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Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to Life Liberated from Anxiety

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You don't need a book to tell you this much: Sometimes things fall apart, crack open, and miss the mark. You can plan and strategize and keep your eye on the horizon, watching for trouble. And nothing you can do will protect you from the fact that things might, when you least expect it, go terribly, horribly wrong. If you're anxious about this, it's not like you don't have a reason. If you're very anxious about this, you're certainly not alone. In fact, even if your whole life feels like it's about anxiety, your story is a lot more common that you might imagine. If you could just get your anxiety to go away, you could get on with the business of living your life, right? Well, maybe — or maybe not. Does anxiety need to go away in order for you to live your life fully, vitally, with richness and purpose? This book approaches the problem of anxiety a little differently than most. Instead of trying to help you overcome or reduce feelings of anxiety, Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong will help you climb inside these feelings, sit in that place, and see what it would be like to have anxiety and still make room in your life to breathe and rest and live — really and truly live — in a way that matters to you. Although it's grounded in a research-supported form of psychotherapy called acceptance and commitment therapy, also known as ACT, Things isn't especially technical or stepwise. Rather, the book starts a conversation about why we all sometimes feel anxious and what role that anxiety serves in our lives. It connects the experience of anxiety to the essential experience of human suffering. And then, in sometimes unexpected ways, Things explores some basic ways of being in the world that can change the role anxiety plays in your life. This book has been awarded The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Self-Help Seal of Merit — an award bestowed on outstanding self-help books that are consistent with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) principles and that incorporate scientifically tested strategies for overcoming mental health difficulties. Used alone or in conjunction with therapy, our books offer powerful tools readers can use to jump-start changes in their lives.

165 pages, Paperback

First published January 6, 2010

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Kelly G. Wilson

22 books20 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 51 reviews
Profile Image for Gina.
359 reviews12 followers
September 12, 2014
I greatly respect Kelly Wilson and I LOVED his book for therapists, Mindfulness for Two, It is totally possible that I should not have read these back to back. 1) The content of Things is terribly watered down compared to MF2 so it is difficult to give it a "clean" review, and 2) What little information that I would find useful for clients is reprinted (word for word) from MF2. Which makes me wonder if a client NEW to this material might find the book helpful? Was it too hard for me, having studied mindfulness, to see all of the value in this little volume? In Wilson's defense, it may be hard for me to be the best judge of that.

One unrelated critique I do have is that Wilson & his coauthor spend far too much time discussing diagnostic labels and convincing the reader that anxiety is also useful. First, for a brief book that promises to be a "guide to a life liberated from anxiety" these points take up far too much space. Compare, for example, the fact that the diagnostic labels section is as long as the Acceptance chapter! I think the anti-diagnosis content is more theoretically interesting than it is practical/useful. And the various metaphors used all in the service of talking about how anxiety was useful evolutionary was a bit of an overkill. One mention, in a volume this little, would have sufficed. Second, I did not feel as though there was enough ACT CONTENT included to provide clients with a good springboard or foundation to feel they were on their way to "knowing" how to move toward a life "liberated from anxiety." There are several guided experiential exercises suggested throughout the book but I would have liked to see more content related to the general concepts that relate to these exercises.

If you are a therapist DO consider reading Mindfulness for Two. However, if you are seeking a place to begin confronting the way anxiety rules your life, there are other books out there with a little bit more content that might be a better place to START. (For chronic worrying, for example, I HIGHLY recommend Leahy's "The Worry Cure"). It doesn't mean that this might not be an additional place to look for people who aren't beginners.
Profile Image for Megan.
393 reviews7 followers
September 14, 2010
It took me a good long time to be able to admit that I suffer from anxiety and probably have generalized anxiety disorder. It's funny, how you grow up thinking one way, and you think everyone around you is the same. I had absolutely no idea that other people don't worry about things to the extent that I do. Put simply, there is never a moment when I'm not worrying or anxious about something. I've had stupid panic attacks, I've gotten the chills, I stress out a lot. I worry worry worry, constantly.

