Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Let’s Explore Values

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is one of the theories that I use the most in my work as an individual and group therapist. Values come up in almost every session and are a wonderful way to ground us in what’s important and how we want to move forward in difficult situations. Also, values is one of the six pillars of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

What are values?

So what are values? In Acceptance Commitment Therapy, we talk about how values are not goals. They are consistent ways of doing things. The common metaphor for values is that they are a direction, whereas goals are the stops you make on the way while heading in that direction. Imagine you are heading west from Boston, going west is your value, your goals are stopping in New York City, Cleveland, Chicago, Denver, Phoenix, and San Diego.

Values are not things, but ways of being and doing. For example, values are “being loving,” “being reliable,” “having integrity,” and ”showing respect.” We find values associated with different areas of our lives. To start identifying our values, we begin by looking at the major areas of our lives. These primary categories may be: relationships, health/personal growth, education/work, spirituality/leisure. If I zoom into these categories, I will probably find sub-categories. For example, under relationships, I don’t just have one relationship, I also have family relationships, intimate relationships, and friendships. Under health and personal growth, I might have the sub-categories of how I think of my body, my relationship with food, how I interact with healthcare, and how I want to interact with the environment and nature. For education and work, I might consider the work or school environment, my work or school ethic, and my work or school relationships. Under spirituality and leisure, I may also find hobbies, play, and creativity. Once I’ve identified these sub-categories that are most important to me, then to really find my values, I have to look at how I want to be in those different areas.

How do I use my values to change?

Now that I’m aware of all the different areas where I might have values, it’s time to isolate my specific values for each area. Let’s look at relationships. In my family relationships, I want to be loving, consistent, and patient. Those are my values. In whatever I do with family members, I can strive to be loving, consistent, and patient. With regard to health and personal growth, one value about my body may be self-respect, and feel strong, energetic, and healthy. With regard to the environment, I want to be conscientious of my waste and engage in the world in a respectful way.

Setting Values Based Goals

Now that I’ve identified some of my values, I can start setting goals for values based action. If my primary value for my family relationships is “being loving,” and I realize I don’t tell my family members that I love them on a regular basis. Then I can set a goal to act more loving. If I want to work on being patient with my toddler or parent, I can practice taking a breath before I engage with them.

If I want to work on treating my body with more respect, I can start noticing when I am not nice to myself both by what I say about myself and what I put into or do with my body. I might set a goal to respect my body by exercising it once per week for 30 minutes. Then, I am not only exercising, but I am fulfilling my value of self-respect.

When setting goals, it’s important to break them down to the smallest bites. Most of us don’t achieve lofty goals that are unattainable. They often have to be attainable with minimal effort in our current system.

The Values Worksheet

Use the Values Worksheet (below) to begin to explore your values and begin to learn about ways you might better express these values in your daily life. (Click on the link below for the worksheet.)