Wow! I’ve come away from my conversation with Dr. Steven Hayes regarding him as both a Rock Star and Senior Statesman in our field. His new book, A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters is not so much a manual for therapists as a self-help book for everyone. Although it’s based on his pioneering and extensively researched work on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, it’s really a recipe for a satisfying life.
Why Rock Star? Why Senior Statesman? How about 44 books and 600+ articles? How about one organization listing him as the 30th “highest impact” psychologist in the world and Google Scholar ranking him among the 1,500 most cited scholars in all areas of study, living and dead? And I’m not even mentioning the many awards and leadership positions he’s occupied in various professional organizations. He’s remarkably committed to scientific research while at the same time being a seeker of wisdom.
I’m impressed that his thinking is so deeply integrative, drawing on everything from CBT to humanistic psychology and spiritual traditions.
In our conversation, I really appreciate that he so liberally gives credit to others in the ACT community, seeing it as a collaborative enterprise. This was underscored in the bonfire metaphor he shared us. Referring to his status as founder of ACT, he said it’s like he got a couple of sticks of kindling together and struck a match to get a fire going but other’s came along and tossed logs on top to turn it into a bonfire. He said it wouldn’t be right to call it HIS bonfire!
At the heart of his Liberated Mind book is the notion of psychological flexibility. Over time we tend to box ourselves in by avoiding anything that has unpleasantness associated with it. Another way of putting it is that we tend to gravitate toward our comfort zone and this tendency can rob us of the learning and experiences that lie outside of that zone. It’s pretty much both a therapeutic and spiritual truism that we need to move toward our pain, our suffering to get through it to the other side. We need to change direction from avoidance to acceptance. The term he uses throughout the book is “pivot.”
In the book, he outlines six crucial pivots. In our podcast conversation he opted to take us through those six pivots in a freestyle way. I’m afraid in the hurly-burly of conversation the distinctiveness of each might have been lost. So, let me quickly list them as they appear in the book:
1. DEFUSION – PUTTING THE MIND ON A LEASH.
2. THE ART OF PERSPECTIVE TAKING.
3. ACCEPTANCE – LEARNING FROM PAIN.
4. PRESENCE – LIVING IN THE NOW.
5. VALUES – CARING BY CHOICE.
6. ACTION – COMMITTING TO CHANGE.
Each of these pivots is a learnable skill and all will probably have some familiar resonance with other therapeutic or wisdom traditions you know about.
To learn more about maximizing these skills in your life, I highly recommend you get a copy of A LIBERATED MIND: How to Pivot Toward What Matters by Steven C. Hayes.
Great interview! Friendly and informal, yet rich with content and perspective. I especially appreciate that you’ve focused on change and adaptation in Hayes’ thought and work. You highlight his humanity, humility, nice-guy-ness, yet you cover key points in where ACT comes from and where it’s going.