This is the first book I've read about anxiety specifically; it's probably the first true "self-help" book I've read in years. I was drawn to it because of the easygoing language in the inside flap, the way Kelly Wilson and Troy Dufrene approach anxiety not as something to be eliminated but as something that can be present without becoming all-encompassing.

For the most part, I enjoyed it. The authors were good at making me look at things from a different perspective. They introduced and explained the philosophy of mindfulness well, and how it can help with anxiety. I did feel the book was lacking a bit in the activities sections. Most of them didn't feel engaging or eye-opening, but they did complement the text well.

I appreciated this book for the lessons it imparted, although by no means is it a cure-all; it definitely presents a new way of thinking about anxiety.
Profile Image for Morgan Blackledge.
578 reviews1,959 followers
August 9, 2013
Why doesn't everyone known and love Kelly Wilson? For the life of me, I cant figure that out. Knowing about Kelly Wilson and his bro Steven C. Hayes is like discovering two wise and magical talking trees in the forest that nearly no one else can see or hear except you. ACT is truly innovative and brilliant shit. I'm baffled by the fact that everyone isn't drinking this stuff up like ice water in September. Laying aside the mystery for a moment, I should take the opportunity to simply report that this book is LOADED with wisdom and intelligence. Science and poetry. Acceptance and change. Man alive what a great, game changing text. If you suffer (and you do), this book is crucial reading.
Profile Image for Adam Floridia.
583 reviews30 followers
May 16, 2020
One of the better self-help type books I've read, and I think it has a lot to do with the tone. I like the way these dudes write. It's very colloquial. They've also chosen some brilliant literary quotes as epigraphs to chapters. Most of the exercises are actually halfway decent, and some are really good--all are easy to try. There's a lot of good advice, but as always so much of it relies on the ability to do not just to know. Plus, I'll likely forget most of the helpful tidbits anyway. Oh well, I've got certain pages dog-eared.

A favorite quote: "From this perspective, the answer to the question 'Who are you?' would be something like, 'I'm the person who has experienced all of the thoughts, feelings, bodily states, and external events that make up my life. I'm also the context in which all of the future events of my life will unfold.'...self-as-context is identification with the ongoing process of being conscious, and self-as-content is identification with the contents of consciousness" (137-138).
Profile Image for Brad.
738 reviews
May 31, 2017
This book is my first in-depth look at the concepts in ACT. My main takeaway is that better than asking “Is this right (or good, etc)?” is to ask “Is this effective (in working towards one goals)?”

Looking at the nitty-gritty:
--The exercises are doable and written to be relatable, even including keys to accessing what is asked of the reader. Amazingly, I wanted to do the exercises for the most part, rather than roll my eyes at them or assuming I knew what would happen without doing them. Not all the time, but more than the other books I’ve read with exercises.

--It’s refreshing to read a book of this type that isn’t talking down to its readers or having an overly enthusiastic tone.

--The book uses lots of poems and quotes, many of which I had trouble tying to the text or didn’t seem as vital for driving a point as the author thought.

Profile Image for Liesl Gibson.
136 reviews6 followers
November 20, 2020
This book was recommended by my therapist when I was really struggling to understand where we were going and I didn't feel like I was making any progress. It's definitely helped, and this week in therapy everything finally came together for me as a result. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) makes use of mindfulness and accepting your feelings rather than trying to avoid them. This book really helped me to understand the concept better. What a relief!
Profile Image for Deb.
349 reviews79 followers
January 6, 2013
**Anxiety need not call the shots**

What would your life be like if anxiety wasn’t calling the shots?

What if you could be fully engaged in the present moment and not be stuck in the regrets of the past or swept away with the endless what-if’s of the future? Imagine being able to accept the what-is’s of the here-and-now, and finally have a life where you’re free to do the things that bring you value, purpose, and meaning. What if you allowed yourself to sometimes fail, realizing that your sense of self is not dependent on desired outcomes, but on staying committed to what really matters to you?

