The book covers how to take control of your life using mindfulness, acceptance and behaviour change. The professional understanding and techniques we share are tried and tested. They are supported by research evidence and drawn from the most effective treatments to date*. Step by step, the book takes us through how to accept our own unhelpful patterns, understand how they work and so learn how to change them.
 (Footnote: *CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, DBT – Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, CFT – Compassion Focussed Therapy, ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)
All of us have some behaviours which are not fully under our control all of the time, even if it is just being unable to stop eating chocolate until the whole bar is gone! When these out of control behaviours start interfering with our lives, with who we want to be, we need this book. When we turn away from opportunity and excitement in case it makes us anxious, we lose the joy in our lives and can experience misery and depression as well as, oddly, even more anxiety.
To show how we are all in the same boat, Part One tells stories. Chapter 2 tells the stories of some people who struggle. These are based on our real life experience with our clients and with ordinary people in our lives. We will take a look at your own personal story too. This might show us what you have learned about yourself, growing up. Most of us learn things in our earlier years, which can be less than helpful in our adult lives. We can learn how to put ourselves down or compare ourselves negatively with other people. You will be invited to write a statement of kindness to yourself at the end of this chapter. Chapter 3 tells some success stories to show how life can be a daring adventure rather than a fearful ordeal. How can you drive the car with the top down, so to speak, instead of worrying about the rain? How can you live a life with meaning and purpose in it? Though it is called ‘Success Stories’ you will see it is actually about on going work. We need to keep on and on stepping towards getting our lives back.
Part Two: Reasons to change and acceptance
Motivation building happens in Chapter 4 ‘Why Change? Values and Goals’. Here we get maximum clarity on why we want to get our lives back and what that life will look like. What gets you up in the morning? What has meaning for you? Getting this clear means we know which direction to travel towards the life we want. Even when life is being cruel we will know how we want to behave and who we want to be. We will encounter obstacles to our progress. These will include thoughts, feelings and behaviours, which hold us back. So we need to disentangle ourselves from these thoughts, feelings and behaviours. We need to be in charge of our lives, not our problem behaviours. Chapters 5 and 6 cover acceptance. Which might seem odd, given we are all about change. But as you might have noticed from circling your problems, being willing and able to describe exactly how things are right now is essential. Otherwise, how can we think about it? If we only think about it whilst beating ourselves up or blaming the world or other people, we just get nowhere.
Chapter 5 teaches ‘mindfulness’ skills and chapter 6 ‘validation’ skills. These are both ways to increase willingness and acceptance. Willing acceptance of experience, good and bad, pleasurable and painful, is what we are aiming for. This is the key to freedom from struggling against the way things are. Not that we have to like how things are, or not want to change them, just that we need to get in touch with them. If you are in quicksand and you struggle, you will sink faster. You need to stretch out your arms and make maximum contact with the quicksand. We need to get in touch with our experience, but not get overwhelmed by it. Your mind may now be telling you that this is impossible. Thank your mind for that thought and read on. Chapter 7 lays out your personal resources and strengths, the treasure trove of things you know and can do, people who love you, groups who support you, past achievements, etc. These are like your provisions for the journey ahead.
Part Three: What and how to change
Part three looks at exactly what to change: which behaviours are causing misery in your life? You will learn to identify them precisely. Then we can analyse how they work: in other words, why you keep doing them! All of our behaviours work for us in some way, even though we might not see how right now. Chapter 8 looks in detail at specific problems, such as those you have circled. You will prioritise which problem to work on first. Chapter 9 explains how feelings are tied up in it all. Many behaviours work by helping us to avoid painful feelings. Chapter 10 shows you how to understand the problem behaviours, which are ruining your life. We do this by working out the pattern of each behaviour. Behaviours tend, boringly, to keep repeating themselves. Once we have worked out the pattern, we can see exit points where we can break free.
