What Matters To You?

“Values are our heart’s deepest desires for how we want to be in the world; the qualities we want to bring to our ongoing behaviour. They are not about what we want to get, have, achieve, or complete” (Adapted from Russ Harris, 2010).

Why Are Values Important?

Take a moment to consider the following questions:

What is important to you in life?

What gives your life meaning and purpose?

These questions are substantial and we rarely stop to reflect on what matters when we get swept up in the demands of day-to-day life. Imagine embarking on a journey without first specifying your destination, or the means of travel. It simply wouldn’t make sense. Yet so many of us live in exactly this way. We show up to life as passive passengers, following rules, situational demands, and letting our private experiences (such as thoughts and feelings) dictate the direction that our lives will take.

Clarifying our values helps to put us back in charge of our thoughts and feelings, with a clear direction. We are less likely to spend time avoiding painful experiences. Instead, we rely on our values for guidance on how to chase a change in how we feel. When we do this, we are freed up to behave in ways that matter to us.

How Do I Find My Values?

How do you want to behave right now? And moving forwards?

How do you want to treat anyone or anything that you interact with, including yourself?

What qualities do you want to embody in your own actions? Are they the same as those that you look for in others?

There is no such thing as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it comes to values. They are simply ways of being that are important to us as individuals. It’s like your taste in tea. Some people prefer a more ‘traditional’ English breakfast or Earl grey blend, whereas others may prefer a peppermint or lemon and ginger herbal variety (and some simply rather drink coffee!). That doesn’t mean that one person is right and another is wrong, but simply that they have different tastes. Similarly, we all have individual preferences for the way that we behave, and this is reflected in our values.

Values can vary depending on the area of our life that we’re operating in, though they are unlikely to change over time. For example, how we want to be in our work lives may be very different to how we want to be at home, in relationships, or at leisure. As a therapist, my values include being empathic and compassionate in my role. In terms of developing my clinical interests and education, I value commitment, learning, and openness.

A Journey, Not A Destination

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), values are considered an ongoing process; a route or journey rather than a destination. For example, you could have the value of “being a loving father”. One can always be more loving – that is, one never arrives at a concrete end point. The value of “loving father” is not achieved, but rather it is embodied as an ongoing behavioural process. What’s more, being a loving father means behaving in loving ways, even in the absence of feelings of love.

It’s easy to act lovingly when you are consumed by feelings of love, but it’s much more challenging when you are experiencing feelings of frustration with your child! Emotions wax and wane much like the weather, so a changing emotional landscape is almost guaranteed. Our values, however, are a constant and can adapt with our changing lives. Therefore what counts is our commitment to behaving lovingly independent of our current experience of love.

References:

Tirch, D., Silberstein-Tirch, L. R., Codd III, R. T., Brock, M. J., & Wright, M. J. (2019). Experiencing ACT from the inside Out. (Bennett-Levy, J, Ed.). The Guildford Press: London.