Lee is an expert on ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), which is a life-changing form of therapy that can have a huge impact on the way you live your life and your relationship with food. I’m really excited for you to hear this episode and to share our conversation!
In this episode, we talk about:
- Lee’s journey to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
- How Acceptance and Commitment Therapy transformed Lee’s life
- The 6 Shadow Processes
- Meaning, mindset, and mindfulness
- Privilege and the abundance mindset
- Acting through intuition
Lee’s Journey to ACT
In the first 15 years of her career, Lee worked as both a social worker and a therapist. About 10 years ago while working at the Department of Veterans Affairs, she was offered a spot in a training program for an up-and-coming treatment approach called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT for short. At the time she had no idea how transformative this program would be, not just for her clients but for herself as well.
Lee spent 6 months in an ACT traineeship that she describes as mind-blowing. She was taught not only how to use this method with clients, but also how she can apply it in her own life. The principles of ACT quickly became her bedrock for getting through life’s struggles and helping her further embrace the good times.
She emphasizes that ACT has implications in every single aspect of your life. Her book, ACT On Your Business, is all about how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can impact your work. Although she frames ACT in a business context, it’s not really about business. If you apply the principles of ACT and want to see success in your business, you will- but it’s really about learning how to relate to yourself, the world around you, and the people in your life in a very different and compassionate way.
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How ACT Transformed Lee’s Life
ACT provides a way to anchor your actions in meaning. Through this, Lee began to connect on a deeper level to her actions and find what mattered most to her. Instead of allowing what she was doing in life define who she was, it became the other way around. She realized she was whole and enough all on her own.
What Lee found in ACT was a marriage between meaning, mindset and mindfulness that changed the way she viewed herself and her role in the world. Once this shift occurred, all of a sudden she had the tools to respond to distressing or uncomfortable thoughts and emotions- she no longer had to let them define her. She was able to anchor herself in the present moment through mindfulness practice.
Even though ACT was originally developed as a therapeutic process, Lee believes it can go much further than that. It is how we can live our lives. It can help you tap into your full potential and the essence of what makes you extraordinary. ACT profoundly changed her life, because it completely changed the way she viewed herself.
The 6 Shadow Processes of ACT & Body Image
In her book, Lee discusses a concept in ACT called the 6 Shadow Processes. These are essentially 6 types of self-sabotaging behavior that we (often unknowingly) participate in. It’s not our fault- humans are generally hardwired for negativity. It’s not inherently wrong, but feeding into it can cause these shadow processes to take over.
The one process that Lee struggles with most is ‘getting hooked,’ or Cognitive Fusion as it’s called in ACT.
- Cognitive = thoughts
- Fusion = joining with them
When Cognitive Fusion happens, it means you’re linking your thoughts entirely to your identity; whatever thoughts your mind is generating, you’re binding to them.
When it comes to body image and Lee’s relationship with food, this shadow process can take over. But now, when her mind creates hateful thoughts like, “you don’t look good” or “you weigh too much, ACT allows her to incorporate the process called creating space, which allows her to stop, take a breath, and figure out a way to separate herself from the thought. Creating space is de-fusing and breaking the link between your thought and your identity.
The simplest way you can create space:
When you notice yourself falling into the habit of negative self-talk, stop, and restart the sentence by saying, “I’m having the thought that…” then take it even further to say “I’m noticing that…”
Creating space makes emotional room between the triggering thought and the response. So instead of having the thought and buying into it, you’re able to stop, take a step back from it, and then introduce the element of choice. Recognize the thought and ask:
- Why the thought is happening
- Why you’ve assumed it’s a bad thing
- Who told you it’s a bad thing
- What message you’re accepting blindly
- Whether or not you want to buy into this thought
Once you stop and de-fuse yourself from the thought, then you can decide where you want to go from there.
Part of creating space is having the understanding that your mind isn’t creating negative thoughts to torture you- it’s doing it to help you. That voice is trying to keep you in your comfort zone so you don’t step outside your boundaries. But by stepping back into a position of choice, you can talk back to that voice and tell it that you don’t always need to be safe- you want to be brave, bold and move forward. This starts with an awareness of what thoughts are happening and knowing that we can choose to either accept a thought or reject it.
The 3 M’s
Meaning, mindset, and mindfulness are the heart of ACT; we can brave the storms of life and create success through these 3 principles.
Meaning is all about getting really clear on what matters most to you- your values. Your values are the foundation around which you build your life. If you’re unclear about what your values are, imagine the person you most appreciate, respect, and love. Ask yourself:
- How do you want that person to talk about you?
- What kind of things would you want them to say about you?
According to Lee, asking these questions will help you gain clarity on what matters most. Once you know what your values are, you’ll have a barometer for every action you take. If you’re feeling anxious, sad, or unsure, that can be a sign that you’re living outside your values. Then, the question becomes: what step can I take to realign myself with my values?
