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Book:  A Liberated Mind

Author:  Steven Hayes

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Hayes, S. (2019). A liberated mind : how to pivot toward what matters. New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. In 1990, depression was the fourth leading cause of disability and disease worldwide. In 2000, it was the third leading cause. By 2010 it ranked second. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) rated it number one. (pg. 4)

  2. We all know the self-judging, bullying voice within our minds. One could think of it as our internal advisor, judge, or critic. When we learn to tame it, it can be very useful. But if we allow it free reign it deserves the name dictator because it can become that powerful. It can tell us positive things and negative things about ourselves. Whether the voice is helpful or hurtful is not as important as whether it dominates us. What is so potentially dangerous about the power this voice can have over us is that we lose contact with the fact that we are even listening to a voice. It is almost constantly weaving a story about who we are, about how we compare to others, and what others think of us. (pg. 32)

  3. My experience with mindfulness practices helped me understand that the ability to keep redirecting our focus to the present moment allows us to release ourselves from the traps of the past. The impulse to probe the past and gain understanding from it is not misguided. We do want to spend some time on those considerations. However, we want to be present with the past, not lost in it. Instead, we need to keep our cognitive talents focused on the positive possibilities in the present moment. (pg. 111)


Other Key Ideas:​

As a result of technology, we are exposed to a constant diet of horror, drama, and judgment. In addition, many of us feel overwhelmed and threatened by the rapid pace of change. Only a few decades ago children ran and played freely in ways that could bring child endangerment complaints today. This increased protectiveness is not due to the world actually becoming more dangerous; research suggests it has not. Our impression that the world is less safe results more from exposure to uncommon events through the media. No matter how calm we feel, we can turn on our computers and see a tragedy unfold. The twenty-four-hour new cycle shreds our safety with constant videos of violence. (pg. 4)

Psychological flexibility is the ability to feel and think with openness, to attend voluntarily to your experience in the present moment, and to move your life in directions that are important to you, building habits that allow you to live life in accordance with your values and aspirations. (pg. 5)

Metaphorically we walk in circles - watching silly TV shows, surfing the net, posting to our Facebook page - while waiting for a sense of wholeness, or peace of mind, or purpose to arrive. The rug-scratches of distraction, avoidance, and indulgence are not changing anything of importance. (pg. 19)

Fusion means buying into what your thoughts tell you (taking them literally, word for word) and letting what they say overdetermine what you do. This trick of mind happens because we are programmed to notice the world only as structured by thought - we see the terrible this or the awful that - but we miss the fact that we are only thinking. The flip side of fusion is defusion - seeing thoughts as they actually are - ongoing attempts at meaning-making - and then choosing to give them power only to the degree that they genuinely serve us. This skill involves just noticing the act of thinking without diving in. With this ability to distance from our thoughts, we can begin to free ourselves from our negative thought networks. (pg. 19)

Thoughts are constantly being generated automatically and mindlessly. We cannot pick which ones pop up, but we can pick and choose which of them to focus on or to use to guide our behavior. Doing so takes skill, but our research indicates that this is a learnable skill. (pg. 36)

Research suggests that the average person lies in small ways to one out of four of the people they encounter. Teenagers admit to lying several times a day. Most of us sense that lies come with a cost. For example, we devalue relationships with others if we lie to them, and our brains are less prepared to act effectively while inside an episode of lying. So why do we do it? We tell some lies for material gain or to protect people's feelings. But many lies are told to protect some part of our self-story - the image we present to others that fits with that story. (pg. 76)

Researchers have found that our thinking often wanders away from the present. We can go for a long time and never actually notice what is here and now, or at least not notice it in a full and useful way. Much has been written about mindfulness and how it can help us cope in life. Mindfulness is not simply living in the here and now: teenagers do that when they are playing video games, and they are hardly shining stars of mindful attention at such times. Disappearing into the now is not what we mean by mindfulness - rather it is attention to the now that is flexible, fluid, and voluntary. It allows us to consider the past, and the future also, but to keep bringing our attention back to the present.  (pg. 112)

A common training practice is to focus on your breathing, called following the breath. It is not long before you notice your attention wandering, and when you do and you bring it back to your next breath, you have just had a moment in attentional control. By doing that over and over, you build the mental agility to focus in a flexible, voluntary way. Research shows that contemplative practice has good effects not only on our brains but on every cell in our body. Changes in brain structure by meditation lead to a greater ability to experience internal sensations, less emotional reactivity, and greater attentional efficiency. (pg. 113)

When we are deeply focused on a mental task our minds can enter into a state of flow, in which thoughts, emotions, and actions are all temporarily in sync. But the most usual state is one of mind wandering, and that is often characterized by a good deal of mental disagreement and disengagement. (pg. 153)

Another technique for mindfulness in what is called "leaves on a stream." Imagine that you are watching a quietly flowing brook with large leaves on it floating by. Each thought that comes into your mind, place it on a leaf and watch it float downstream. If it reappears, that is fine - just put the second version on a leaf too. The goal is to stay by the stream, watching your thoughts. If you discover you've stopped doing the exercise and your mind has gone elsewhere, which is common, try to catch what led your mind astray. (pg. 156)

For simple meditation, allow your mind to come to rest on your breath. Each time you find your mind has drifted away, release it from that train of thought and then allow it to settle again on the breath. That's it. Do it for a few minutes a day. How can such a simple practice work? It builds your attentional muscles. Each time you notice that your mind has wandered, you are strengthening your ability to notice and to regain focus. (pg. 217)

Another meditation practice is to focus on the soles of your feet. For the first two minutes, focus your complete attention on the sole of your left foot. Then, set the timer for two minutes and focus on the sole of your right foot. Finally, set the timer for two more minutes and see if you can be continuously aware of the soles of both your left and right foot simultaneously. If your mind pulls you away, gently redirect it back. This is a version of one of the most effective yet simplest mindfulness exercises. Grounding awareness undercuts automatic thoughts, damping down emotional and cognitive reactivity. Often it is preferred over the most common practice of following the breath. You can use it anytime and anywhere. (pg. 218)

Getting treatment when you are struggling with mental health is vital, and too many people fail to go for it. A major reason for this omission is stigma. Research indicates that across the world, as many as one in five people will experience a common mental health condition during a given year, and that as many as one in three people will experience some form of mental health challenge during their lifetime. Nonetheless, many people hold judgmental views about these conditions. Many see mental struggles as a weakness of character. The result is that people with such conditions often hide their symptoms and avoid treatment or support. In fact, only about one in five will seek assistance from a mental health provider. That is a tragedy, given the treatment that is available. (pg. 294)

We can often find ways to spend more of our time on fulfilling tasks. Sometimes that's a matter of scrutinizing closely how we're spending our time and finding ways to be more efficient with some tasks, making room for time spent as we prefer. You will be a better leader if you give your people this kind of latitude with their job, and if you model flexibility with them in other ways, which will foster it in them. Workers who feel they had very little control over their job made more errors per hour and had poor mental health. The best work results were seen with those workers who felt like they had a flexible work environment and had good psychological flexibility. Leaders seeking to assist employees in boosting performance should take note of this formula: flexible workers + flexible work environments = success. (pg. 344)

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