Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): 6 Skills of Psychological Flexibility

Do you often get stuck on a past mistake or excessively worry about the future?

Would you say that you tend to fall into patterns of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors?

Is it easy for you to overly criticize yourself and engage in negative self-talk?

Are you prone to avoiding, suppressing, or running away from uncomfortable thoughts and emotions?

If so, you’re not alone. We all struggle with different issues when it comes to self-image, letting go of control, or accepting who we are. When left unchecked, these problematic habits can lead to mental health issues like perfectionism, chronic stress, anxiety, or depression. So rather than ignoring them, it’s much better to confront your unhelpful patterns head-on with psychological flexibility

This fantastic skill, taught in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), can help you approach any obstacles in your life with a refreshing attitude towards uncertainty, discomfort, and pain. One that fosters empathy, self-compassion, the ability to surrender, and so on. Most importantly, mastering psychological flexibility means imbuing your life with more peace, mindfulness, and meaning. Keep reading to learn more about ACT, the components of psychological flexibility, and ways it can support your well-being.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

ACT is a third-wave cognitive-behavioral therapy founded by Steven Hayes. It joins the classic therapeutic approach with Eastern traditions through the use of a wide array of mindfulness techniques, acceptance strategies, and experiential exercises. 

It emphasizes the importance of:

  • cultivating the acceptance of yourself and your life as it is in the present moment, 
  • committing to introducing positive changes which enable fulfilling your potential and live in alignment with your core values.

Russel Harris, an ACT psychotherapist and an author of the best-seller “The Happiness Trap”, explains that the goal of ACT is: 

6 Skills of Psychological Flexibility

Skill Description Exercise

Cognitive Defusion

Understanding that your thoughts are not facts. When struggling with a painful emotion or uncomfortable thought: 

  1. Imagine its text on a karaoke screen. 
  2. Add a melody of a famous song.
  3. Sing it using a voice of a funny cartoon character.
Ability to detach from your thoughts, emotions, or mental images.
Stepping back and taking a role of an observer of your mental events.
Not getting overwhelmed or dominated by a specific negative thought/feeling/belief etc.


Staying open and allowing uncomfortable emotions, thoughts, sensations, or memories to arise. The Quicksand Metaphor:

The more you fight against a quicksand, i.e., a painful thought, the deeper you’ll get sucked in – the more you’ll suffer.

The moment you accept the vulnerable state of experiencing pain in the present moment, the better your chance of overcoming your difficulty and getting out.

Practicing non-judgment when in close contact with them.
Taking on a posture of a scientist, curious to learn more about your discomfort and pain.
Observing your bodily sensations, areas of tension, triggering stimuli, etc.

Contact with the Present Moment

Building a habit of bringing your attention back to the present moment without attempting to change it. Practicing mindfulness in daily routines, i.e. when:

  • walking outside
  • eating a meal
  • queueing in the store
  • being stuck in a traffic
  • breathing deeply
Being fully engaged in any task, here and now, with curiosity and willingness to notice its small, ever-changing details.

The Observing Self

Understanding that you’re much more than what’s happening to you right now. Let’s say that after a failed exam, you’re thinking: “I’m such a failure, I can’t do anything right”.

Instead of assuming that your failed exam means you are a failure, you can focus on distinguishing between the triggering situation and your identity.

Achieving a transcendental sense of self, where you perceive your essence as independent and unchanged by your current experience.
Differentiating between your thoughts or feelings in the present moment and who you are as a person.


Cultivating an awareness of your priorities in life and taking action to align with them. Bull’s Eye Exercise:

  1. Assessing how aligned you are with your priorities within 4 quadrants of life:
  • relationships
  • personal development
  • work/education
  • leisure time
  1. Figuring out what qualities to focus on.
Directing your life’s choices towards those things that make your life important, significant, and meaningful.
Choosing what qualities and core values you want to work towards and finding ways to embody them.

Committed Action

Using your core values to guide your choices and actions in life. Setting SMART goals:

  • S: Specific
  • M: Measurable
  • A: Achievable
  • R: Realistic
  • T: Time-bound
Committing to setting and achieving goals that align with your priorities.
Working towards your dream life, imbued with meaning and authenticity. 



Psychological flexibility is a skill that can be mastered and strengthened like a muscle. You can explore and train it on your own, yet an even better option is to do it in the safe environment of psychotherapyDeciding to work on your psychological flexibility skills under the guidance of an experienced psychologist presents you with an opportunity to:

  • identify and unpack your unhelpful beliefs,
  • address complex emotions,
  • process painful memories,
  • learn how to embrace the discomfort and challenges that life throws at us,
  • practice healthy coping skills.

Moreover, cultivating psychological flexibility goes beyond managing stress or overcoming temporary obstacles. It brings you closer to a life that mirrors your core values, in alignment with a profound sense of purpose, an authentic life where you continuously fulfill your potential and support your well-being.

Contact us here to start your personal development journey today!