Identify your values to lead a meaningful life
As we grow up, Life can seem to become more complicated. We’re faced with difficult decisions where the “right” choice might not always be easy or apparent. Choosing to pursue your relationship when your family is against it. Ending an abusive and toxic relationship. Being open about your gender or sexual identity. We might end up feeling stuck, with no way out of the situation. In those cases, a strong sense of who you are and your core values, can empower you and give back control of your life.
Lessons from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies mixed in different ways with commitment and behavior change strategies to increase psychological flexibility. In ACT, identifying your values is central to enforcing commitment and, the more personal the values, the better you are able to enforce them. This awareness allows you to be mindful of your actions and damaging behavioral patterns and correct them. Following are a few examples by which this therapeutic approach may be applied for common disorders.
One of the symptoms of anxiety is overthinking. We don’t have control over other people’s decisions, past or future circumstances or even our own emotional reactions to situations but we do have control over our own decisions. In order to break the fatalistic overthinking pattern, it would be helpful to identify your values and if your actions in these make-believe scenarios conform to them.
People who suffer from Depression might feel unenthusiastic about their life because they’re stuck. While it is true that there are a lot of factors that lock us into these situations which feel inescapable, having the mental fortitude can lend an inner strength. Starting small, with just one value and how to improve your life around this value can be the breakthrough strategy to realizing the infinite possibilities to change your life.
Note: The above examples are simplified for easier understanding, however, they are in no way a representation of the entire scope of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as practiced in a professional setting.
Identifying Your Values
The following is a list of common values. This is in no way an exhaustive list and it is encouraged to add or edit these values to suit your personal experience. You may mark a ‘V’ for very important, ‘Q’ for Quite important and ‘N’ for Not that important across each of the goals.
- Acceptance/self-acceptance: to be accepting of myself, others, life, etc.
- Adventure: to be adventurous; to actively explore novel or stimulating experiences
- Assertiveness: to respectfully stand up for my rights and request what I want
- Authenticity: to be authentic, genuine, and real; to be true to myself
- Caring/self-care: to be caring toward myself, others, the environment, etc.
- Compassion/self-compassion: to act kindly toward myself and others in pain
- Connection: to engage fully in whatever I’m doing and be fully present with others
- Contribution and generosity: to contribute, give, help, assist, or share
- Cooperation: to be cooperative and collaborative with others
- Courage: to be courageous or brave; to persist in the face of fear, threat, or difficult
- Creativity: to be creative or innovative
- Curiosity: to be curious, open-minded, and interested; to explore and discover
- Encouragement: to encourage and reward behavior that I value in myself or others
- Engagement: to engage fully in what I am doing
- Fairness and justice: to be fair and just to myself and others
- Fitness: to maintain or improve or look after my physical and mental health
- Flexibility: to adjust and adapt readily to changing circumstances
- Freedom and independence: to choose how I live and help others do likewise
- Friendliness: to be friendly, companionable, or agreeable toward others
- Forgiveness/self-forgiveness: to be forgiving toward myself or others
- Fun and humor: to be fun loving; to seek, create, and engage in fun-filled activities
- Gratitude: to be grateful for and appreciative of myself, others, and life
- Honesty: to be honest, truthful, and sincere with myself and others
- Industry: to be industrious, hardworking, and dedicated
- Intimacy: to open up, reveal, and share myself, emotionally or physically
- Kindness: to be kind, considerate, nurturing, or caring toward myself or others
- Love: to act lovingly or affectionately toward myself or others
- Mindfulness: to be open to, engaged in and curious about the present moment
- Order: to be orderly and organized
- Persistence and commitment: to continue resolutely, despite problems or difficulties.
- Respect/self-respect: to treat myself and others with care and consideration
- Responsibility: to be responsible and accountable for my actions
- Safety and protection: to secure, protect, or ensure my own safety or that of others
- Sensuality and pleasure: to create or enjoy pleasurable and sensual experiences
- Sexuality: to explore or express my sexuality
- Skillfulness: to continually practice and improve my skills and apply myself fully
- Supportiveness: to be supportive, helpful and available to myself or others
- Trust: to be trustworthy; to be loyal, faithful, sincere, and reliable
Russ Harris, 2013 Adapted from The Confidence Gap: From Fear to Freedom, by Russ Harris, Penguin Group (Australia), 2010.
The activity of identifying values can seem daunting at first glance. It might be made easier through the following activity.
Imagine you are 85 years old and all your friends are gathered to celebrate your birthday. One of your friends gets up to give a speech about your life.
If you had lived your life as you currently do, what are the most memorable qualities in the speech?
Now, take a moment to reflect upon the list of values.
Imagine that you have made changes to how you live your life that revolves around your values. Now, if your friend made a speech, what are the most memorable qualities in it?
How to Live your Values
While becoming aware of your values is a big first step, choosing your everyday actions to reflect them takes dedication and explicit intention. To make it easier, it might be useful to come up with 5 goals that aim at improving your lifestyle around your core values. Then, think back on how these values have been disregarded in the past, the more specific the experience the better. Now, with these memories in mind, come up with enforceable daily, weekly and monthly goals. It is key to start small and be specific when creating this list.
With commitment to your values, you can start to live your life with intention. However, it is unavoidable that we may sometimes slip back into unhealthy behavioral patterns. In those situations, you can reset your internal compass by becoming aware of your values and the reasons why they’re important to you. If the values are truly what make you, this exercise can jolt you back into control of your life.
Finally, Your values might be different in different aspects of your life such as family, relationships, work, community, religion, spirituality, etc. It is essential to make the distinction between beliefs and values. Beliefs might be imposed or imparted and are subject to change relatively frequently. However, values are central to your life’s purpose and generally become stronger when you overcome your mental health struggles. In conclusion, an awareness of your values helps in decision making and allows you to take control of your life and enforcing these values in your day to day life can impart a sense of meaning and direction to your life.