Contact With the Present Moment: A Core Process in the ACT Hexaflex Model

By DJ Moran, PhD

This presentation is an excerpt from the online course “Demystifying ACT: A Practical Guide for Therapists“.

Highlights

  • Contacting the present moment is an important skill because being in the “here and now” is where behavior occurs. 
  • According to some research, people are not in the “here and now” for 47% of the day.
  • Mindfulness practice helps people be in the present moment, reducing the impact of “there and then” thoughts.

 

Transcript

Welcome to Module 3 of Demystifying ACT. My name is DJ Moran and in this module, we will be covering the ACT Hexagon Part 2.
This ACT hexagon model is traditionally used to introduce practitioners to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. There are six essential components to the ACT approach and they are integrated together to help build psychological flexibility. These six components are acceptance, defusion, self-as-context, contact with the present moment, values and committed action. In this module, we will discuss the latter three, contact with the present moment, values and committed action.

Let’s turn to contact with the present moment now. Being in the here and now is where behavior occurs. All of life is experienced in the present moment. One reason why we teach mindfulness exercises in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is not because we’re trying to convert people to become Eastern philosophers or spend their day meditating but for a very practical purpose because now is the only time behavior occurs. You can’t behave tomorrow. You can’t behave yesterday. You can’t behave in five minutes or five minutes ago. Now is the only time action happens. I understand you might be thinking, well, I’ll be behaving in five minutes from now. And I’ll challenge you to set your timer on your smartphone to go off in five minutes. And then when you’re doing whatever behavior you plan on doing, I’ll ask you, are you doing that behavior now or in five minutes? As far as engaging in life with our own actions, the present moment is the only time where behavior happens

But the problem is that our language which we keep promoting as very useful but also occasionally problematic, our language takes us away from experiencing the here and now fully because it is often about there and then. Our mind which is just a metaphor related to our own private verbal behavior or language, our mind tends to think about what could be going on there and then 47% of the day. That data comes from Killingworth and Gilbert, 2010. According to some research, people are thinking about other things rather than what they are doing in the here and now for almost half of the day.

Is that a problem? Well, recall that ACT comes from the philosophy of functional contextualism. So we’ll decide if the behavior is a problem or not by looking at how it functions in the current context. Sometimes, human beings are not attending to what is going on in their current environment or to what they are doing. Sometimes, they are planning what they will be doing in the future or reminiscing about the past. Is that a clinical problem? Arguably, it isn’t necessarily a problem. As long as it is functional in the context, planning the future and remembering past events can be very helpful.
So when the mind, so to speak, is not in the here and now for those moments, it isn’t clinically relevant.

Until it becomes a clinical issue because excessive worrying about the future and ruminating about past events can be significantly clinically problematic and drain away moments of a life well lived.

And when I mention a life well lived, please interpret that as engaging in overt measurable behaviors that are in the service of chosen values, the two other components for this module.

In ACT, we encourage people to build up skills for contacting the present moment by doing mindfulness exercises because mindfulness exercises can be perceived as helping people extend the duration for how long they will be attending to the current moment. To put it another way, mindfulness practice helps people practice the skill of noticing thoughts that have nothing to do with the commitment that they’ve made to attend to something in the present moment.
In the next video, we will cover a mindfulness exercise. And even though you’ll be invited to commit to the experience as fully as you can, please notice that in this particular exercise you’ll be making a commitment to do a behavior and stick to that behavior even if thoughts and emotions seem to pull you away from your commitment.

Before we move on, there are 3 key points in this video.
One, contacting the present moment is an important skill because being in the here and now is where behavior occurs. Everything we experience in life is in the present moment.
Two, according to some research, people are not in the here and now for 47% of the day.
And three, mindfulness practice helps people be in the present moment and can be looked at as exercises that assist the practitioner in reducing the impact of there-and-then thoughts so they can continue following through on their chosen commitment in the here and now.

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