Kind of a nice concept, huh?

Luckily, concept meets reality in Kelly Wilson and Troy Dufrene’s _Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly, Wrong_. Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), the authors present a unique approach to dealing with anxiety (or any of the other “problems of living” we regularly face, for that matter). They explain that:
“Embracing life—all of life—is ultimately more rewarding than trying to weed out those experiences that we would rather avoid. The work we do in ACT is about finding a way to open up, to take it all in, to find the flexibility we need to work around obstacles in the world and inside our own heads that stand between us and what we want.” (p. 150)

The ACT approach is (refreshingly) not your typical self-help approach of you-need-to-do-this-in-order-to-get-that. Instead, it’s more of a self-determined process where you figure out what’s getting in your way and then determine how to stay motivated while working around these life obstacles. This approach is based on the six key processes of ACT (present moment focus, defusion, acceptance, values, commitment, and self-as-context), which the authors present in such a fun and conversational way that you probably won’t even realize they’re communicating some pretty profound psychological stuff. They show how to use the ACT approach to “remain connected to what’s going on in your life right now, accepting both the sweet and the sad, holding lightly the stories about what’s possible while turning your actions towards things that matter to you.” (p. 141)

Sure, anxiety is a given. And, very likely things may indeed go terribly, horribly wrong. But, as the authors point out, it is possible to liberate yourself from the debilitating stronghold anxiety has had on your life:
“That anxious thoughts have had a limiting effect on your life for a long time is a fact, fixed in time and unchangeable. Whether they continue to box you in and block you from the things in your life that matter is still very much an open question. If you’re the context in which your life unfolds, each new moment is an opportunity to set out on a course bound for richness, meaning, and purpose. Anxiety might lie along the way, but it doesn’t need to be an insurmountable hurdle in getting you where you want to go.” (p. 145)

So, you can have your anxiety and have your life too. What a relief!
Profile Image for Erika B. (SOS BOOKS).
1,288 reviews131 followers
February 9, 2016
I think that this had some solid advice in it, but my mind wasn't blown away by any life-changing information. This past January I swore that I would get help with my anxiety. It's something that I've fought against for forever, so I'm trying to learn to accept it rather than fight it anymore. So begins my journey into finding good books on mindfulness.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
615 reviews26 followers
February 5, 2019

Big Ideas:

+ Creative hopelessness
- Humans don’t like ambiguity. We sometimes choose a painful but certain action over the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen in the future
- We spend a lot of time in problem-solving mode, which means that a lot of the world starts to get treated like it’s a problem, including our inner world of emotions
- Psychological problems are very different from the problems we evolved to solve (i.e. escaping from a lion by running away). Therefore, our usual problem-solving skills often make things worse when applied to “problems” inside the skin
- 1 of every 3 people has a diagnosable mental illness (based on DSM criteria). 20% of us have thought about a means and plan for suicide, another 20% have had serious thoughts without means or plan

+ Acceptance
- Learn to sit with ambiguity instead of chasing answers to questions that might be unanswerable
- “When you move at a slow and deliberate pace, sensations that you might have previously found intolerable will have a chance to fade over time” (65)

+ Tips for working with clients
- Instead of calling mindfulness activities homework or exercises, call them games
- Sit quietly with eyes closed and try to estimate when 1 minute has gone by (this will give a sense of whether the internal clock is fast or slow; anxiety makes time seem to go by faster, so it will seem like the minute has passed at 30 or 45 seconds)

Potent Quotables:

