Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong

Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to Life Liberated from Anxiety by Kelly G. Wilson, Troy DuFrene

Like fortune-tellers, we peer into the future and pore over the past, looking for something, anything, that might be an antidote to the unknown.

The goal is to set you free—not free of anxiety in the sense that hard thoughts and feelings cease to exist, rather, free in the sense that they no longer set limits on your life.

All of us are born, some time passes, and then we die.

remember that applying labels to jars does nothing to change their contents.

As we evolved for millions of years in an unforgiving world, natural selection weeded out the brazen and the brash. Our ancestors, the ones who survived and passed on the genetic material of which we are all made, were selected for their caution. They were the ones who assumed that what’s bad is bad and what’s ambiguous is bad too.

for all of us some of the time—and some of us all of the time—the pain of not knowing can outweigh the pain of even the most destructive actions.

It might mean that half the people you know have had, or will have, a moment of such pain and despair that death seems a kinder option than soldiering on. But will they tell you? No. Neither half nor likely even one in a hundred will ever say a word. They’ll come to work, to class, to the dinner table. You’ll ask them how they are, and they’ll tell you they’re fine.

If suffering is ubiquitous in life, the withdrawal from and avoidance of suffering is accordingly the withdrawal from and avoidance of life.

given that suffering touches the lives of all of us, like Sebastian Moore suggests, the rejection of suffering divides us and keeps us apart.

anxiety is out of place in the present moment. It depends on the past and the future for its existence.

When you worry, you lose contact with the present moment as you focus your attention on a conceptualized future. When you ruminate, it’s more or less the same act, except that you focus on a conceptualized past.


If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.

Lao Tzu

from an ACT perspective, we’re not especially concerned with the contents of thoughts and whether those contents are accurate. Instead, we want to know how workable those thoughts are in your life.

What if this student really was the only one in the room struggling with the material? Would the truth of that thought justify her decision to sit quietly? Not if her intended goal was to learn the material being taught. She’s faced with a rather painful choice: to speak up and reveal her ignorance or stay silent and remain ignorant. As we’ve seen before, both paths come with a fair amount of discomfort, but only one gets the student closer to where she wants to be in life.

our goal is flexibility—the ability to do whatever we choose to do that gets us to where we want to go in life.

Problems arise, though, when worrying, fretting, and panicking get between us and the things that matter to us in life. When you discover that your life is going unlived while you sit around beset with anxiety, that’s a good time to start thinking about doing something different.

Acceptance, as we mean it, is independent of desire and judgment […] Acceptance isn’t about giving up; it’s about opening up

by willingly and openly engaging with what is, we’re liberated to imagine and move toward what might be.

With starvation, brutality, sickness, and death abounding, it would be hard to point to any direct benefits Frankl enjoyed because of his decision to remain in the camp rather than escape. The reinforcer for his choice to stay behind with his patients was the intrinsic match between his decision and his own construction of what it meant to be both a good doctor and a moral human being. And the profound sense of liberation he felt upon making that choice hints at the power these chosen values have to add to the depth and richness of our experience, even under the most difficult circumstances.

Values evolve with us. They’re dynamic.

fusion and avoidance often act as a kind of “value sign,” a big red “X” that marks the spot where you’ll find something you care about. […] We feel the most vulnerable in areas that matter to us.

With open-ended commitments, ambiguity is a certainty, and you can only get relief from this ambiguity in failure.

The understanding of commitment that interests us is committing to act in the present moment in ways that are directed by values and perhaps are aimed at goals. We’re less concerned with whether we achieve those goals.

when we fail—and we will fail—we’ll suddenly find ourselves in a new moment where, once again, we can commit to our valued lives.

committed action from an ACT perspective involves an ongoing, in-the-moment process of choosing and rechoosing the directions in which we’ll move.

self-as-context. From this positive, functional perspective, the answer to the question “Who are you?” would be something like, “I’m the person who has experienced all of the thoughts, feelings, bodily states, and external events that make up my life. I’m also the context in which all of the future events of my life will unfold.” The corresponding, problematic function of this process area is self-as-content. From this less flexible perspective, the answer to the question “Who are you?” would, instead, be something to the effect of, “I’m a bad son, the kind of person who doesn’t call home often enough,” “I’m a crazy person,” or “I’m the guy who’s always on the bottom, so I need to fight to get to the top.” More broadly—and more abstractly—self-as-context is identification with the ongoing process of being conscious, and self-as-content is identification with the contents of consciousness. […] The creation of your identity is an ongoing, dynamic process that continues to take place for as long as you keep breathing.

Horrors, both big and small, abound. If you feel anxious, if you sit around on tenterhooks waiting for things to go terribly, horribly wrong—well, it’s not as if you have no reason, is it? Standing side by side with all this horror, though, is abundance, joy, and love in inconceivable measure. […] Sometimes people do grow old in each other’s arms

embracing life—all of life—is ultimately more rewarding than trying to weed out those experiences that we would rather avoid.

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