This word has gained a lot of popularity in the last decade or so. In Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, she defines mindset as how we view our talents, skills, and abilities. She explains 2 types of mindsets:
- Fixed mindset: if you believe your abilities are unchanging throughout life
- Growth mindset: if you believe you can grow and cultivate your abilities
These 2 mindsets aren’t black and white; they operate on a spectrum. In some areas of life, we may feel more fixed and stuck, and in other areas, we may see more opportunity for growth and change. Lee expands this idea to say that mindset is how we view our relationship with our thoughts and emotions, and how that colors the way we view the world around us.
Cultivating a particular mindset requires deciding how you want to relate to your thoughts and emotions, and remembering that they are a part of you, but they are not you. Just like your hands or your legs are parts of you, but they are not you. When you start to view thoughts and emotions that way, then you can create space and decide how you want to relate to your own personal experience and how they define you.
Mindfulness is being aware in the present moment and coming from a place of intention, purpose and non-judgment. When you recognize where you are on the fixed/growth mindset spectrum and come from a place of understanding, you’re:
- Reducing the judgment that you have associated with your thoughts
- Anchoring yourself in the present moment
- Reminding yourself that this is where you need to be right now.
The 3 M’s are distinct approaches, but they all work in harmony with each other. When we engage in mindfulness, we are purposely focusing on bringing our full attention to the present moment, removing judgment, and anchoring ourselves in the here and now. When we do that, we’re able to connect to what matters most to us (meaning), observe what’s going on in our mind, and take rooted action accordingly. They all work together.
The Abundance Mindset
There’s a lot of talk now about abundance and abundance mindset, which is usually conflated with prosperity, money and finances. While those things can be a reflection of abundance, it’s really about there being plenty for all. Abundance is the idea that we can all be the biggest versions of ourselves. The space I take up doesn’t limit the amount of space that you have.
Making ourselves small to make other people feel better and the idea that there’s not enough for us all to be big is rooted in a scarcity mindset. When we approach life from an abundance mindset, we recognize there’s plenty to go around. Making ourselves smaller to make other people bigger isn’t rooted in abundance- it’s rooted in fear.
Privilege is the ultimate example of scarcity mindset. It’s the idea that there’s not enough to go around, so your have to hoard it. In society, who’s got the power? It’s been wealthy white men, and women too. When privilege goes unacknowledged, it creates a scarcity mindset so that when minorities start claiming their power, the people who have traditionally held the power get nervous and scared. Lee believes that if we truly embody and live abundance, then we can start healing from privilege- you realize there’s enough for all, and you can take actions that raise everyone up.
Defining & Acting Through Intuition
Lee views intuition as deep inner wisdom. Intuition is connected with spirit and soul. Lee knows she is acting from a place of intuition when she feels completely aligned in body, mind, spirit, and action.
In addition to intuition, we also have the power of discernment. Lee believes we can hone the ability to discern whether something is coming from a place of intuition or fear. If the thought is coming from fear, that’s often your mind trying to keep you safe. Sometimes you actually are in situations that are unsafe; in those moments, it’s your mind and your intuition working together to make you safe. If it’s a question about what you should do or what people will think about you, that’s not intuition, that’s fear. Intuition is solid, grounded and rooted. When you take action based on your intuition, it feels aligned.
If you’re not sure, start writing out your fears and what you want. From there, you can figure out pretty quickly how your fears are impacting you from reaching your goals.
If anyone takes anything from this conversation, it’s that there’s nothing inherently wrong or bad about you. No matter what you think, no matter how you feel, you are worthy just as you are. There are processes you can use to help yourself heal from whatever unwanted thoughts, emotions, or experiences you feel. ACT is an extraordinarily powerful way, but there are other ways out there too! It starts by acknowledging that you are not flawed- you are inherently perfect just as you are. It’s a journey to accept that about yourself and it’s a process, but you don’t have to go about it alone. There are tools and people out there to help you work through it.
Lee Chaix McDonough
Lee is a coach, therapist, and founder of Caravel Coaching. After over a decade as a licensed clinical social worker and public health professional, Lee entered the coaching field to partner with helpers, healers, and creative entrepreneurs who want to grow successful businesses and fulfilling lives.
Lee is a proud alumna of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she received her Bachelor of Arts, Master of Social Work, and Master of Science in Public Health degrees. Prior to starting her own business, she worked in a variety of professional settings, including hospitals, local governments, non-profit organizations, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and as a civilian for the United States Air Force.
Lee is a graduate of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), and is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and the International Coach Federation. She holds the ICF Associate Certified Coach credential and is also an Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner.
Her coaching philosophy fuses the principles of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Energy Leadership, and mindfulness in order to help her clients excel at entrepreneurship and transform their lives.
- Book website: https://actonyourbusiness.com
- Instagram: @caravelcoaching
Mentioned in the Episode:
Heal your relationship with food and start showing up authentically in your life with my Jumpstart to Food Freedom coaching program at: www.whitneycatalano.com/food-freedom
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This post was transcribed and edited by Brittany Allison. You can find her on Instagram @brittybfit.