8 Perspectives on Deep Inner Work –
The Path for Personal and Professional Growth
The Path for Personal and Professional Growth
Part 6 of 8: Increasing Psychological Flexibility
This is part six of an eight-part series on deep inner work at Evolute Institute. For the other parts check out:
• Article 1: Increasing our inner freedom
• Article 2: Moving into higher mindsets
• Article 4: Healing Psychological Wounding and the Work of Grief
• Article 5: Overcoming Cultural Conditioning
Table of Contents
The three kinds of selves
In this article, we want to look at deep inner work from the perspective of increasing psychological flexibility.
Steven Hayes, PhD, intellectual godfather of the so-called third wave of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), has written extensively on the power of CBT to enhance psychological flexibility as part of what is necessary when engaging in therapeutic and coaching processes.
Psychological flexibility is a key concept in the most advanced form of CBT as well as for personal development in general, but what is it precisely?
Simply put, psychological flexibility is the ability to feel and think with openness, to attend voluntarily and deliberately to your experience of the present moment. It allows you to move your life in directions that are important to you – largely by building habits that allow you to live life in accordance with your values and aspirations. What’s more, psychological flexibility is about learning not to turn away from what is painful but to turn towards your suffering, which builds the foundation for living a life full of meaning and purpose.
For understanding psychological flexibility it is valuable to understand is what Steven Hayes calls the three different “kinds” of selves:
- The conceptualized self – self-as-content
- The experiential self – self-as-process – and
- The perspective-taking self – self-as-context.
The 1st self, the conceptualized self (self-as-content), is the self-story of evaluated preferences, history, features, and attributes that are said to define oneself, especially in comparison to others. It represents the story about who you think you are and who others are in relation to you. In many spiritual schools, it is referred to the “ego”. Examples could be “I am a great driver”, “I am not a social person”, “I’m friendly and generous”, or “I am a born leader”. The problem is not the presence of a self-story, because we all have and even need one to individuate. The problem is when we fuse and identify with this ongoing storytelling to the point where most of our life’s energy is consumed by monitoring and defending that story or when the story is limiting and clashing with reality. We end up focussing too much on monitoring whether we live up to our own story and whether others are believing it. Such an intense focus on and defence of our fixated self-story causes most of our unnecessary suffering and even mental health issues can ensue.
Photo by Nong V on Unsplash.
The 2nd self, the experiential self (self-as-process), represents your awareness of your current experience. It is an ongoing process of involvement, of the processing and sharing of experience moment-to-moment. Examples could be “I see the red car in front of me”, “I feel sad”, “I think about my father and how he always took me with him to sport games”.
The 3rd self, the perspective-taking self (self-as-context), is the verbal “I/here/now” perspective or point of view from which observations are made. This could be a statement like “There is a part in me that thinks that I’m not good enough”. It is also the starting point of true state and process awareness, which could be reflected in statements such as “I experience myself as feeling down often”, “I am having recurring thoughts and feelings of not being good enough lately” or “I wonder if I should quit this job considering the culture lived there doesn’t correspond to my values anymore”. Arguably, the perspective-taking self is the most relevant self in understanding psychological flexibility.
Seeing with new eyes
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes"
- Marcel Proust
Photo by v2osk on Unsplash.
One of the key tenets of our work at Evolute Institute is that through the experience of Altered States of Consciousness (ASC), e.g. through special forms of breathwork, meditation or psychedelic work, you get the chance to step out of your ordinary “perspective-taking self” (your usual “self-as-context”) and to see yourself and the world around you with new eyes. This grants a unique opportunity to open new pathways of actively dealing with what needs to be processed (e.g. hitherto unconscious, energetically charged material) and of updating the stories you hold about yourself. When you “return” from that altered state you might have a renewed or expanded sense of self with a different concept of who you think you are. Altered states of consciousness – if used intentionally and in appropriate settings – can help strengthening or expanding our perspective-taking selves. In some cases, it might even help experiencing ourselves more as the context for our own experience (this corresponds to the construct awareness that we access in the systemic-autonomous mindset in Martin Permantier’s mindset model, covered in Article 2 of this 8-part series).
