically get comfortable with the idea of doing exactly what you just described, because so much of this is wrapped up in our fears about what learning looks like if I’m not teaching that my child isn’t learning. And when we pick a what we call a learning exploration for our parents to support the child with it’s something a child has chosen child is interested in. And we deliberately tell parents do not pick anything that you know anything about. Because if you know anything about this topic, you are going to go down this rabbit hole of teaching them and you will not be able to get your mindset out of I want them to know this, this and this. And it wasn’t successful, because we didn’t look at it in this way. And so there’s that aspect of it. And then the other aspect of it is go so deeply into listening, and not just listening to understand but listening with the idea that we might come out of this interaction being the one who has changed, we, the parents might have been changed by this interaction. And that listening does not just mean trying to understand my child’s perspective, or understand it with the perspective but then I can teach. But we may actually learn something useful in our lives by hearing truly hearing our children. So lovely to see those worlds collide.
Diana Hill 38:23
My husband has his PhD in education. And specifically he specializes in equity in education. And one of the things that he teaches and I sort of, I’ve gotten a chance to observe him teach this year, and it’s taught me a lot about psychology, because he’s home teaching. He teaches two things. One is two questions that I think our listeners could take away to use with their children on a regular basis. And the two questions are what do you notice? And what do you wonder? What do you notice? What do you wonder? Whether you’re approaching a math problem, whether you’re approaching a conversation of a conflict between two kids? Hey, hold on, let’s pause. What do you notice? What’s happening right here? What do you wonder, okay. The other thing that he does, and this is helpful, he uses it in classroom environments to help with perspective, taking, like perspective taking in math that other people can solve a problem differently than you can solve a problem. If you can teach that. Then you can start to see things like people have different experiences in what you’re experiencing. They have different emotions, they have different life experiences, they have different contextual things that are happening in their lives, is that he’ll do something where like, for example, with a math problem, he’ll put up a series of dots and you can imagine in your mind, like four dots and a line, and then four more dots underneath. And then he’ll ask and they’re all lined up, and he’ll ask one child, how many dots do you see? And the child will say 8 like pretty much you know, a child that can count them at the second question they will ask is, and how do you see them and one child may say something like, I see two lines of four, but then I’ll ask another child to say, how many dots do you see? I see 8. How do you see them and another child to say something like, I see four lines of two, so that we can start to teach our children, that it’s not about the answer. That there’s many ways to solve problems, that many people have different ways of solving problems, because they see the world differently. And they’ve had different life experiences. And they, and all of that is welcome here. So what do you notice what you wonder, right? Yeah. And that we’re not trying to get to some kind of outcome point. But that is much more about the process. And reinforcing that process of divergent thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, will not only benefit your household when you’re trying to like do some conflict resolution, but it’ll help our planet. That’s what we need for the future of our planet for us to work together to, for our kids to take on some of the massive challenges that they are inheriting, unfortunately,
Jen Lumanlan 41:00
Yeah, and this can come about through math problems. But I’m just thinking, I really learned it. It was probably 10 years ago, we were doing some big renovations work on the house. And I learned it through plumbing. There are so many ways of solving a problem in plumbing. And I got all the code books, and I read everything I was supposed to do. And I set up the plumbing in a way that met the code. And the inspector came in, and he looked at it and he kind of gave me this, he’s looking at the wall, he’s like, well, that’s one way of doing it. And so if I had been a professional plumber, I would appreciate an entirely different way. But it’s still met code, it’s still got the job done. And I probably could have come up with three other ways that it could also have met covered and got the job done. Yes, we can have these lessons as it were through math, but my daughter wasn’t alive then. But she could have helped me go through this plumbing issue, and how are we going to solve this issue? And okay, well, that doesn’t mean, it has to be more cloaked. And we could have learned that through this life experience as well.
Diana Hill 42:00
Absolutely, yeah. And that could have been your homeschool for the day, I mean, hearing out, right? There’s a term in psychology called the IKEA effect. And the IKEA effect is that if you give people like IKEA furniture that’s impossible to put together? Yes, well, yeah, you’re here. If you give a group of people that piece of IKEA furniture to put together and you give them the instructions, and then you give another group of people, the piece of furniture to put together and you don’t give them instructions, and you let them go at it. The folks that don’t have the instructions, it’ll take them longer to put that piece of furniture together. But then if the next day, you give them the piece of furniture, everyone gets a piece, the groups get the piece of furniture, but no one gets instructions. Guess who’s gonna build it. So what we often do in life with our kids, is we give them the instructions, because it’s faster, it’s easier, I don’t have to feel frustration, I don’t have to feel as irritable, I get a prettier product, it’s gold stars. But what we’re preventing them from doing is figuring out the plumbing project, right? Or the solving the you know, how to deal with IKEA furniture, or even just solving the problems of living, the problems of engaging in relationships. And those are the types of skills that we want our kids to have when we are not there. Because we’re not always going to be there to give them the instructions.
