What a time to live mindfully! If you are reading this, I would like you to do something for me right now wherever you may be and whatever the condition of your life may presently be in. Open up a note on your phone or get a piece of paper and write at the top in capital letters MY VALUE LIST. After that, number the list from 1-5. Like this:
MY VALUE LIST
Now that you have your list made, I want you to take a moment and consider what to put into each slot. It may be a person, place, or thing, but that really is not as important just as long as you fill the list with things that you value most. The numbering of 1-5 has no meaning either in terms of order or priority and are merely there as place holders. So how am I supposed to know what a value is?
When trying to identify what you value, simply think about what matters most to you in life. What to you has the greatest measure of importance so much so that you pattern your lifestyle around it? Think about a family member. The chances are that if you value them, you don’t just take them at their best, but also at their worst. Your love toward them is expressed without conditions and while you have expectations, hopes, and aspirations for them, you love them because of the importance, value, that you place in them.
After you have done this, clarify why each value is as important to you as you claim it to be. To do this I pose a simple exercise in which you imagine a bargain/deal being offered to you to make an exchange for the person, place, or thing that you have identified as a value. For example, imagine being offered a new friend with the opportunity for new experiences and memories, and you can move on from any of the past hurts or failures from your old friend. The deal is that you must end the relationship and compromise the value you place in the old friend, but must end the relationship so that you can have the new friend. Oh, and to spice up the pot if you chose the new friend and dump the old friend, you’ll also be given a million dollars.
This is an exercise I engage in with my clientele on a regular basis to aid them in developing their value list. What I see overall, with the exception of a client or two that likes to throw a wrench in the exercise just for funsies, is that people will not make a bargain for what they value most in their lives. Then comes the kicker though, in which I will lay out several scenarios in which they may have compromised their values based on the decisions that they have made in response to emotional states or some intrusive thought pattern, and the exercise then has a certain sting it did not appear to have when just asking to confirm that you place a value in something. Now the reality is presented to the client, as well as to myself every time I do it, that humanity is offered this deal to potentially compromise the things that we value most in life every day, multiple times a day.
The purpose of the exercise is to establish what you value most in a realm beyond just what you feel and think toward it, but to really take into consideration why you value anything beyond the realm of your private psychological experiences and to look at how the value is manifested and reflects in your lifestyle. It takes into consideration the actions that you take according to your value base, as well as the actions that you do not take. Time and time again I have met people so far removed from their value base in their actions, that it wasn’t until the concept was set before them like was just exemplified here that they even understand it. They feel an emptiness within and when the conversation turns toward discussing what matters to them most in life they can tell you what they value, but they can’t tell you the last time through what they have done or not done to prove to you the value they place in it.
This is my favorite part of the exercise: goal setting. After you have identified and clarified the value base and processed the nature of your relationship to your values, you now get to make measurable goals that you can activate behaviorally that reflect the values you’ve identified. Your goals must be measurable and achievable. I think it is great that you want to curl that 100-pound dumbbell, but I think you better master the 15-pound dumbbell first if you struggle with it!
For each value on your value list I want you to make three measurable goals that you can accomplish by activating some behavior that reflects the value you place in it. After you’ve accomplished each goal, simply put a check mark by it or even better update it so that you can continue your path of growth in living the lifestyle you want patterned after what you value most in life! What you’ll hopefully see after several days, weeks, months, and years of living in this manner is that life has so much more to offer to use outside of the realm of just what we feel and think in any particular moment or toward any particular situation. Life can be fulfilling by actually engaging with the world around us and lining ourselves up behaviorally with the things that matter most to us in life. Sure, our private psychological experiences that we all have will be there with us along the journey, but they don’t have to dictate it.
The basis of this exercise comes from a theoretical form of psychotherapy called ACT or acceptance and commitment therapy. The theorist that developed the theory is named Dr. Steven Hayes, PhD. There is a wealth of knowledge and information available for free at https://contextualscience.org/act, as well as a vast array of information related to other forms psychotherapy. Please, I encourage and implore you, to read into this approach and the science presented behind it. I also encourage you to simply utilize any internet search engine as well as your local libraries for information! So much of what may seem like veiled and secretive methods that are exclusively available to some hidden mental health brotherhood are actually nothing like that at all and are freely and readily available for the entire world to dive into and explore. If you are seeking personal growth and change in your life, I encourage you to activate your behavior based on that value. If you’d like some help with it, get ahold of us and come say hi, I’d be honored to help.