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Mindfulness, Zombies & How To Unhook Yourself From Thoughts

Mindfulness, Zombies, And How To Unhook Yourself From Thoughts – Russ Harris

Russ Harris is the author of the international bestselling self-help book entitled The Happiness Trap. Dr. Harris is a globally-renowned trainer for Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). He conducts workshops on ACT around the world and provides ACT training to thousands of health professionals, counselors, coaches, doctors and therapists. He has also authored two ACT textbooks including ACT Made Simple and four ACT-based self help books including Reality Slap.

In this interview Russ reveals why popular ideas about happiness are misleading, inaccurate, and often make us miserable. Discover the counter intuitive truth about lasting happiness and fulfilment. You’ll also learn…

  • How to untangle from unhelpful thoughts.
  • How to handle difficult emotions more skilfully.
  • The difference between cognitive fusion and cognitive defusion.

Plus as a bonus you can also experience an easy mindfulness practice to help you ‘unhook’ from unhelpful thoughts. It’s called ‘leaves on a stream’ and you’ll find this meditation audio below the video.

PS Please enjoy Russ’s epic zombie impersonation!

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Show Notes

Join The Mindfulness Summit Journey here

Come and join the community discussions at any time on our Facebook page

Check out Melli’s blog, events and retreats at MrsMindfulness.com

If you’d like to learn more about Russ’s books and events go and check out his website here for more www.actmindfully.com.au

You can also check out his app here www.actcompanion.com




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Purchase a full access pass to unlock downloads for the full interview transcripts, audio, video and separate audio meditation tracks.

Upgrade for Full Access Pass

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Purchase a full access pass to unlock downloads for the full interview transcripts, audio, video and separate audio meditation tracks.

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153 Responses

  1. Tracy greenwood

    Thanks once again Melli, wonderful interview, fantastic zombie actions Russ! A great visual reminder of grasping at or pushing things away, hilarious. Really enjoyed the leaves on a stream practice as well, yet another thing to take away from this summit! So appreciated, my cup runneth over 🙂

  2. Neita

    Thanks Melli and Dr. Harris! This is one of my favorite sessions; very engaging. The zombie impersonations were very helpful and hilarious. I particularly appreciated the ‘Leaves on A Stream’ meditation. I’m looking into the app.

  3. Russ Harris

    Hey – you’re welcome. Thanks everyone. BTW the zombie exercise is a horribly mutated version of what was once an elegant exercise created by psychologist John Forsyth. No zombies in John’s version. I’m sure he’d be horrified to see what I’ve done to it – but hopefully amused, too.

  4. Shantelle Bates

    Thanks Melli and Dr Harris for the helpful, intuitive session. Enjoyed the zombie moments, not only amusing but very helpful to understand how we react to things. Thoroughly enjoyed this session, it helped a great deal to know that their doesn’t need to be in a state of happiness in order to have a fulfilling and worthwhile life, that every moment is just as precious and as valuable as the others, it’s all about what we do with it. Thanks for today

  5. Jim Bright

    I noticed I am having the thought…that I really enjoyed this session 🙂 Learned loads and Ioved the zombie actions. I shall think of the zombie evey time feel I really want something and when I really want to avoid something. Loved the truck driver story too.

  6. christina wat

    Another great day ! So interesting to learn about the cognitive fusion and diffusion concept. Awareness and understanding of the experiencial avoidance issue is very helpful ! Thank you !

  7. Kyla Ball

    I really like how he points out that mindfulness is applicable to every minute of life, there is formal practice but if that is the only time one is mindful, it makes no sense. A person’s values and actions must be in accord with the practice, otherwise it’s like going to church every Sunday and confessing your “sins” and then just repeating the same behaviours throughout the week.

  8. Heidi

    wow, just putting the words ‘I am having the thought that’ in front of that sentence had a huge impact. if felt tearful but in a good way, it was like I was setting myself free from the thought.

  9. Carol Fudge

    I am very, very late in joining this summit, but throughly enjoyed today’s session. I love the humour and will definitely use the ‘Leaves in the Stream’ visualization. Thank you.

  10. Lori

    My teenage son with his autism, uses this technique with sensory stimulation. The smells or noise get overwhelming and in his face. The outside stimulus can shut him down. He can’t make lunchroom smells go away during school, but he has learned to diffuse incoming stimulus in order to physically remain at school. It is easy for me to see this work with concrete issues, but I had not used this technique with thoughts and emotions. The simple act of removing my hands from my face will be a great help to me and my kids. Thank you.

