Values represent and define the kind of person you want to be and what is important to you. One strategy for starting to clarify your values is to imagine witnessing your own funeral. Ask yourself if you were observing your own funeral, what would you want the people you love to say about you?
- What would you want your life to be about?
- What do you want to stand for?
- In an ideal situation, what would you want most to hear about yourself?
- What kind of partner do you want to be? (For example: being spontaneous, appreciative, affectionate, accepting, emotionally available, expressive, assertive)
- What kind of friend? (For example: being loyal, consistent, reliable, genuine, supportive, honest)
- What kind of coworker/boss/colleague? (For example: being fair, open, flexible, curious)
- What kind of parent do you want to be? (For example: being nurturing, patient, accepting, supportive, loving, non-judgmental)
- What kind of person do you want to be when you feel angry, with your partner, with your parent, with your friend? (compassionate, assertive, expressive, vulnerable, kind)
- What kind of person do you want to be when you feel sad?
- How do you want to be with yourself and with others when you feel inadequate or insecure? (persistent, self-disciplined, compassionate, productive, kind)
Values are like a compass they guide your direction, but they are not the destination.
Values are freely chosen: This means that your values are not based on rules that you have about yourself, others, the world, relationships, or about how you “should be”, but rather they are freely chosen and represent your deeply held beliefs. They reflect the kind of person you want to be, what you want to stand for and what you find important in life.
Values are not emotions or thoughts. Feeling less anxious, feeling happier, or more confident is not a value. These are emotional states. Emotional states come and go just like the weather in the sky changes. Values are a way of being in the world. Thoughts and feelings come and go just like the whether changes, but values are consistent. They are not contingent on external circumstances and limitations.
Our values are not contingent on a particular outcome. For example if your value is to be assertive and you set a limit with a friend, your friend’s’ reaction to you setting a boundary may not feel good and might not be an ideal reaction, but you still took a step that brought you closer to being more assertive.
- Thoughts, feelings, sensations are out of your control.
- Other people’s responses are out of your control.
- Your behaviors and your values are always under your control.
Taking deliberate steps that bring you closer to the kind of person you want to be is always under your control. This means staying connected in the present moment and in the process. Values are not a means to an end they are the end. They are not the destination they are the journey. Remembering that it’s not just the end goal, but the process of how you approach it. Did you reach your goal while staying consistent with your values and the kind of person you want to be? If you were unable to reach your goal, were you able to stay consistent with the kind of person you want to be?
Taking this path is not easy. Sometimes taking steps in a particular direction will bring up intense and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings about ourselves. These thoughts and feelings about ourselves will try to stop us from doing new behaviors and taking the steps that bring you towards your values.
Values motivate us towards behavioral change. The clearer we are about our values and what we want to stand for in our life, the better informed choices we are able to make in the present moment.
Values are not tangible and they are not achievable. Meaning you can never be 100% honest, authentic, loving, kind. You can only be taking steps that bring you closer or further away honesty. Every moment is a choice that brings us further away or closer to the kind of person we want to be. We will never be that person 100%, but sometimes we can be 95% closer, or 80% closer, or 75% closer. Values guide our present moment choices and guide us in the direction we want to go.
Values vs. goals: goals are tangible you can reach a goal, but values are a constant work in progress – every moment in life provides you with an opportunity to engage in a behavior that brings you closer to particular value or further away. Closer to the kind of person you want to be and the kind of relationship you want or further away from a particular direction.
Examples of Values: (values are active, how you want to be, like being loving, being kind)
Goals vs. Values
Goals are more specific, they are specific actions or steps that you can take to bring you closer to your value and the kind of person you want to be. Values motivate goals because although we don’t always have control of the outcome of a particular goal we always have control over whether we got closer or further away from our value.
Value: Being appreciative
Goal: Say thank you every time my partner makes dinner, give a compliment.
Value: Being assertive:
Goal: Say “no”, say “let me think about it” to any request, ask for help, express discomfort.
Value: Being vulnerable:
Goal: Share a fear, share an emotion, call a fiend, ask for help.
At the Bay Area CBT Center, we can help you clarify your values and lead a more fulfilling life. We offer individualized therapy that provides the tools you need to reach your goals and improve your well-being. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.