Committed actions precede reduction of suffering

Suffering can be so painful that it’s only natural to imagine that it’s impossible to live the life we want so long as we suffer so. That can lead us to focus our energy and resources on finding ways to reduce our suffering before anything else.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers a different approach. Rather than aiming to reduce suffering as a precondition to doing what matters, it wagers that what really matters is to do what’s important much more than to move away from what we don’t like to feel or think.

Here is a simple test from our latest book to explore this last point: Imagine that you could take a pill that allows you to always feel good and never feel bad again. Would you take it? Most people would take it. Now imagine that this pill has a small side effect: once the price, you can never get out of bed or interact with anything. Would you still take it? Surely not. So if you choose not to take this pill, it should mean that some relationships and actions are more important to you than you feel good and do not feel bad. ACT aims to help identify these valuable relationships and actions and learn how to approach them effectively.

A new study by Andrew Gloster’s team in Germany suggests that increasing valued behaviors, actions to move toward who and what is important, precede a reduction in suffering, but that a reduction in suffering does not predict an increase in valued behaviors. These results support the foundation of the ACT model concerning the importance of working for rather than fighting against.

Contrary to what your mind might say, you won’t have a fuller life if you first seek to stop suffering. However, if you work to do what’s important to you, even when it’s painful to, your suffering may well ease some and your life will broaden and get more vital.

Reference : Gloster, A.T.,Klotsche, J., Ciarrochi, J., Eifert, G., Sonntag, R., Wittchen, H.U., Hoyer, J. (2017). Increasing valued behaviors precedes reduction in suffering: Findings from a randomized controlled trial using ACT. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 64-71.