Posted on December 21st, 2015 by Nicole Stokoe

Christmas is just over three days away. Christmas can be a significant and important event in the year for many people. At these times, when there are so many competing priorities, it can be a time when values get over shadowed and lost. Similarly there are other big events in life such as marriage, finding a home and having children where the balance of life changes and values shift and change also.

This is the second part of a two part blog looking at the idea of values and living a value driven life. Last week, the article looked at introducing the idea of values, what they are, why they are so important and how to identify them.

You may have taken part in the exercise and used the value list to identify your values? If you did, you may have noticed that there are a number of values that are important to you. Great – so what now? When there are a number of values, how do you live in line with all of them at once? How do you use values for steering your life? 

This article addresses these two issues and offers some practical exercises to guide you in using your values in your day to day life.

The Balancing Act – The balance between different values

As you have probably discovered from the exercise in the previous article, we all have a number of different values and we all have the same number of limited hours in the day. So how do we prioritise and commit to all of them all of the time?

In reality this isn’t possible and in life most of us feel that it’s not quite as we would like it e.g. “I wish I had more time at home,” “It would be great to spend more time at/with my children/my friends/relaxing,” “I just don’t have the time to exercise like I used to”. At different times, different values will take priority. The key is to have an awareness of what your values are so that you can be mindful of where you are with them and if you are happy with the balance, given the current context.

It’s also about being realistic and being kind towards yourself. Not only are there limited hours in the day but we are all but mere humans – there is only so much weight we can carry on our shoulders and still make effective progress. Using the example of being a good parent, this may be a prioritised value, it may even be the one at the top of the list. Spending quality time, being supportive, guiding, teaching, modelling, nurturing and loving your child is right at the very top…….however, in reality, there are bills that need to be paid, there are chores that need to be completed, there are your own needs to be taken into account to keep you ticking over and grounded. Without spending time on your other values e.g. independence, stability, maintaining order and structure, you won’t be able to keep moving in the direction of being that ‘good enough parent’. So living in line with your values may take some flexibility, balance, some self-compassion and validation. I’ve highlighted these words as I believe they are very important for a healthy balanced life e.g. “I’m only human”, “It’s okay to put myself first at times so I can be the best parent I can be”, “Sleep and sanity are important too!”.

Sometimes values are not compatible in the sense that whilst focusing on one, it is difficult and possibly unhealthy, to try and focus on the other. For example, we can’t eat and breathe at the same time. These are both essential and important functions that we need to survive but ultimately, when we are focused on one, we can’t do the other. In fact, if we try to breathe and eat at the same time it is likely to result in harm and worst case scenario death. If you inhale as you eat you could inhale food into the lungs and then choke. Therefore, in order to be effective and healthy, we sometimes have to focus on one thing at a time. 

So we can’t always be in line with all of our values. At times we may have to make difficult choices between them and it will never be perfect. So what is good enough? That’s what we are aiming towards – good enough. Try taking each value in turn, prioritising those that are most important. The value that is most helpful and effective to work on may shift and change each week depending on what is happening in your life at that time. 

How to Use your Values

Now you have an idea of what your values are and you have hopefully set some realistic expectations…….what next?

It can be helpful to spend some time reflecting on your values and where you are with them. One way of doing this is to gauge this on a scale. Try using the following exercise:

The Values Dartboard Exercise

Imagine a dart board – in the centre of the dart board is the bullseye. If your value has hit the bullseye, you are right on track with your value, you are living in line with it as best you can. The further away your value falls from the bullseye, the less in line you are with your value.

Pick out your top three values and choose the position those values have on the dartboard. Once you have them mapped out, take a moment to reflect.

  • Are you living in line with your values as best you can given your current life situation?
  • Is there anything you can do differently that may help you to live in line with your values better?
  • If you were to do one thing to improve your value-directed living, what would it be? What action do you need to take?

Remember – set yourself realistic and achievable changes. It is often better to start with smaller changes and build these up rather than trying to make big changes. For example, if the value you are working on is strengthening your value of health, you may start with something small such as eating x3 additional portions of fruit/vegetables per week. If the value you are working on is to invest more in the relationships at home, you may plan to eat one additional meal together over the week.

Now take a moment to think about what might get in the way:

  • What difficult emotions and sensations might show up?
  • What thoughts and judgements might get in the way?
  • What rules and ‘should’ statements might stall your progress?

After a month, map your values dart board out again. Has anything changed?

You can also use these types of approaches to help yourself to reunite with your values in those more difficult and stressful situations such as Christmas. When you find yourself losing sight of what’s important, come back to your values, set realistic goals in their direction and take small manageable steps. 

What next?

If you are interested to learn more about values and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, there are a number of good books and resources online.

Recommended website: This is a fantastic website with lots of free resources and exercises you can engage with.

Recommended books: “The Happiness Trap”, Russ Harris. “The Reality Slap”, Russ Harris.

If you would like to learn more on either an individual basis or as part of a group, Avenue Therapies offer Acceptance and Commitment Therapy/valued Living approaches as part of the therapeutic work and teaching we deliver. Please get in touch with us on our email, phone number or through our contact form if you would like to know more.