I did a post a couple of years ago about exploring values, but when I was reading a recent post on the topic by Burnie at Squash Stigma Not Fat, I thought it would be good to revamp that post. While values matter across the board, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) places particular emphasis on them, so that’s the angle I’m going to take.
ACT views goals as directions rather than endpoints, while goals can serve as milestones along the way, assuming that they’re congruent with values. Values are relatively consistent over time, although the relative importance of each value can vary.
Since values reflect what’s most important to us and they don’t fluctuate a lot, they’re a more effective way of evaluating decisions about our actions than society’s and our own shoulds and what the inner critic might be nattering on about. The commitment part of the ACT name comes from the idea that we should take committed action towards our values, because that’s the direction is serves us best to be headed in. Self-sabotaging, on the other hand, can lead in the opposite direction.
Before we can consider where we go with our actions, though, it helps to reflect on what our key values are. Some might be immediately obvious (for me, independence has a big neon sign), while others you might have to think about for a bit. This list comes from Brené Brown, but there are many more to be found around the web:
Some of my values taken from that list are:
- compassion: I think this is a big part of why nursing was a good career fit for me
- curiosity, knowledge, and learning: learning more about the world makes my mind sing, and that’s a major factor in the way I approach my blog
- home: home has always been my sanctuary
- humour: being able to laugh at oneself and the world makes everything easier
- independence: I’ve always been fiercely independent; try to take that away and the claws will come out
- openness and self-expression
- simplicity: bring on the guinea pigs and woodpeckers
- career and travel: these were important for many years, but depression knocked them both off the list completely
I value reason and pragmatism (as I understand it) in terms of how I look at the world. I say “as I understand it” because I haven’t read what pragmatic philosophers have to say, nor do I care to. I’m very left brain-dwelling, and I like it there.
Besides ousting career and travel, I think depression has mostly contracted my values to focus on what’s most important to me. Luckily, those values are consistent with a pretty hermitish (at least in person) lifestyle with restricted functioning. I’m still able to engage with life in ways that are meaningful to me.
Have you given any thought to your own values? Do you find that shoulds, illness, or other influences drag you away from them?
These worksheets based on Russ Harris’s book The Happiness Trap include some useful exercises.
The ACT Fundamentals mini-ebook/workbook, available from the MH@H Download Centre, provides an introduction to acceptance and commitment therapy, including cognitive defusion and aligning actions to values.