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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

Keynote speaker

  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

Understanding something doesn't need to happen for personal growth - ACT

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

ACT - Acceptance and Commitment Therapy suggests that you don't even need to understand the "why" in order to be able to move forward.

I like this notion because I have seen too many people fall into "paralysis by analysis" - they start by finding it a struggle to express their feelings, then - often with a counsellor or coach they connect with - they are able to find a release, but instead of progressing their growth, they seem to form a secondary loop of reflection and analysing. I do believe a reflective journal can be an extremely helpful form of therapeutic intervention, but only if you are working with the findings...and as such, I do think ACT has a point. You don't always need understanding in order to start to heal.

I am, myself, a proof of this. Who I am today is completely different to who I was 14 years ago - coming out of my (failed) "starter marriage", changing careers - and doing a lot of soul searching with various counsellors and coaches. Through that process I found many things I had become were authentic and I maintain those now, but a number were an output of strategies I had been using in order to cope...what with? Nothing out of the ordinary at least not to my knowledge at the time.

So, I would say, change is very possible without understanding what you might need to be changing from!! And up until 2020, I thought I was finally learning to be me...a bit late in life perhaps, but hey!

However, in 2020 I uncovered a personal bombshell, which it is not the time nor place to detail presently, but the summary of which was that a lot of I had thought to be true for 44 years, wasn't quite as it seemed. What it could have given me was a knock back to therapy - and it might well have done in 2008, but what actually happened was that I leaned into the surprise, and then felt a sense of relief - I HAD a reason to have been the person I wanted to change so completely from!!

Maybe understanding helped, but the thing was - I'd already changed.

Growing through

Further, learning the "why" did not undo any of the personal development I had grown through, neither does it impact on the person I am now. Therefore, I come back to the work of ACT.

The "acceptance" in ACT is not about understanding, it is about accepting that you want to make changes, it is ok to make changes, and those changes may be hard because something created them into habits. That something may not be a huge event, or perhaps it was, but the point is, you can still move forwards without knowing what it was, and certainly without understanding why it was. All you need to know is that you don't like where you are, and you intend to do something about it!

A starting point

Two things helped me make a start to change - and these two things were practical tools - because remember, I didn't think I had anything I needed to "understand" (and even now that I do, I can't really analyse it because some of the people involved are no longer alive to give me their side!) So while you can of course continue with any therapeutic interventions, because they do help, I would say give these practical shifts a go as well.

  1. Identify and start to live your VALUES

  2. Edit your network

You can actually do both by:

- Identifying up to 5 people you love having in your life eg. the people who energise you, and whom you love to be around

- Identify what you love about them (for me it was things like "They cannot be "bought""; "They welcome people just as themselves"; "They are consistently supportive in an honest way"

- Work to BE those things

- TELL the people how grateful you are they are in your life and seek to spend more time with them (what this does is that it begins to shape your life so that you have less time for the more toxic people; and by behaving in the ways that you value you are likely to attract more things and people that share those values - AND you might recognise that some things you were doing actually were NOT in alignment).

Practical and Reflective work can complement each other

There is a place for reflection - I read much on the subject and do work with my own coach, but don't get so caught up with needing the explanation - which may still only ever be biased or conjecture anyway - that you miss out on the growth that can occur without it. Similarly however, try not to jump straight to managing the symptoms with drugs without doing any practical mental or emotional work at all.

In short, the most important element for growth is practical on mental and emotional elements - it can be reflective and analytical, but understanding is but one optional part of growth!!

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt


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