How to Incorporate the 6 ACT Mental Skills During Exercise

June 11, 2020

How to Incorporate the 6 ACT Mental Skills During Exercise

Exercise improves the body’s strength, endurance, and coordination. It also offers a unique opportunity for us to simultaneously practice all 6 of the mental skills learned in Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT).

Here are a few easy ways to incorporate practice reps with ACT mental skills while you exercise.

1. Acceptance

How do you react when an uncomfortable feeling or sensation comes up during exercise? Instead of reacting to it with suppression and avoidance strategies, can you willingly allow it to be there as it is?

I knew I needed to lose at least 6o lbs. when I began my weight loss journey. I also knew the time and effort required to accomplish this goal, which would sometime kick off feelings of hopelessness and frustration. I learned that if I “bought into” these feelings, I would inevitably come up with a reason to take the day off. Gradually I learned that by moving toward those emotions with acceptance, rather than away from them, I was able to move through them. I did not need to get rid of the feelings to move toward what I wanted my life to represent. The beauty is that I learned I could willingly have all sorts of other emotions as well if avoiding them was holding me back in other areas of my life”. Brian

2. Choosing Values

What value is represented for you when you exercise? Does exercise express how you value health, self-care, family, responsibility, respect, love, beauty, freedom, community, independence, hard work, commitment, determination, something else? Can you tap into that, particularly on days or in moments when you don’t feel motivated to exercise?

Creating a physical cue to remind you of why you value exercise can be very useful. (i.e., background on your phone, quote on a mirror, reminder set on the phone, etc.)

3. Defusion

We all have an inner monologue. Sometimes it is useful, sometimes not. Does your mind ever tell you things like this during exercise?

  • Why am I so tired today?
  • Why can’t I make better progress?
  • Why did I get such bad genes from my parents?
  • Does it even matter if I exercise?
  • Should I be doing something else right now?
  • Am I getting any stronger, or am I wasting my time?
  • Why is it so much easier for other people?
  • Why did I have so much more energy yesterday?
  • I ate so poorly yesterday; this is pointless.

If you’ve ever had thoughts like these or any other thought that is unhelpful in moving you toward value-aligned actions, can you try noticing the thought, thanking your mind for it, and continuing right along with your exercise program?

4. Observing Self

During exercise, can you notice what thoughts and feelings come and go. Can you contain them without being them? Pretend like you are an investigative reporter and take a note on your phone during and after the experience. Your goal is to report the facts. You might find paying nonjudgmental attention to all these inner experiences is both interesting and enlightening.

5. Present Moment Awareness

How can you tap into your senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and interoception? Try paying close attention to your breath for a few moments. Investigate the feeling of the air against your skin, the colors around you, or the sound of the music, birds, or wind. Exercise provides us an opportunity to explore all our senses. Tuning into your senses during exercise is great practice for when you get stuck in a negative mental habit loop during other parts of life.

6. Committed Action

There is no better place to demonstrate committed action than during exercise. Every second you spend following through with actions in ways that support your values is moving your life in the direction you want it to go. The next time your mind is telling you to skip your exercise session, and your body is imploring you to stay in bed because it is so sore, can you think about the kind of person you want to be and get up and do it anyway? There are few feelings more empowering than proving to yourself that you will follow through on the commitments you make.

There are so many opportunities to practice our mental skills during exercise. But exercise is just a tiny subsection of what we call life. We’d love to hear how you’ve learned to practice these skills in your own life.

About the Author

Brian Durbin is the Co-Founder of Synchronicity and Directory of Programming. He has been involved in the fitness and well-being industry for over 20 years, including a previous owner/operator opportunity with Fitness Together in Mount Pleasant, a national spokesperson role for Fitness Together and eventually owning his own company, Develop Fit LLC, an executive coaching and personal training business in Mount Pleasant. He now brings his wealth of wellness and business experience along with his passion for organizational psychology, motivation theory, fitness, and nutrition to help Synchronicity members uncover the energy, focus, and vibrancy they know is possible in their lives.


Modern Minds with MUSC Health

Synchronicity is a subsidiary of Modern Minds, a non-profit organization dedicated to treating and empowering mental health and wellbeing. We often partner together to offer truly integrative care for Modern Minds clients, Synchronicity members and the greater Lowcountry community.