Conversation 3: Acceptance & Willingness

Choosing your Actions

Choosing your Actions – a recording of Julian McNally (6:13 min)

(“Choosing your Actions” by RMIT Counselling and Psychological Services, Six ACT* Conversations, RMIT University is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Who do you know that never has difficult or unpleasant feelings?


Of course, you may know people that you might describe as calm, serene or perhaps you have a more derogatory description for people who don’t seem to show much emotion: ‘cold fish‘, ‘space cadet‘, ‘iceman‘ or ‘snow queen‘. But the point is that although those people don’t seem to show much emotion, that doesn’t mean they don’t feel any. In my experience counselling many people, I usually find that those who seem to display little feeling fall into one of two categories.

The first are those who are somewhat out of touch with their feelings, they often don’t know what they’re feeling, but you can see from their behaviour, especially once you get to know them, that they are feeling something.

The second category is those who definitely have strong feelings but are reluctant to express them or to admit to having them.

a person sitting on a bench near a lake
Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

It seems that for all of us – admittedly some more than others – suffering and dealing with difficult or unpleasant feelings is an unavoidable part of life. But do they have to stop you being effective?

If you’ve finished them, you might remember that I asked you in Conversation 1 and Conversation 2 of Six ACT Conversations to answer these questions based on your experience, not on what your mind or your thoughts or even common sense may be telling you?

The question is “Do uncomfortable or unpleasant thoughts or feelings have to stop you from doing what is important to you?”

So now a few experiential exercises or games to give you the chance to answer this question from your experience.

Exercise 1: Sit or Stand

Firstly, if you’re currently sitting or lying down right now stand up – and if you’re currently standing up, instead sit or lie down. Don’t question it, just do it.

Okay, before I asked you to stand, if you were sitting, or to sit, if you were standing, did you already have the impulse to do what I asked you? If you did, that’s amazing timing on my part. More likely what happened is you chose to stand (or sit).

Now what your mind may tell you about this is “No. You said ‘stand up‘ and I thought, ‘okay, I’ll do that and see what happens‘. So I stood up because I had the feeling of curiosity. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it.

Note for now that it’s your mind that’s telling you that – and I’m asking you to observe and pay attention to your experience.

Or your mind may tell you, “Well. I’ve been standing for a while now. And when you said to sit, I thought, ‘oh, good. That’s what I feel like doing actually.’ So I sat down because I felt tired and it seemed like a good idea.”

Again, take a close look at what happened and I think you’ll find that your mind is actually getting involved in this process of recalling what happened and actually telling you how it is rather than you simply discovering what happened.

So I’m going to ask you to do this exercise several more times, because your mind is very fast and wants to take control because, according to it, it alone is essential to your survival and safety.

Exercise 2: Choosing

Try sitting down right now whether or not you feel like it, and as you do, watch yourself choosing to sit down.


Now whether or not you feel like it right now, stand up and watch as you choose to stand up.

Did you notice, that as you’re doing this choosing to sit and choosing to stand, your mind just doesn’t shut up?

It’s like, “Okay, I’m sitting down like you told me. Where’s this ‘choosing’ you’re going on about?”

In Conversation 1 and Conversation 2 of Six ACT Conversations, we saw how it is impossible to turn off this language machine called thinking, and how in fact in the Thought Suppression exercise, the harder you try to stop it, the more thoughts it produces.

Stick with me for two or three more turns.

If you’re standing right now, let yourself choose to sit down.

Notice your mind is active as you do that, but try to catch yourself in the act of making the choice to sit down.

And now, ready or not, stand up – same thing, look for the choice point.

Exercise 3: Half-squat

Okay this time, whether or not you feel like it… continue standing.

If you were expecting or wanting to sit, notice that you can continue to stand even though that unfulfilled want or expectation is still there. Very good.

Now very slowly, start to sit down – and stop when you’re halfway down to your chair.

So you should now be in a half-squat position – with your legs bent at the knee, and halfway down to sitting in your chair.

But don’t sit just yet. Just hold that posture for the next 60 seconds and observe what your experience is.

Of course, if you know this is bad for you because of joint or blood pressure problems, then don’t do this exercise.

But otherwise, just watch what your mind does as the physical discomfort increases.

[PAUSE – 45 seconds]

Most people find that when they get to this point, about 45 seconds, they’re feeling some pain. And it’s at that point that the mind starts to say, “okay that’s enough! You can stop now.”

[continue until 60 seconds]

And you can stop now, because that is about 60 seconds since we started.


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