Applying labels to jars does nothing to change their contents. (20)
Profile Image for Nathan Albright.
4,425 reviews101 followers
March 26, 2019
There is something deeply funny about this book.  I do not mean funny in these of comical, but rather funny in the sense of deliberately and provocatively strange.  In particular, the book is full of various "games" that seek to expose the reader to one's own thinking processes and to what can be done about them.  The authors correctly assume that most readers of this book will be somewhat anxious people in one way or another, and they wish to subtly help the reader overcome anxiety through self-awareness and candor and conscious reflection rather than through the usual appeals to willpower and even less praiseworthy tactics.  In particular, the authors strive to encourage the reader to recognize that not all of the thoughts that one deals with are coming from within oneself but from another place, a place that does not have to be regarded.  Seeing negative self-talk portrayed as being unpleasant and often untrue communication from another place is an insight that is well worth appreciating, and one that will hopefully encourage readers to live lives of greater calm in the awareness that things could go wrong, but that is something that will have to be dealt with when the time comes.

As a short book of roughly 150 pages or so, this particular volume contains nine chapters and various supplemental material.  The authors begin with what they want to say, and then move quickly on to the recognition that things may go terribly, horribly wrong (1).  Beginning with an acknowledgement of reality is certainly a bold and worthwhile approach to take.  After this the authors discuss the form, function, and unity of suffering, recognizing that anxiety and various behaviors that seek to relieve anxiety exist for very good reasons and that it is worth reflecting on these (2).  The authors then discuss the matter of anxiety in the present moment and how to cope with it (3).  The next four chapters examine various approaches that the reader can take that help to successfully cope with anxiety, such as defusion through telling stories and separating oneself from the negative talk that ratchets up anxiety levels (4), acceptance of what life has to offer (5), the importance of values and meaning to one's life (6), and the issue of commitment (7).  The authors then close the book with a discussion of the self as a complex context with many facets (8), the recognition that things may still go wrong whether one is anxious or not (9), and some suggestions for further reading.

There are a great many books that one can read about anxiety, and many of them (including this one) have a strong degree of support for various Buddhist practices.  This book, though, rises above the general level of books about anxiety largely by pointing to the positive good that anxiety has provided and what role it serves in our lives.  The games of the book are immensely worthwhile as well and it is easy to see this book serving as part of a counseling for anxiety issues providing plenty of conversation topics between a therapist and someone seeking to overcome anxiety.  Obviously, the book has considerable aim in helping people wrestle with anxiety themselves outside of any therapy as well.  There are few books about anxiety that I feel comfortable recommending to readers, but this book is certainly one of them, indicating that the authors' distinctive approach is certainly a worthwhile one.  A book that has an honest approach and a great deal of humor and a sly and implicit interest in provoking personal insight is certainly worthy of the recommendation.
Profile Image for Chitrita Chakko.
37 reviews1 follower
May 4, 2022
Really easy to read and convincing. Helped me understand "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy" (ACT), which feels like stoicism but includes how to practice it too (a lot of breathing and feeling crappy - yay!).

It's a short, easy read that feels like a conversation. Also has some really tangible exercises to try. So if you're struggling with anxiety stuff, I'd recommend it.


My piss-poor summary of ACT is that it's a framework for thinking and addressing emotional states/thoughts that empowers the individual to choose to act/behave in a way that's in line with their values, by feeling the feelings, hearing the thoughts, but not giving it power over us. Ultimately, reality is what it is and can't be changed no matter how much we want it to (so it's pointless to argue with it!). All we can choose are our ACTions (haha).
Profile Image for Rachel Dalton.
86 reviews1 follower
August 16, 2016
I don't really read self help (unless it's re-reading Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things for the millionth time), but my mom wanted me to read an exercise about breathing to relieve anxiety, but if you hand me a book, I'm pretty much always going to read the whole thing.

I sucked at actually doing the exercises - didn't feel like giving the time to them, which maybe defeats the purpose? But a few of them did stick out: The breathing one my mom mentioned, and visualizing and caring for your anxious thoughts as if it were a child. I'll definitely start applying those.

Another thing that stuck out was the idea that all of us are suffering - and anxiety is part of the human experience, and that anxiety is our brain's way of protecting us from anticipated pain.

