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  • Dina Cohen

The Voices on the Bus

If your mind is a bus, then the voices on that bus sure can go 'round and 'round!

I first heard the bus metaphor from Thom Rutledge, LCSW, an awesome therapist whose name you might recognize from Jenni Schaefer's book Life Without Ed. He described a metaphor used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in which internal experiences, such as thoughts, memories, urges, and emotions seem to drive our lives. The bus is your mind and the passengers are the internal experiences.

For example, Fear might yell at you to turn back. Depression can tell you to pull over. Helplessness may whisper that you'll never make it. Self-doubt will sidle up to you and remind you that you'll be a failure whichever road you take. But, as the driver, you're the one in control of the bus. You can choose to listen to Courage when she reminds of your past successes and urges you to keep at it, even if Courage is sitting way at the back of the bus. You can keep an ear out for Optimism, even if her voice is small and wavering. You can take note of Connection's suggestions and wave to the other cars on the road so that your drive feels less lonely.

The critical piece here? YOU are the driver of the bus. The voices are just the passengers. Even if you can't get them off the bus, you don't have to let them drive. As long as they're just passengers, you get to choose where your bus goes.

Remembering that you are the driver is so very important because resolving your eating issues means DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY. You have to drive a different way. You have to choose different behaviors. Your comfy passengers may not like this. They might grumble from their seats, they might get up and yell, or they might even stride to the front of the bus to shout right in your ear. If you want to get off the highway of disordered eating, chronic dieting, or negative body image, you will have to ignore those voices and take the exit. You'll have to ignore the rebellion on board and drive down a strange new road.

There is a time and place for turning around and talking back to the passengers, but too much talk won't get your bus to your destination. Eventually, you'll have to turn back around, grab onto the wheel, and step on the gas. As Thom points out, "You act your way into right thinking; you don't think your way into right acting."

What does this look like in real life?

Say you've been avoiding eating cake for years and have now decided you'd like to be able to eat it without fear. You can talk about why it's scary, what eating it will mean to you, and what resistance you might face. But if you want to be able to eat the cake without feeling scared, then ultimately, you've got to go ahead and eat the cake.

Here’s how it might play out:

Pessismism: You said you would do this a thousand times before. C'mon. Ain't gonna happen. You know you'll just take one look and walk away from the table.

Fear: Don't do it!! (pounding heart, clammy hands)

Avoidance: Just leave the kitchen now. Get out of here.

YOU, THE DRIVER: Blah, blah, blah. You guys are so unoriginal. I'm gonna listen to what the folks at the back of the bus have to say. Hey people - step on up!

Inner Compass: This is important to you. You want to be able to enjoy your birthday. You don't want to be worried about cake anymore. You want food to revolve around your life instead of your life revolving around fear of food.

Courage: You have done hard things before. I know you can do this.

Connection: Call a friend and tell her what you're going to do now. Support always helps.

The annoying thing is that you don't get to choose which passengers populate your bus. Some may have been there since childhood. Some are born out of past experiences, and others might be there because of your genetic wiring. But the great thing is that none of them drive. Only you do. Once you realize's an open road!

If you're intrigued by what you've read and want to learn more about ACT, I encourage you to check out the book The Illustrated Happiness Trap. Not only does it have some cool strategies, it's a fun read!

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