Engagement with the present, the ACT way

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In the last post in the ACT series, I discussed diffusion. The subject for this post is another core process of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy known as Engagement.

Have you ever walked down the street and gone past the shop you were supposed to go in because you were lost in thought? I think most people have experienced this at some time in their lives. However, when people feel anxious or depressed, they spend more time in their head than in the present. When we worry about the past or the future, we get lost in experiences that are not actually happening. However, our body responds as if we were there experiencing it.

By engaging in the moment, we get a more accurate representation of what is happening for us and as an added bonus it can help to reduce anxiety and lift our mood.

Like with anything, being engaged and present is a skill that we can develop. So to build this skill, I recommend doing the following exercises:

  • Think of an activity which is neutral, such as tying your shoelaces, and engage all of your senses and notice everything about that activity. Fully engage with the experience. Notice what you notice.

  • Think of an activity that you enjoy, such as cooking, and engage all of your senses and notice everything about that activity. Fully engage with the experience. Notice what you notice.

  • Think of an activity that you’ve been avoiding or you don’t enjoy, such as washing up, and engage all of your senses and notice everything about that activity. Fully engage with the experience. Notice what you notice.

With these three exercises, you are learning to be more present and engaged in what you are doing. You will then find it easier to do so automatically in the future.

Engagement is something that I have touched on briefly before on this blog, although not specifically under that name. I talk about the 5 senses technique often as a way of being more present which you can use as well. You can watch me explain it in full here.

Let me know how you get on with practicing engagement. People often find that they can more readily notice the little things that go on around them in their life, enjoy themselves more, see things with perspective, and handle difficult emotions better.

In the next blog of this series, I will discuss Acceptance.