Be Mighty by Jill A. Stoddard draws on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to help women free themselves from the anxiety, worry, and stress that are holding them back.
The author observes that if you get attached to narratives about being damaged or broken, you’re “probably a frequent flier at the popular hot spot known as the Comfort Zone.” She argues that anxiety, worry, and stress aren’t actually the problem; it’s the way that we react to them that leads to suffering. In particular, attempts at avoidance and resistance get us in trouble.
The book describes an anxiety triumvirate consisting of intolerance of uncertainty, lack of perceived control, and an overinflated sense of responsibility for things happening around us. “When you are troubled by the anxiety triumvirate, you will do whatever it takes to get answers and fix the problem, all while staying in charge.” That may include excessive internet searching, reassurance-seeking, or excessive checking. While those strategies may make us feel better in the short-term (“it works, or we wouldn’t do it”), they actually provide more fuel for the anxiety triumvirate.
I thought this observation was particularly insightful: “We think we should be able to solve “problems” inside our bodies (uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, sensations, and urges) because our experience solving problems outside our bodies tells us it’s possible.” However, attempting to problem-solve anxiety leads to psychological inflexibility, which is the exact opposite of what ACT is aiming for.
In the chapter on willingness, the author points out that when you’re not willing to experience anxiety, you start feeling anxious about anxiety, so hello anxiety. She likened willingness to water, as it simply flows around things that get in its way without stopping or trying to get rid of them.
I quite liked this bit on avoidance and the comfort zone:
“Her Majesty, Avoidance, is usually ruling the queendom, manipulating you with her tempting promises of relief while holding you hostage in the Tiny Tower of the Comfort Zone. So when that childish rebel shows up kicking and screaming (“But I don’t wanna feel the feelings!”), remind her of the might of mindfulness, hand her the weapon of willingness, and send her off to dethrone that evil Avoidance queen.”
The book also talks about changing your “buts” to “ands”, the role of values, committed actions that are based on those values, and cognitive defusion (separating ourselves from our thoughts). It describes the combination of core beliefs and safety behaviours as a suit of armour that we wear to try to shield ourselves from pain, but it restricts our ability to live our lives.
ACT in general is anti-affirmations, framing it as just another way of over-attaching ourselves to stories. The author jumps on board the anti-positivity train, writing, “Affirmations, and positive self-talk in general, are often just fusion and avoidance in disguise.”
While women are the identified audience of the book and there is some attention given to societal pressures that women face, feminist issues aren’t the primary focus, and I think the book would still be quite relevant to male readers. The book is divided into short sections, making it really easy to read. It’s fairly short, and the author does a good job of succinctly explaining key ACT concepts without going into too much detail. The tone is casual and light-hearted, and I learned a new expression – “banana pants.” I think this book would be a really good fit for anyone looking for a therapy-based book that’s fun and doesn’t feel too therapy-ish.
Be Mighty is available on Amazon (affiliate link).