Contacting the present moment is also particularly useful for disrupting problematic behaviours or episodes of emotional distress. ACT understands most impulsive, self-defeating or self-destructive behaviours as manifestations of suffering brought on by struggle against painful experience. Exercises can be designed to enhance self-awareness around what the client is struggling with. This can be as simple or routine as reminding the client to notice their thoughts and feelings before they start doing a problem behaviour, or as elaborate as asking the client to fully observe the way they do it, paying attention to every aspect of it including their thoughts and feelings.
Often there is no particular behaviour to be observed or disrupted, or it is too dangerous, or makes no sense to encourage observation of the behaviour. For example, many young people can experience episodes of acute emotional distress accompanied by unregulated expression such as crying, agitation, anger or violence. Mindfulness exercises are available for working with this when it occurs.
Dropping Anchor is an exercise that can be taught to clients to help them ground themselves when they are highly distressed and emotions are strongly charged. Harris (2009; p166-67) provides a script that illustrates use of the Dropping Anchor exercise in a particular context. This general script can be easily applied or adapted to a vast array of situations [see Note H2iii].
Take 10 breaths is another simple exercise to centre or ground yourself and connect with the present moment when you notice sings of upset and distress. Harris (2009; p171) provides a set of simple instructions.
Notice 5 things is also used to centre ourselves and connect with the world around us. It can be practiced throughout the day whenever you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by emotions. Harris (2009; p171) provides a set of simple instructions.
A key skill in flexible attention is the ability to move between a narrow focus and a broad focus (Harris, 2009). Ability to moving to a narrow focus is particularly useful for people who tend to worry and ruminate about a wide range or diffuse set of things that could go wrong. A narrow focus allows thoughts to come and go in peripheral awareness while we repeatedly bring attention back to the main object such as the exercise. In contrast, for people experiencing a very focal source of pain such as physical pain or anxiety about a specific event, ability to shift to a broader focus can be helpful. In this way, pain becomes just one aspect of a much broader experience.
Exercises for shifting attention between a narrow and broad focus often involve developing awareness of our body, the space or environment around the body, and the interaction between the two. Others involve mindfulness of particular activities that we are physically performing such as routine tasks involving several parts of the body and the sensations we experience during the activity. Hayes and Smith (2005; p107-114) provide scripts for several of these types of exercises.
Be where you are is a very widely used exercise in meditation. It simply involves sitting in a comfortable chair or lying down on the floor or on a bed, closing the eyes and moving awareness around to the different parts of the body. A script for the Be where you are exercise is available from Hayes and Smith (2005; p107-108). Ideally 10-15 minutes should be allocated.
Silent walking involves walking in a circle, up and down a straight line, around the house or around the block in your neighbourhood. As you do so simply listen to the content your mind is producing. As your attention is drawn to particular thoughts, feelings or objects in the environment simply name those things and say the name aloud three times. Hayes and Smith (2005; p109) provide general instructions that can be elaborated and adapted to different types of Silent walking.
Mindfulness of domestic chores. You can write or voice record any number of scripts to guide a mindfulness exercise focused on the performance of domestic chores or tasks around the house. You could choose doing the washing up, hand washing some clothes, ironing clothes, tidying a room, or hanging clothes on a line to dry. Harris (2009; p170) provides general instructions that can be elaborated and adapted to different types of chores.