A GPS system for life

What drives you? What’s so important to you that you that it energises you and allows you to move forward despite great pain and suffering?

There’s a chance that if you find that 'thing', it will probably reflect something you value deeply. The things we value in life make some activities more rewarding and others less rewarding. Values are a key component of making any significant change in our life.

In acceptance and commitment therapy, values are defined as something we choose. We have to ask ourselves, “what do I care about?”. A value is like a direction on a compass. We do valued actions. We never obtain values. Just like when you travel east on a walking trail, you can never truly reach east. Many roads might lead east, and many destinations might be reached as we move east, but we can never truly ‘reach’ or obtain ‘east’. Values are not goals or outcomes either. Goals can be reached. Many people enjoy creating ‘bucket’ lists. These are often long lists of things they wish to do before they die. These are goals. Goals can be ticked off as they're completed. Values are about how you want to act, rather than the outcomes you want to achieve, or how you want others to act towards you. Values are dynamic and they tend to be energising and intrinsically reinforcing.

Try to following this exercise when you have a couple of minutes. Imagine someone you value, someone who is really important to you, standing or sitting across from you. Really take the time to imagine them with you. Now, imagine that they ask you this question, “what makes a good life?”. As you think about how you will answer, keep in mind that what you say might have important implications for this person's life. Really pause and ‘be’ with the question. Let your mind wander as you try to choose the right words with which to answer the person's question. Then imagine answering the question.

What did you come up with? Are the things you currently do daily taking you towards or away from what you value? You might find that some of the habits, behaviours or thoughts that cause you difficulty, suffering, anxiety and depression every day are painful for exactly this reason. They take you away from what you value. What would happen if you filled your life in small ways with behaviours, habits or thoughts that take you towards your values? Might change become just a little bit more possible? Might your pain and suffering be slightly more bearable? Which life would you prefer? A life filled with what you value and your pain and anxiety, or a life with just your pain. Just think about that.

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