The concept of values is fundamental in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a line of third wave Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that some of our psychologists here at Compass Psychology have training in. “Values are words that describe how we want to behave in this moment and on an ongoing basis. In other words, values are your heart’s deepest desires for how you want to behave- how you want to treat yourself, others, and the world around you.” (Harris, 2019, p.213). If goals are the endpoints on a map, then values are the ways you choose to get there. Will you take the scenic route on a bicycle, or a car on the highway? Knowing what your values are, and living according to them, can help improve your mental health and wellbeing.
I like to think of values as being rather uncomplicated. Unlike the huge effort it often requires reaching a goal, you can sprinkle your values into the regular things that you already do. If joy is one of your values, then you can bring joy into everyday interactions or even while doing daily chores. If curiosity is something that you value, then maybe even the most regular bike ride in your neighborhood can become an adventure if you stop to examine things in nature that were unfamiliar.
An exercise for evaluating your values
This is the fun part! Now you get to go somewhere comfortable with a notebook (a piece of paper or a word file will even do) and a cup of tea and spend the next 30 minutes or so reflecting on your values. For this exercise, we will imagine that it is the year 2077 (or whatever year it will be when you are about 90 years old). After living a long and beautiful life, you have passed away peacefully and a loved one has the task of writing a heart-felt eulogy. Now you get to write this eulogy from the perspective of your loved one who only saw the great and amazing things about you. Write about the way you lived your life, the kindness/energy/warmth you brought to others, and the heroic ways you dealt with challenges. Start now, and don’t hold back! Remember that nobody else will ever have to see what you write.
When you are done, read through the fake-eulogy and underline or make notes in the margin highlighting the values that you write about in the text. Beside your notes you can jot down on a scale from 0-10 how much you are currently living according to each value. Next, pick out the 8 values that are most important to you or that you most need to work on and write these down as 8 different headings on a separate piece of paper, leaving a few lines of space under each one. Under each heading you can now write down 3-5 different concrete ways you intend on practicing each value in your life in a bigger way. For example, if one of your important values is community, then maybe a concrete intention could be: Create a sense of community at home by listening to the kids’ ideas of what they want to do together on the weekend. If the value of gratitude is important then maybe the intention could be: write down three things every day that I am grateful for.
When you are done, tape your values-list up somewhere you will see daily (on the inside door of your wardrobe or taped onto the bathroom mirror are two examples of popular places for the values-list). Every day when you see this list, you can pick out 2 intentions that you will make extra effort in doing that day. This will get you into the habit of sprinkling your values into your daily life, so that you start living the life that you wrote about.
Harris, R. (2019). ACT made simple: an easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy (2nd ed.). New Harbinger Publications.