    1. Leslie Carleton

      This is brilliant, Lori. I have a grown son on the spectrum who also used to have overwhelming sensory issues, but also strong negative reactions to the world of emotions. Your observation is interesting and is making me think. It seems like something that could be taught simply, by OT or other therapists, to kids on the spectrum to help manage the sensory onslaught and empower them to spend more time in challenging environments (work, social, etc).

  11. Kyla Ball

    Yup, mindfulness is a human thing, not just a Buddhist thing. I don’t think you need to be of any religion or philosophy to practice mindfulness. I can about it by delving into and practicing Buddhist philosophy. But one need not go that route, there are many ways and paths both spiritual and secular.

  12. laura_brance5218

    wow, really powerful and helpful! Thank you Melli and Russ! The zombie was really funny, and sadly true for many of us. Makes us look at ourselves from a different perspective.

  13. C Jones

    I really enjoyed today’s talk. I realise I am more mindful than I thought as I practice yoga and tai chi as well as mindful meditation. Despite coming to terms with my limitations due to a long term health problem I am much happier since I learnt about mindfulness. I do not live in my head as much and appreciate my life far more. This summit has encouraged me to continue living a more mindful life. Thank you

  14. Deborah Toniolo

    Thank you Russ, I liked the fusion and diffusion concept along with the ‘leaves on a stream’ practice. Thank you Melli ever so much for these wonderful talks.

  15. Lyla Burnor

    Lovely! Powerful and practical. I am so encouraged by this talk and once again the Mindfulness Summit has brought us a wealth of insight and empowering information!

    Thank you.

  16. Tobias Schreiber

    Very interesting interaction and information to be mindful. Russ Harris is entertaining and shares a model that can be highly use. As he said , it doesn’t matter if its true or false,but is it useful. Melli, thank you for bringing all these teachers and various models and messages to our awareness.

  17. Jeffrey Migneault

    A question that has come up a few times in these interviews is whether mindfulness is enough to make the world better or whether a moral or ethical code is also necessary. The example that has been mentioned a few times is that a sniper can be mindful but is probably not making the world a better place. I think a distinction that might be helpful is the difference between mindfulness and concentration. Traditional Buddhism makes this distinction where concentration practices aim to focus and clear the mind, to make it one-pointed, whereas mindfulness is awareness of the broader contents of the mind. So the mental focus of a sniper would be an example of concentration where he (or she) is not letting other thoughts into his awareness. Traditionally it was thought that developing concentration skills was a necessary first step to stabilize the mind so when mindfulness was practiced one awareness was not swept away by thoughts and feelings.
    Of course Buddhism and other traditions have ethical principles and guidelines, but there is also the idea that ethical behavior flows from the experience of meditation. As a number of people have talked about, most pointedly Sam Harris, meditation leads to a reduction in identification with a small restricted sense of self, and it seems that most of the nasty things people do to each other, to the world, and to themselves comes from this sense of a small, separate self and our attempts to protect it.

    1. Russ Harris

      Good points. Thing is, it very depends on your definition of mindfulness. There isn’t one agreed consensus definition; many overlapping but different terms. Some would say that extremely focused attention is an aspect of mindfulness – others wouldn’t. All are correct. 🙂

  18. John

    Thank you Melli and Russ for the great discussion. As I went through the fusion exercise and was asked to think about a negative thought or self judgement, I found myself jotting down the consequences of the judgement such as it being a barrier to growth, a physical sensation of holding back from taking action, being afraid and vulnerable. Then in addition to the two diffusion questions helping to release me from those feelings, I found myself wondering where did this judgement come from? How does it exist and seem real sometimes? A sense of objectively looking at seemed to further detach and de-power it almost as a curiosity rather than something legitimate. Nice. Thanks again.

  19. Karolina

    Thank you for a great talk and powerful insights. I’m about to sit down and revisit my values so that I can make my motivation and intentions clear and act in accordance with them. Very excited about that! Also really appreciated the comment about not labelling the thoughts as true or false but instead recognising if holding onto them helps us in any way. Truly powerful!

  20. Darren

    “The more we try to avoid the basic reality that all human life involves pain, the more we are likely to struggle with that pain when it arises, thereby creating even more suffering.”

    ― Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap: How To Stop Struggling And Start Living

    “In this world, there will be trouble, take heart . . . overcome the world.”

    ~ Yeshua

    “All Life is Suffering (Dissatisfaction)”

    ~ The First Noble Truth

    “Find a place inside where there is joy (not pleasure-joy) and the joy will burn out the pain.”

    ~ Joseph Campbell

    Two gifts appeared for me this past month, both I embraced as opportunities for growth.

