When faced with a difficult choice what direction do you take? How do you know which choice will be the right choice? How can you act in such a way that you’ll ensure that you continue to make progress in your life and your career, thus moving towards your goals?
These are big questions that we face nearly every day. Taking some time to identify and clarify what really matters to you, what you value, is important. And given how easy it is for us to simply react when faced with choices being connected to what you value can help you make choices that serve your purpose.
In Acceptance and Commitment Training we spend a lot of time clarifying and connecting with our values as a way to help guide us in life.
What are values?
Values are at the very heart of what it means to be a human being. Values are your chosen life directions, they are your life’s compass that you can use to ensure that you move forward and act in an authentic way true to yourself.
When you act on your values you demonstrate what is important to you and your actions have a quality of purpose. In this moment if you could make a free choice unrestricted by the expectations of others or society of what you ‘should’ do, what choice would you make?
What actions will you take that reflects what you stand for?
Is a there a difference between what you choose and what you are actually doing?
Values are freely chosen
Values are what we choose freely and aren’t dependent on other people’s judgements. Perhaps you were taught from an early age the importance of achievement. Then you might spend your life just achieving goals without thinking about their meaning and purpose to you.
In this case, your value would look something like this:
‘I value achievement for the recognition and praise it brings me’
This value is a statement of want or need. And if we were to look at the feelings that support that value they might not be pleasant.
You might feel anxious at the prospect of failure, or worried that you might not be good enough. And what if an achievement doesn’t result in recognition or praise?
What if you achieve something impressive and it goes unnoticed? Do you stop valuing achievements?
If I can convert this statement to something about my own behaviour it becomes something that I can control.
‘I value achievement, I show this by being hard working and helping others to be the best that they can be’
Now my value statement has become about my actions and then when faced with a choice I can choose an action that takes me towards my value. This statement becomes more empowering for me and is about how I choose to behave, and it is not dependant on what others think.
When faced with uncomfortable feelings around failure I can then connect with my value statement to remind me of why I value achievement. It is about something bigger than myself and gives me the motivation to continue.
Values connect you with the things you ‘feel’ are important rather than the things you ‘think’ are important, a subtle but important difference.
And when we are self-aware and in the moment we can choose which value we need to act on. Allowing us to pursue our values vigorously but also hold them lightly.
I might value achievement, which means I work hard, but I also value being a supportive partner and parent. Thus in the moment, I might choose to finish work to spend time with my family. My value of being a supportive partner and parent has a greater priority in that moment.
But because my values are about my actions and not others, I’ll always have the power to choose what value feels most important to me right now.
Getting clear about what matters to you
There are many different ways to try to understand what matters to you, and a plethora of exercises. When I coach clients one-to-one about their values we spend the first few sessions exploring and reflecting on our patterns and who we want to be.
My experience is that you will have a number of different values quite a few in fact, but some of these will be core and others will be satellite values.
Your core values are those you come back to time and time again that you exhibit in nearly every situation. Your satellite values are important to you but they very much depend on context. You might value integrity in every context you are in, but creativity is something that you value only in certain situations.
Once we have a core set of values for you, we then use the ACT matrix to really connect with your values and guide you moment-by-moment. Values act as your compass and provide your “True North”, your chosen actions are ones that take you towards your values and not away from them.
Although there are many different ways to uncover your core and satellite values. I tend to always ask clients to start with The Obituary Exercise, how do you want to be remembered?
Thinking about how you want things to end is a powerful way for you to connect to what is important to you during this journey we call life.
From there we can spend time exploring these values and any others that seem relevant to us. And then helping you overcome any difficult feelings that may come up when you try to live your values. It is one thing to say you value integrity in every context it is another to live this value every day.