Let Your Values Be Your GPS
Written by Pamela Heilman, PsyD, LCP
A value represents something that matters to us, something we view as important, or a principle that guides our behavior. When we experience problems in life, whether we are depressed, anxious, or having relationship difficulties, many of us respond based on how we are feeling in the moment. If we are anxious or fearful, we may want to run away or avoid the situation. When we are depressed, the urge is often to withdraw or isolate. If we are angry, the urge is to attack or behave aggressively. Our emotions are messages from our brains that are communicating something to us about a situation. While it is important that we honor them, if we react based solely on how we are feeling, we can often make things worse. Knowledge of our personal values can serve as a much-needed guide when navigating life’s challenges.
Identifying what is important to us is an essential part of creating change and building healthy habits. If we don’t know what our priorities are, there isn’t much incentive to take action. Therapy often consists of dialogue and/or an activity such as a values clarification exercise to help clients identify what is most important to them. Once this information is obtained, it can serve as a very useful foundation in the therapy process. Awareness of values can help us with conflict resolution, boundary-setting, decision-making, self-confidence, and sense of meaning and purpose.
Emotions can motivate use to take certain actions and connect with others. Problems can arise when we get in the habit of reacting out of emotion without stopping to consider the potential impact of our actions. These types of situations often result in regret and compound our problems. When we can stop and honor our emotions while also considering our values, we tend to respond more reasonably and are likely to feel more connected. Responding from a values-based perspective can be especially difficult when we are highly activated. Warning signs include heightened physical sensations such as racing heart, feeling flushed, sweating, trembling, or shortness of breath. This impacts our ability to focus or think clearly. When this occurs, it is best to take a break and engage in some form of relaxation or exercise to help calm the body physically before deciding how to respond to the situation.
If we know what is most important to us in life, this should be a good indicator of the types of limits we need to set for ourselves and others. For instance, if we identify family as a top value, we may set a boundary at our work place to leave no later than 5pm each evening. If free-time is important, it is helpful for us to set limits regarding our availability for work or social events.
Having clearly identified values helps us to make more informed decisions. If we are considering a career change or whether to get involved in a relationship, we are likely to be more successful if our choices align with what is most important to us. It is also helpful to ask questions about other’s values in order to get a sense of whether we will be well-suited for a particular career or relationship. Knowledge of our values can assist us in making everyday decisions as well, such as the food we put into our bodies and how we spend our time. In order to maintain a values-based perspective it can be helpful to keep in mind which decision will bring us closer to the future self we wish to be.
When we respond to situations based on what will feel good in the here and now, this can erode our sense of self-confidence. Essentially, this type of response can reinforce the idea that we are incapable of handling discomfort or doing the hard work necessary to achieve our goals. Conversely, if we are able to align our daily choices with our values, we are likely to improve our confidence in our ability to manage life’s challenges and achieve our goals.
Sense of meaning and purpose
As human beings, we long for a sense of meaning and purpose. We want to know how our existence in the world makes a difference. The more that we can take actions that align with our value system, the greater chance we have of feeling a sense of purpose. When we take values-inspired action in our relationships, daily decision-making, and the manner in which we cope with life’s difficulties, we create the opportunity to live a more enriching and meaningful life.
Here are some helpful questions to consider:
The reality is that life’s journey is a bumpy road, full of ups and downs, twists and turns. As challenging as it can be, there are also beautiful trees, flowers, birds, and interesting landscapes along that road. Living a values-inspired life allows us to keep moving in the right direction down that bumpy road while also noticing all of the beauty along the way.
If you are interested in learning how to incorporate values based work into your treatment goals, call 630-570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.