Jen Lumanlan 43:18
Yes. Yes. Okay, a bit of a non-secretary but but related to that is how do we understand the world? How do we understand ourselves. And I think a really important way of doing that, that we are not taught to do is to listen to our bodies to understand our body’s physical experience. And I did an episode fairly recently, on the physical reasons, you yell at your kids, and we talk about this body brain split, and how information that is processed in our brains is seen as superior to information that is seen in our bodies. And if we don’t sort of consciously make a decision to support our child, children in learning about information that’s coming from their bodies, they’re not going to learn this because our culture doesn’t teach this. And so I think the first step to that is understanding ourselves, how do we understand our bodies signals, does actually have some tools that we can use to sort of help to put that into practice?
Diana Hill 44:15
Yeah, well, what you’re sort of describing is the term that I would use as embodiment. So I’m a yoga teacher and that my lineage goes back to yoga. And then I studied a lot with study a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh and actually went to Plum Village and studied with him in my in my 20s. And mindfulness and being present in our body is, is actually it’s something that we’re born with children are born embodied. It’s not that we have to teach them how to be embodied. We have to stop teaching them not to do it. So your children have a natural hunger fullness system of when they’re hungry, when they’re not hungry. We tell them that they’re not hungry or they shouldn’t eat. We tell them that they’re full when they are still hungry. They know their body knows when they need to use the bathroom when they feel the feeling often times with kids, um, when we’re having like a feeling like it’s just last name, my child was up and he was feeling anxious before bed and, and so instead of actually saying going straight to what are you feeling? Which parents want to put a word on it like what are you feeling? What’s the word? Is it anxious? Is it all say like, where is it in your body point to it? Is it up here? It’s up here, if we’re moving? Is it moving up? Is it moving down? Or how is it moving? It is? Is it a color? Do you have any kind of like sense Is it warm, you know, getting just sort of that awareness of the sensations that are happening in the physical body that they already know. And they can be usually just starting with point to it, they can usually point to it before they can put words to it. And as parents, as adults, we often want to put words to things. But some things are really hard to put words to and it’s not helpful to put words to them, like our body states. Another thing that’s really important, I think, with embodiment is modeling, as parents, so speaking about our experiences as sort of our full experience of like, I’m just noticing this in my in my body right now I’m noticing that I’m full, I’m noticing that I’m hungry, I’m noticing, you know, all the different parts of emotions that we can model that as we’re communicating to our children. With act, I would say processes that are involved in embodiment are things like cognitive diffusion, in the sense that you are not your thoughts, you aren’t, you know, getting a little bit of space for them, as well as acceptance being present perspective taking they all wrapped together in teaching about embody this, I don’t even want to say teaching about it, and not derailing them from their natural embodiment.
Jen Lumanlan 46:39
And it seems as a link to that is this idea of emotional awareness. And I really appreciated your co-author Debbie’s anecdote in the book about having this conversation that she was about to have with her co worker, and she’s thinking it’s gonna be hard, she’s putting her emotional guard up, just bracing herself she’s wanting to get it over with, and instead get finds a choice point, decides to approach this conversation with courage and, and be really open and vulnerable. And that ended up being a really meaningful conversation. And I think that this comes up a lot in our relationships with our co-parents. And as well with our children, we put our guard up, and we come at them with this message, oh, you’re doing it wrong, my way is the way to do it, we don’t have the flexibility to be able to see your perspective taking to be able to see there is another way of approaching this issue. And thing that stuck out for me from what Debbie said was, it was the fear of the conversation that was worse than the thing itself. And I’m wondering what kind of tools you recommend for people who are just starting to work with this idea of showing up differently in difficult conversations with people?
Diana Hill 47:46
Yeah, so I think I love that story. And when we’re thinking about a difficult conversation like that, and we’re flooded by that fear, they were fighting with our partners, right or co-parent. And in that moment, there was a lot of things that are going on, like I have the story of, I want to get my point across, I’m not even hearing my partner anymore, because I’m just like rehearsing what I’m going to say back, I have the physical feelings of this is really uncomfortable, and I’m angry, or actually maybe underneath that I feel really vulnerable and scared. All of that is happening. And one of the things that we tend to do with sort of this emotional this moment, this choice point of doing something that would actually be aligned with our values is we tend to try and avoid and get rid of going back to the beginning of a conversation, everything that’s happening, the way that we do that are things like bracing our bodies, trying to fix the other person, trying to get our point across. Because in that moment, what probably would most benefit us is get present slow down and listen, open up to the possibility that our perspectives and the only perspective and then act on our values. In that little story. Debbie’s values were clear. She talked about curiosity, courage, vulnerability, those were some of the values that she engaged in, by dropping the rope with this inner experience of avoidance. And in the book, we talk about something called experiential avoidance roundabouts. And the reason why I use that term is because we’ve all been caught in around about before, especially when it’s like they’re new to your town, all of a sudden, they plop around about in the middle of your town and you’re like, Okay, unless we have some European listeners, but here in the US,
Jen Lumanlan 49:28
Yeah, for the English people among us and not so intimidating. But happens on occasion, just because there are so many more of them.
