Ep. #71 A Look Into Consciousness w/ Dr. Steven C. Hayes

Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D

Steven C. Hayes is a Nevada Foundation Professor of Psychology in the Behavior Analysis program at the University of Nevada. An author of 47 books and nearly 670 scientific articles, his career has focused on an analysis of the nature of human language and cognition and the application of this to the understanding and alleviation of human suffering.

He is the developer of Relational Frame Theory, an account of human higher cognition, and has guided its extension to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a popular evidence-based form of psychotherapy that uses mindfulness, acceptance, and values-based methods. He is a co-developer of Process-Based Therapy (PBT), a new approach to evidence-based therapies more generally.

Dr. Hayes has written a small number of books for the public, in addition to his many books for professionals. His first, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life (written with Spencer Smith) was written up in a five page story in Time Magazine in February 2006 and for a time was the #1 best selling self-help book in the United States. His latest, A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters, tells the scientific and personal story of psychological flexibility and topped out as among the top 800 best selling books on Amazon. His TEDx Talks (here and here) and YouTube presentations for the public exceed 1 million views.

In this episode, Steven and Shane discuss the nature of human consciousness, our experience of it, and how an understanding of it connects us to something much greater. Steven’s life work has been dedicated, at least in part, to understanding human psychology. Consciousness is an essential feature of our life – it is that by which, and from which, we experience everything. Self-consciousness is a phenomenon which appears to be uniquely human (as far as we know). Our knowledge of our own consciousness places us in a remarkable position to explore, question, and try to understand it.

Furthermore, we discuss the relationship between our understanding of human psychology, consciousness, and suffering. How can we work to alleviate suffering, both in our own lives and in those of other people is a fundamental question of our time. 

Get a copy of A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters

In this landmark book, the originator and pioneering researcher into Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) lays out the psychological flexibility skills that make it one of the most powerful approaches research has yet to offer. These skills have been shown to help even where other approaches have failed. Science shows that they are useful in virtually every area–mental health (anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, PTSD); physical health (chronic pain, dealing with diabetes, facing cancer); social processes (relationship issues, prejudice, stigma, domestic violence); and performance (sports, business, diet, exercise).

How does psychological flexibility help? We struggle because the problem-solving mind tells us to run from what causes us fear and hurt. But we hurt where we care. If we run from a sense of vulnerability, we must also run from what we care about. By learning how to liberate ourselves, we can live with meaning and purpose, along with our pain when there is pain.

Although that is a simple idea, it resists our instincts and programming. The flexibility skills counter those ingrained tendencies. They include noticing our thoughts with curiosity, opening to our emotions, attending to what is in the present, learning the art of perspective taking, discovering our deepest values, and building habits based around what we deeply want.

Beginning with the epiphany Steven Hayes had during a panic attack, this book is a powerful narrative of scientific discovery filled with moving stories as well as advice for how we can put flexibility skills to work immediately. Hayes shows how allowing ourselves to feel fully and think freely moves us toward commitment to what truly matters to us. Finally, we can live lives that reflect the qualities we choose.

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