4 Ways to Train Your Brain for Greater Happiness and Success

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Life is hard and it can be painful. As humans faced with this pain and difficulty, we can get stuck in it, and feel heavy and burdened. When faced with barriers, we feel overwhelmed. When things get uncomfortable or distressing, we begin to avoid the discomfort — until eventually we forget what is truly important to us and our lives. Some of us lose hope and forget our dreams. Others give up dreaming altogether.

But there is a way forward.

ACT — Acceptance and Commitment Therapy — teaches us how to move from avoidance to acceptance and valued directions in our lives. Using it, we can train our minds to become more flexible, open, and able to accept the pain that life brings, all while moving towards our values — the things we find truly important in our lives.

Research shows that the human brain is plastic. It can be trained to learn new skills and patterns of thinking, which in turn influence new actions in your life. It’s not easy — it takes time, support, patience, and consistent practice — but it can be done.

A good place to start training your mind is with the acronym DARE. According to ACT, DARE stands for the following:

D: Defusion. Acknowledge your thoughts. Observe them. Recognize them for what they are — thoughts, and rather than seeing through them, let them pass like leaves on a stream.

A: Acceptance of discomfort. Make room for unpleasant emotions. Breathe into them. Make room for them and allow space for them in order to do what matters to you.

R: Realistic goals. Break down large goals into smaller, actionable tasks. Gain the necessary skills to achieve goals. Problem solve ways to obtain resources needed for goals. Adjust goals so that they are specific, measurable, and able to be accomplished. This will help you increase success and enable continued patterns of achieving goals.

E: Embrace values. Explore what is important to you. What would success, happiness, and living a whole life mean to you and what would it specifically look like? Connect your goals to your values. Are your goals serving a greater purpose for you? Do you feel that they are meaningful? Do they move you toward the person and life you want to live?

It might not be easy, but change is possible. The question then, is whether you are wiling to take the first initial steps towards change and to embrace the discomfort that goes along with it, if it means that you would be moving towards the greater, fuller life you envision for yourself.

(The source of the above acronym is from Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap. If you found this post helpful, I highly recommend checking his work out or finding a therapist who practices Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help support you toward your desired goals.)


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Victoria Chialy Smith, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist serving the Falls Church, McLean, Great Falls, Vienna, Arlington, Alexandria, and the greater Washington DC region. She provides individual therapy to children, teens, and adults with stress, anxiety, and depression. Our practice provides Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindfulness and acceptance based therapies, and other top, premier evidence-based treatments. Call, email, or schedule an appointment with us online today. We’re happy to help!