I think my big take away here is to be a little more gentle with myself. I'm really very hard on myself, and if I take it a little easier and acknowledge my anxiety without blaming myself for feeling it, maybe life will get a little easier.

I've never reviewed a self help book before, so I'm gonna stick with short and sweet. In closing, I'll end with the quote at the beginning of the book:

In this very moment,
will you accept the sad and the sweet,
hold lightly stories about what's possible,
and be the author of a life that has meaning and purpose for you,
turning in kindness back to that life when you find yourself moving away from it?
Profile Image for Arie.
7 reviews1 follower
March 22, 2012
Kelly Wilson, Steven Hayes, Russ Harris and John Forsyth unpack the "human condition" in a compassionate way. Amongst their published contributions is this gem from Kelly Wilson! Well researched, scientifically of substance and, insights presented with the simplicity attainable only by those who have brilliant understanding of their subject matter - this is a book that should be read by all who call themselves human. I came to realize that reality presents itself paradoxically and this book shares wisdom and practical real life perspectives that make such complex matters - simple. This book is "real!"
537 reviews85 followers
July 31, 2017
This book uses the perspective of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I keep trying to give ACT a chance but every ACT book and video I read or see fails to appeal to me. I appreciate the underlying concepts but the execution takes too many detours and gets overly complicated.

This book has those same problems. There are a few pages that are clear and straightforward but the rest of it involves all kinds of games and exercises that keep taking the reader away from the point which is confusing when you try to find your way back. Overall, this was just too overwhelming and not at all liberating...
Profile Image for Chani Knight.
100 reviews
August 16, 2022
I am so happy I took my time with this book. It was insightful, I loved the real-time exercises to incorporate into my own life and situations and I just truly enjoyed the messages it left me with.

I already feel like I have been able to apply some pieces of this book into my everyday life and I genuinely feel better because of it. Like all books, you can take some and leave some, and take some more with just a grain of salt - BUT, regardless a great read that I will be recommending to others.
Profile Image for Brian.
207 reviews
March 11, 2016
The ideas in this book are pragmatically spelled out with very functional ideas that can be applied to everyday life.

This book's prose and impact on me were no where near other books like Radical Acceptance. However, it is a book still worth checking out.

I would probably give this book a 3.5 if I could.
Profile Image for Sally.
1,477 reviews51 followers
June 21, 2013
I found this book on ACT psychology as applied to anxiety less helpful than some of the other Acceptance and Committment Therapy books I've read. I would recommend "Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life" by Stephen C. Hayes as more effective.
April 20, 2016
I got diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and was giving this book to read and study. I normally hate books like this but I gave it a shot. It has great tips and information on how to control and accept your anxiety. Great book.
Profile Image for Justin.
637 reviews27 followers
November 24, 2022
Since I discovered Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, I've read quite a few books on ACT and taken a few trainings. I previously read Kelly Wilson's "The Wisdom to Know the Difference" where he applies the approach to substance use, so I was interested in reading his book on anxiety.
The title captures Wilson's conversational voice and the front cover has one of my favorite quotes that sums up ACT:
"In this very moment, will you accept the sad and the sweet, hold lightly stories about what's possible, and be the author of a life that has meaning and purpose for you, turning in kindness back to that life when you find yourself moving away from it?"
The book is written in an accessible way for a general audience while discussing ACT concepts, with six of the chapters pertaining to the six core processes (contact with the present moment, defusion, acceptance, values, committed action, and self-as-context) as well as a chapter dedicated to anxiety diagnoses, its evolutionary function, and how language causes humans to suffer.
Being familiar with ACT, there was nothing mind-blowing or new here. Given its utility across diagnoses and presenting concerns, the processes work the same way. I appreciated some of the "games" included to illustrate the concepts in an experiential way. If you're struggling with anxiety or a curious mental health professional or therapy-goer, then I'd suggested checking out this book.
Profile Image for bondarul albastru.
39 reviews4 followers
May 22, 2020
I somewhat appreciated the method and the arguments, but I did not enjoy the writing style, I could not follow the chatty style very well. The main take away from reading a first book employing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is that some of us fall into repetitive patterns of responding that overtime make us progressively less sensitive to context. Their example - if fear and anxiety overwhelm us in social situations, after years we will dump all social situations as ‘bad’, regardless of their dissimilarities. -> the sense of who you are and who you might become gets locked down in content.
Summarized, one can fight it by learning 'to remain connected to what’s going on in your life right now, accepting both the sweet and the sad, holding lightly the stories about what’s possible while turning your actions toward things that matter to you, you’ll have pretty much solved the riddle of self-as-context." There are some exercises that can be useful in enacting this attitude in everyday life in every chapter.
60 reviews
March 24, 2017
Wilson, K. G. (2010). Things might go terribly, horribly wrong: A guide to life liberated from anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