    First, the Mindfulness Summit was recommended in a visit to my local therapist.

    Second, an EdX course showed up, introducing us to U-Theory and U-Lab and the principles Otto Scharmer and colleagues developed as their life’s work as educators with MIT in the States.

    I share this to encourage others who perhaps, like me, may have intellectually accepted the concepts Mindfulness Practice provides, but were yet able to form a personal discipline, putting the practice into life. I feel completely blessed of late, having received the message of Mindfulness from two quality sources, both validating the intellectual acceptance I held prior to engagement with these two sources this month, and both teaching the importance of allowing a discipline to begin to form.

    Something Dr. Harris shared today about openness, echoes the message of U-Theory, discussed in U-Lab. We all can learn to live our lives, open to life-experience. We’ve learned to ‘seek pleasure’ and ‘avoid pain’. This can work for us, using such ‘feelings’ to perhaps guide us towards a life of hedonism, but this isn’t what were learning is the path to true happiness. What if we’re thrown into painful experiences outside of our control? What do we do in these cases when we’ve practiced for a life-time to avoid such pain, while working with ourselves under the pleasure-principle?

    In my experience, what happens under these conditions is a melt-down, psychologically-with danger, real danger, of mental illness, and of it’s most heinous outcome: suicide, either spiritually and emotionally, or actual physical death, either to illness or self-harm.

    We can seek pleasure, and try to avoid pain if we like, and some may well succeed in doing so. But I think we all know some pleasure-seekers in our life-space, and having been one myself for far too long, the outcome seems to be similarly the same for all who pursue pleasure and pain avoidance in life:

    Pleasure seekers (me included) tend to become hedonists; While pain avoiders (me included) tend to sometimes end up either delusional (approaching life with a pair of rose-colored glasses); or we end up using experiences, drugs (prescribed or otherwise), alcohol, love-as pain-killers.

    Pain in life, as we know from those times when life seems so outside of our personal, control is literally unavoidable.

    These two combined education experiences this month, are driving home the message: “Accept, radically, the FACTS of your life; renew your mind and work to reset your nervous system using the simplicity (I know, it isn’t ‘easy’) of Mindfulness as a daily, personal discipline to renew the mind.

    Learn to eat well; exercise well; engage, consciously, in experiencing life in the present moment, as it is, regardless of pleasure or pain; and approach life moving forward with an ‘Open Heart; Open Mind; And, Open Will’ (From U-Lab).

    Our critic, this was touched on today too. Our ‘Inner-Judge’ and our ‘Inner-Cynic’. These suit-cases we all carry with us inside, are full of dirty-clothes. These two aspects of our ego-defense system, though constructed to protect us, in my experience, fail us, time and again to living an open-hearted, mindful experience of life.

    These two constructs inside are most damaging, the most impedance we hold to living a quality life, Dr. Harris pointed this out very clearly today,

    These negative constructs, are fed by the opposite of Love inside of us (towards self and others). These ‘voices in our heads of judgement and cynicism) are F.E.A.R.-Based. “False-Evidence (Of Self)-Appearing-Real.”

    We can’t necessarily change the thoughts we have of self-judgment or cynicism. But we can learn to work with ourselves differently in response. Mindfulness practiced consistently is powerful in assisting us through this learning. After now 20 days of consistent, daily practice, and quality results (personally)) I’ve no hesitation is saying so.

    We all fall prey to ourselves in this life. We all at some point will need to question our belief-system from time-to-time if we are to grow as human-beings. We’ve learned how to live unconscious lives. We’ve taken in information to act as guide inside (with our thinking) that can be either angelically helpful, or demonically useless. Something I’ve learned and now accept as truth, the hard-way, is this:

    “If we take garbage in in terms of the information we use to help guide our lives: We will produce garbage out in terms of behaviour and quality of life.”

    Because we now know the brain is malleable across our life-span. Because we’ve learned that old-dogs, can, in fact, learn new tricks. By taking in quality information to reconstruct our belief-system (such as the philosophy of Mindfulness); this will translate, both inside and out, towards living a more stable, quality-of-life.

    Thank you both, Melli and Dr, Harris, for you service.

    Be Well

    1. Eugene McCreary

      Thanks for sharing all that, Darren. I haven’t heard it so far, but I think of mindfulness as a habit to replace old, bad or unhelpful habits, and like all skills, takes practice (the practice the speakers refer to). Such skills, like learning and instrument or riding a bike, will feel clumsy and self-conscious at first, but eventually you get the “Knack” for them, but it’s important to remember that the old habits of a lifetime are not going to go away easily. Persistence.