Diana Hill 49:35
So everyone’s father’s like this roundabout and you get on the roundabout. And if you’re not a super confident driver like me, I’m just caught in it. And the way to get off the roundabout is you have to do this move like you have to like move over lane, and then feel uncomfortable while you launch yourself off the roundabout right so we get in these roundabouts whether it’s a habitual pattern of a fight with a partner, or we know we need to get off but it just means likes listening and dropping my point and you know, or round about with our, with our kids, we’re just stuck in the round about trying to fix something. So getting off the roundabout is uncomfortable. But then once you’re off, you go anywhere you want in town, like all the streets are open, you’re free now. So that’s that moment in those conversations to be aware of what’s happening inside, how am I holding on to clenching, staying stuck in this avoidance? And how can I loosen up a little bit be present, allow, and then orient myself to get off the roundabout and into my values?
Jen Lumanlan 50:35
Okay, and you led me beautifully to where I’d like to end up here, which is on values and connecting with ideas that are bigger than us. And I talk a lot on the show about ways that respectful parenting really intersects with broader social issues like racism, like patriarchy. And I know that those are topics that are on your mind a lot as well. I’m thinking about maybe a parent who’s listening and thinking, yeah, I have I have a value related to quality. But maybe there’s a disconnect there between how I’m living my life on a daily basis, and the ways that that’s showing up for me and this bigger value that is important to me, what would you say to a parent from an act perspective, who might be that sort of discrepancy between the value they hold true, and the way that they’re living their daily lives.
Diana Hill 51:18
I think the first part of it is to sit in the discrepancy and allow yourself to feel that, feel the discomfort of it. Because oftentimes, what we do is we get busy or we push through and don’t feel the discomfort. And it’s actually the discomfort that points to your values. That would motivate some of your behavior. So allow yourself to feel, feel the sadness, feel the uncertainty, feel that, like, I don’t know how to do this, or maybe I will need to change some things that are going to be uncomfortable for me to change, and open up and allow for that. And then I would say, take a look at some of the self stories, you know, some of the self stories that we think about how things need to look that, you know, social justice action needs to look a certain way, like during the summer, if I’m not protesting that I’m not engaging in social justice action, that we can engage in action that are aligned with our values right here right now You and I, Jen, having this conversation is engaging in action towards social justice, right? The conversations that we have, while we’re just chatting with a friend, the relationships that we build, the stories that we buy, from the social media that we ingest, the all sorts of ways in which we engage in the world on a day to day basis, in small ways matters. And it’s actually the accumulation of small actions over time, that make a difference. It’s important to take big actions too, I’m not saying don’t don’t do the big bold moves, but the daily small actions, the conversations with the kids, the books, that you’re buying the movies that you’re watching, just the dinner time banter, how are you bringing some of these concepts and ideas into your vernacular. And I think that that’s where over time, you’ll feel more aligned. When you take like, right now like lining up my spine sitting up a little straighter, you know, opening my chest and dropping my shoulders. If I did that all day long, my back would probably feel a little bit better. You know, I don’t have to go to a yoga class to do that. So you don’t have to exit your life to engage in social justice. You can actually do it right here right now in this moment.
Jen Lumanlan 53:29
What an amazing note to leave that on. Thank you so much for being here and sharing information about your book and, and about ACTs more broadly. Did you want to hold the book up? I think you have a copy right there. Right. So the book is called Acts Daily Journal: Get unstuck and live fully with acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and you can find it online and in bookstores and link also available at https://yourparentingmojo.com/act. Thanks so much, Diana. It was such fun to talk with you.
Diana Hill 53:52
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to speak with you. Take care.
Jen Lumanlan 53:55
Thanks for joining us for this episode of Your Parenting Mojo. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show at YourParentingMojo.com to receive new episode notifications, and the FREE Guide Called 13 Reasons Why Your Child Won’t Listen To You and What To Do About Each One . And also join the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. For more respectful research-based ideas to help kids thrive and make parenting easier for you. I’ll see you next time on Your Parenting Mojo.
About the author, Jen
Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.
Her Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership group supports parents in putting the research into action in their real lives, with their real families. Find more info at www.YourParentingMojo.com/Membership
She also launched the most comprehensive course available to help parents decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. Find out more about it – and take a free seven-question quiz to get a personalized assessment of your own homeschooling readiness at www.YourHomeschoolingMojo.com
And for parents who are committed to public school but recognize the limitations in that system, she has a course to help support children's learning in school at https://jenlumanlan.teachable.com/p/school