Furthermore, a profound experience in altered states of consciousness, such as with psilocybin truffles, can loosen the tight grip of negative or limiting self-stories we believe to be true about ourselves. In more technical terms, identifications with a conceptualized self (self as a certain content or story, e.g. in extreme cases self-beliefs like “I am a loser” or “I am the greatest”) are being liquified and the space for new narratives and a new self-understanding can open up. This happens partly, but not exclusively, through a movement from the conceptualized self towards the experiencing self (self-as-process), a sensory process unfolding moment to moment, anchored in the embodied right hemisphere of our brains (see article 5 of this series with a focus on “overcoming cultural conditioning”). Instead of relying on a fixed idea of who we think we are (top-down information), we let ourselves be fully present in the moment. This allows us to receive new (bottom-up) information and thus weave a new, more life-affirming self-story. Your psychological flexibility expands.
Enter the Chinese Hexaflex
The latest formulation of Steven Hayes’ famous hexaflex model – the “Chinese hexaflex” (see Fig. 1) – provides us with another perspective on the deep inner work we promote. One could say our work helps people to move
- from rigid attention to the past and future to being in the present: we can direct our attention in an intentional way rather than by mere habit or by preoccupation of the past / present, noticing what is present here and now, inside us and out.
- from avoidance to acceptance: we allow ourselves to feel even when the feelings are painful or create a sense of vulnerability.
- from fusion to defusion: instead of identifying and literally fusing with our mind’s chatter (e.g. thoughts), we see our thoughts and behavior with enough distance (defusion) so that we can consciously and deliberately choose how to live our life.
- from conceptual self to experiencing self: we notice the story we have constructed of our selves, gain perspective on it and regain awareness of what life wants from us in the present moment
- from unclear values to chosen values: we learn to choose the qualities of being and doing that we want to evolve toward on a personal and leadership level
- from ineffective and misguided action to committed action: as human beings and as leaders, we can create habits that are aligned with our core values
Image: Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science .
The path of increasing our awareness (perspective-taking self) is a path of building our observational or witnessing capacities for our own (and other people’s) internal processes. In ACT, this is called “defusion”, one might also say disidentification from the conceptualized self, or as the wisdom traditions have it: becoming aware or – when it crosses a certain threshold – “waking up”. As wisdom teacher Thomas Hübl points out: an aware process is held in space. We create space around and thus awareness of an emotion, thought pattern / belief, or a somatic pattern, and thus help liquifying / melting it.
How psychologically flexible are you?
Sometimes we tend to think that these seemingly abstract concepts from psychological research are not so relevant for the lives of “functional” people working in or leading organizations. However, in the case of psychological flexibility, it is clear that most of us have room for improvement towards less rigidity and more flexibility in the different flexibility processes or dimensions.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to check if you can increase your psychological flexibility:
- Do you find yourself unable or unwilling to change your behaviour that is obviously causing difficulties in your life?
- Do you have a tendency to avoid painful situations instead of dealing with them?
- Do you get caught up in loops of thoughts about “what was” or “what could be” often?
- Have you frequently in your life continued to hold on to an idea, opinion or behaviour even though a deeper part of you didn’t really believe in it (any longer)?
- How difficult would it be for you to let go of your preferred story you tell about yourself?
- Do you sometimes drown in / get carried away by a strong emotion (e.g. rage, sadness) and forget about everything else?
Most human beings will likely answer with a “yes”, “sometimes”, or “difficult” to one or several of these questions. Psychological flexibility helps us deal with our sometimes challenging human nature and experience, so it is worth to create some space and time to be able to work on it.
The work of becoming aware of and exploring of what is going on in our selves on multiple levels of our consciousness – of our bodies, emotions, mind and spirit – and thus allowing for movement and transformation is the work of integration, the perspective we want to consider in next week’s article no. 7 of this 8-part series on deep inner work.
In case you liked what you read: check out the other articles of this series:
Article 2: Deep inner work: Moving into higher mindsets
Article 5: Overcoming Cultural Conditioning
If you want to be part of a pioneering group of entrepreneurs, organisational leaders & decision-makers, change-makers and visionaries who embark on this journey of intentional inner work with altered states of consciousness, check out one of our psychedelic retreat programs or schedule an exploratory call. We’d be glad to get to know you.
Want to find out more about our work or participate in one of our programs? Schedule a call with us here
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Article Cover: Photo by Eleonora Albasi on Unsplash.
 Cf. e.g. Hayes, Steven C. (2019): A Liberated Mind : How to Pivot Toward What Matters. Avery Publishing.
 Hayes, Steven & Law, Stu & Malady, Mark & Zhuohong, Zhu & Bai, Xiaoyu. (2019). The centrality of sense of self in psychological flexibility processes: What the neurobiological and psychological correlates of psychedelics suggest. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science. 15. 10.1016/j.jcbs.2019.11.005.
 Cf. https://thomashuebl.com/.