  21. Ellen Cedergreen

    I really enjoyed this session a lot. Great practical tips for dealing with the negative thoughts and assumptions. I also liked how mindfulness was exposed as universal to most modern religions because it is a bridge. Thank you! Very thought provoking.

    But as an extremely sensitive type, I felt like there was some judgment in the truck driver story/anecdote. The whole part about him lifting his shirt and Russ saying “thank you for sharing”. If I were the truck driver watching this, I would feel bad and it would perpetuate those thoughts. Just sayin’.

    1. Russ Harris

      You may be right. Or maybe not. He had a good sense of humor – I suspect he’d laugh at himself if he recognised himself in this story. There’s a Zen saying: “The first sign of mental health is laughing at ourselves’ I’ve grown up in two cultures -English and Australian – where taking the Mickey out of yourself and others is a form of healthy social banter, and I tell these kinds of stories about myself all the time. Of course, if he was offended, I’d immediately apologise. Just sayin, 🙂

  22. Beth Onufrak

    Russ Harris is so accessible and amusing. The zombie metaphor, even if a variation on someone else’s concept, is extremely useful, especially to younger generations. Equally helpful were the enactment of pushing unpleasant things away and grabbing reflexively for pleasant things. In this now-now-now right-away culture, in which technology can deliver in a nanosecond, we don’t always realize what we are mindlessly reaching for. As a child psychologist, I know his physical metaphors can be extremely helpful! Not to mention for adults. Thank you for another extremely valuable presentation.

  23. Scott Lederman

    Great interview. I came to my practice of mindfulness through ACT and continue to use it in my life. I have used the skills and techniques which gives me space to then act according to my values and what I really want in life. I appreciate your interviewing Russ during this summit. I find that mindfulness as it is taught is greatly influenced by a Buddhist world view, and that some of the ideas about living compassionately just happens, whereas many religions have a contemplative practice. In America the mindfulness movement sells itself as being secular in its presentation. in my experience, especially in a public school setting it is secular and understood as a Social/Emotional skill training. However, even some of the lessons on sending kind thoughts to others or ourselves, or the idea of compassion arising comes from a view of the world as Buddha explains. On the other hand I find that I identify with compassion and love coming from my relationship to Jesus Christ. I sit in mindfulness before Jesus who transforms my life through faith in Him. These values of love, compassion, peace come from Him in my view. I would like to see a Christian perspective represented just as we have had speakers trained in psychology and Buddhist practice. Just a thought to consider.

  24. Rosann Lampkin

    Wow! I thoroughly enjoyed this talk with Russ Harris today–thanks so much to both of you!! I teach mindfulness to teachers and I loved the techniques that can be applied for experiential contact in the moment…I will definitely employ them. Loved the zombie impersonation, and think I will have to show the video of Russ, as he does it so well :)! Also, the statement “Anxiety disorder is not caused by anxiety but by the struggle with anxiety” as powerful for me. I am just loving this summit and have felt a rejuvenation and growing enthusiasm in my own practice… THANK YOU! Rosann

  25. David Ford

    Glad I bought the pass as I’ve got a lot of catching up to do but really enjoyed today’s session. I’ve read Russ’ book The Reality Slap and have The Happiness Trap (but not read that yet). He’s a fantastic presenter and I loved his explanations and exercises. Probably my favourite session that I’ve watched so far. And although I came to mindfulness from a Buddhist perspective I so appreciate seeing it presented in a completely secular and pragmatic way which can only help its acceptance into the mainstream.

  26. Helen O'Neill

    This talk came along just when I needed it most so many thanks. I loved the lighthearted, practical, human quality Russ brought to it. I definitely want to learn more about ACT now. Fantastic summit, massive kudos Melli.

  27. Eric Nicholson

    I’m surprised Melli or anyone else hasnt mentioned Byron Katie. You cant get more radical than her! However, I’m not criticising – the bottom line is DONT believe your thoughts!

  28. Mine Hasırcı

    I love and practice ACT personally and professionally. I’ve been reading Russ Harris’ books and following him on the social media for quiet some time too. I think his way of talking and writing are both very genuine and easy to follow.

    Also I don’t enjoy meditation if it becomes a duty. That is why I favor ACT among all other mindfulness-based therapies. Thanks for this wonderful interview with one of my personal favorite professionals. With love

  29. Nicole

    I cannot access the meditation .I can see : Listen to Russ’s meditation audio here , but there is nothing under.
    How can I have access to it ?

    I realy like this interview. Dr.Harris tools very useful . Thanks.

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