This book is supposed to act as guide to help children with anxiety. It gives children steps to climb out of the hole that is anxiety.
I think this book should be included when the lesson of feelings is taught. There is a large sum of books that have to do with anxiety when I was searching for books on feelings. I think after introducing anxiety to a classroom, you should include ways for children to cope with anxiety and the only way they can do that is by learning how to do it on their own.
Profile Image for Anna.
425 reviews36 followers
June 15, 2018
Decent, slim, readable text for the layperson based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) principles. I personally think that The Happiness Trap is a better overview of ACT; this text did not necessarily add anything new in terms of actual content. It would be a good starting point, though, for someone who hasn't previously read much about ACT. The best feature is that it has little "games" sprinkled throughout that are really easy and doable while you're reading. I usually skip exercises and then feel guilty for not doing the book right; this book is very forgiving, because not only are the games really easy, it's totally fine to skip them.
31 reviews1 follower
December 10, 2018
There are some good insights buried in this book, but I found it annoying to read. The authors try very hard to write in a conversational/accessible style, but they're so needlessly meta that it distracted me from the information. Dudes, quit bringing up the fact that you exist and that you're writing a book and that I'm reading it and that I'm "probably thinking" x or y about what you just said – just get to the point! If I decide to learn more about ACT, I'll read something more impersonal and direct.
Profile Image for Debbie.
252 reviews
February 3, 2022
4.5 stars

Lots of activities to do to help practically with living with anxiety. Not trying to deny the existence of anxiety but more so teaches how to live with it.

I appreciated this approach as it was very practical and also relatable. It didn't try to sell me the moon instead it said this is a thing and here are some techniques in how to make it less of a disruption.

The ACT method is very intriguing. I appreciate this book
Profile Image for Josh Clement.
109 reviews4 followers
January 19, 2023
Many of us our floating in a river of anxiety. ACT seems to be saying the following: stand up. The river isn’t that deep, but you’ve gotta admit it’s there and not going away. Recognise you’re not the river. And then get on with your life.

There’s an interesting parallel with mindfulness and slowing down. If you are always moving and always reactive maybe it’s harder to de-identify with all the random thoughts and beliefs we have.

I didn’t really enjoy how this was written but the core framework is strong and makes sense to me.
Profile Image for Rita	 Marie.
832 reviews1 follower
March 26, 2019
This book caught my eye on the library shelf, and I've had enough things go horribly wrong over the years that it seemed worth reading. And it was. I was especially intrigued by how much is drawn from Buddhist thought, particularly the practice of meditation and the concepts of acceptance and compassion.
701 reviews
February 11, 2018
My doctor has been recommending this book for years. I did not find it to be the salve for my anxieties as prescribed, but I am still glad that I gave it a chance. It helps to put a positive spin on worrying.
Profile Image for Shayna.
9 reviews1 follower
March 9, 2018
Just when you think that there is no hope for your mind. No hope to figure out a plan to put one thought in front of the other to let them exist side by side and no longer threaten to destroy you. There is hope. This book gives that hope and that plan and the rest is up to you.
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