Mindfulness comes back again as Chapter 11 shows you how to make these changes with acceptance, understanding and kindness to yourself (compassion). We need to be patient and kind to ourselves as we learn new things. Imagine having a new puppy and beginning to train him. Would you do this with loving kindness and patience? So, you have the just same rights to be treated kindly as your imaginary puppy does. Chapter 12 is about practical ways to handle difficult thoughts. Chapter 13 illustrates tried and tested skills for developing self-control. These skills really are skills. They can be learned, just as we can learn to use a new computer or to cook. Self-control skills are things like, how to calm ourselves down, resist urges, deal with conflict and look after ourselves physically. Chapter 14 demonstrates how to make a behaviour chain about your problem behaviour, showing the links made up of thoughts, feelings, body sensations, urges and behaviour that lead up to the problem behaviour itself. Chapter 15 shows you how to use this chain to decide to break some of the links that lead up to it. Next time the behaviour starts up, we can do something new. Often this takes a few goes, but guess what? We always get another go so long as the behaviour is still hanging around. So we can always try again. Eventually, our brains learn new habits. The new behaviours we are practising come to replace the old ones.
Part Four: Getting your life back
Part four of the book reflects on the life you want and invites you to commit to getting it. Chapter 16 is called ‘Taking Action to Get Your Life Back’. We do some more work on getting clear what we want and how we want to be. Then we make decisions to move each day towards that life. We lay out practical, achievable steps that we can take in the direction we have chosen. We invite you to commit to follow your chosen path with willingness to experience fully all that it will bring you, good and bad, including wanted and unwanted feelings.
In Chapter 17 we notice that progress is not always smooth. It is not ‘every day in every way I get better and better’. Life is just not like that. We hear about good days and bad days. We discover that ‘bad’ days can be great opportunities to put our new skills into practice. Also, that we are in for a marathon, not a sprint. Taking a longer view and being able to see our progress over time is important.
Now we have come this far, it is time for Chapter 18 ‘Revisiting Your Story’. Here, we take another look at your own personal story. This time it is about how our stories might hold us back. For example, my mind might say to me “You can never be a (writer/good mother/businessman/lover), because you had such a bad childhood you will never recover”. This kind of stuff is going to hold me back, prevent me from going for the things I want in my life. I need to stand back and see what is going on here. Then I need to write my story differently, so that it will not hold me back. I might say, “I’ve been through the mill and I have so much to say as a writer” or “I want to use the determination I learned as a child to help me drive my business towards success”.
Any new skill needs to be practised. So Chapter 19 gives us the chance to practise our new behaviours in lots of different ways. We look around at our world and think, “Where could I use my new asking for things skill?’ or “How might my new mindfulness skills help in tonight’s date?” Practice does not always make perfect, but it certainly makes us better at what we are doing.
As we journey along our new, chosen roads, we will come across obstacles. Chapter 20 is especially for those who get flashbacks. These can be big obstacles to getting our lives back. There are techniques for handling flashbacks and advice about when to seek further help. Chapter 21 ‘When Things Go Wrong’ will help us in our journey. On a real road, there will be potholes, mud, and road closures. We might get tempted off the road to take alternative directions that seem to offer an easier way forward. Other things may make us feel that the journey is impossible, such as getting ill, feeling worn out or making slow progress. We might get tempted to take a turn back towards our old habits (old habits can seem very appealing from a distance). This will probably happen along the way. Giving a big sigh and travelling back onto our chosen road is the thing to do. This chapter offers hints and tips about what to do when things go wrong.
Chapter 22 ‘FAQs’, gives answers to some frequently asked questions about getting your life back. Chapter 23 ‘Resources’ gives you more resources including books to read, support organisations and the chance to go public and support each other. We know that if we make a public statement about our goals, they are more likely to be reached. This is a great way to keep commitment going. You can build your personal community of support using the website www.greenwoodmentors.com/getyourlifeback. For example, you can blog about your own journey, share stories with others and receive support. You can also download free mindfulness, validation and other exercises. All the tables and worksheets from this book are there too. Chapter 24 is a glossary of terms used in this book. We have done our very best to be jargon free, but you may want to glance here if you want to know what a word means.