Committed Action: Creating a Life of Integrity

woman raising arms in front of sunset

By: Steven C. Hayes, PhD, author of Learning ACT and Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life

Committed action is a step-by-step process of acting to create a life of integrity, true to one’s deepest wishes and longings.

Commitment involves both persistence and change— whichever is called for to live in alignment with one’s values in specific contexts.

Commitment also includes engaging in a range of behaviors. This is important because moving in valued directions often requires being flexible, rather than rigidly persevering in unworkable actions.

Committed action is inherently responsible in the sense that it is based on the view that people always have an ability to respond.

See also: Connecting Relational Frames to Human Suffering

This isn’t idealistic. It refers to the ability to link one’s actions to one’s values in any situation.

For example, a person in a prison may have a limited ability to show an overt commitment to family. However, that person can still take certain actions that reflect this commitment, like being helpful so that parole becomes more likely, writing letters to family members, or being prepared for family visits.

Commitments can be revealed through all sorts of chosen behaviors.

The specific form of committed action called for in a given situation depends on what that situation affords and what action would be most effective.

Why Committed Action?

Committed action is the core process through which therapists can best incorporate traditional behavioral methods into the ACT model.

Exposure can be used for anxiety problems, skills training for social problems, behavioral activation for depression, scheduled smoking for smoking cessation, and so on.

See also: ACT BootCamp: What’s in it for Behavior Analysts?

These behavioral methods are an essential part of ACT and should be included whenever called for in therapy.

Although research on ACT has occasionally excluded traditional behavioral approaches, this has been done in order to make a scientific point.

For example, in one study, obsessive-compulsive disorder was treated successfully without any in-session exposure (Twohig, Hayes, & Masuda, 2006) merely because positive results would otherwise be dismissed as nothing more than the well-known effect of exposure.

However, ACT is based in clinical behavior analysis, and behavioral technologies are a key feature of ACT. As just one example, in-session exposure would normally be part of an ACT approach for OCD. In clinical practice, there is no reason to limit full implementation of the model.

If defining valued life directions provides the compass bearing for one’s route through life, committed action describes the steps of the journey.

A well-lived life is ultimately the goal of all the other flexibility processes (developing acceptance and present-moment awareness, defusing from entangling thoughts, developing a transcendent sense of self, and clarifying one’s chosen directions).

These processes promote psychological flexibility and help clients persist in or change behavior, as needed, in the service of their valued life directions.

At ACT II: Clinical Skills Building Intensive, Steve Hayes, PhD, will show clinicians how to help their clients move from inaction to action in the realm of overt behavior and from unworkable action to workable action.

Join the cofounder of ACT, Steven C. Hayes, for ACT II training!