A common complaint of clients in my practice is that they feel “lost.”
They have no direction, or don’t know what they want in life (other than a vague desire to be “happy”).
Some are having a huge struggle with making an important life decision, others just feel a sense of “meh” about their life – they experience neither joy nor deep sorrow. They’re flatlining emotionally.
It’s a really horrible state to be in and it is distressing for many.
Ask yourself: What are your values?
Fortunately there is a way out of this limbo and it is found through answering the question, what are your values?
When I say this to clients, they often look at me like I must be mad to think something they find so debilitating can be sorted out so simply.
You might be thinking, “I know what my values are. I’m still lost!”
Well, maybe you do.
But often we think we know what we are about – what our values are – but really they are just a vague notion, a mélange of ideas or assumptions, rather than crystal-clear principles to guide us through life.
What are your values? They are not your goals.
Many people confuse values with goals.
Goals are things we want in our life, but they are underpinned by our values. So goals are really important in helping us to realise what our values are.
For example, if you have a goal of running a marathon in the next twelve months, you might find that the values underpinning this goal are:
- being challenged
Some of your underlying values might be less obvious, such as:
- a sense of belonging (to a running club for example).
Live according to your values, not someone else’s
Each of us is different. We can’t be fully happy if we are not living to our own values.
If we try to live to the values of someone else, we start to feel discordant with our internal world. We have to honour our own values at all times so that we can feel we are living our life as we want to.
If you run a marathon to please someone else (a boss, a friend, a partner), you may not be aligned with any values around achieving the goal of running the marathon. You might struggle to find motivation to do the necessary training, and you’ll probably find the whole idea a bit of a drag, rather than an energising and exciting experience.
What are your values telling you?
Listening to your internal voice and feelings can help you to quickly identify when something is not sitting right with you. You usually feel it in your gut or chest – a slight discomfort – and it tells you that you need to change something.
Listening to this often quiet voice is paramount. The practice of mindfulness and present-moment awareness can really help you hear what your values are trying to tell you.
Making value-driven decisions
When you are next faced with a choice (like at lunchtime today – will you eat a salad and protein, or a take-away meal of burger, fries and soft drink?), think about what is going into the decision and notice where your thoughts lead you.
Too often, we are bamboozled by making automatic decisions (they feel like choices but are not conscious, mindful ones) that we aren’t happy with.
“Why did I say I could work over the weekend when I really wanted to support my friend who is performing on stage for the first time?”
Go back to the question: What are your values?
If your values around work are about being available, showing enthusiasm and adding value, maybe you would work the weekend. If you also have values around friendships about being available and enthusiastically supportive, then you might need to decide which value you should honour in the moment of decision making.
There is no right or wrong here. We each have different values about everything and we need to respect our own as well as those of others.
If you don’t respect your own values, you become disconnected from yourself. You start to feel like life is happening to you rather than being in the driver’s seat of your own journey.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: A pathway to discovering your values
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is all about values and your connection to them. This technique is a powerful way to explore the question, what are my values and how can I best live by them?
It is an effective intervention for many common psychological issues and its simplicity makes it usable for anyone, from adolescents to the elderly.
ACT can be used for coaching (I hear many elite sportspeople in the media talking about playing to their own values recently), weight loss, couples’ therapy, executive coaching and performance, and to help with career decisions, among many others.
When you next feel a bit off about something, sit with the feeling for a minute or two and see if you can identify if one of your values has been offended or dishonoured in some way. You don’t have to “fix” the situation, just notice it and see if the next time the same choice is available, you can mindfully take the route that leaves you feeling content and happy with yourself.
Rachael Walden is The Bondi Psychologist. She uses Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help you realign with your values to unlock the life you want. Book your counselling session in Bondi or via Skype today.