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At the Austin Mindfulness Center, we use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy(ACT), in which values clarification is a key component. One of the main goals of ACT is to help clients live the life they want, which involves acting in a way that is consistent with their values. However, many people struggle with clarifying their values on their own, often mixing up values and goals.

There are many ways to define values, but the definition we will discuss here is one that is specific to the ACT approach.

·       In technical terms, values are “desired global qualities of ongoing action.” What that means is that they are the ways (qualities) in which you want to (desired) interact with the world, other people, and yourself (global), and there is no end to this pursuit (ongoing), meaning, we can always turn in the direction of our values. 

·       Values are like a compass, guiding us in making decisions as well as acting effectively and intentionally. We may not always follow the direction they are pointing us in, so values are best held lightly.

·       Values are freely chosen by you and do not need to be justified. Everyone decides what is important to them, so values will look different for every person. Your values may not be the same as others values. Sometimes we decide on our values based on our family’s values, and other times, our values look different than our family’s values.

·       Values often change over time, depending on where we are in life. As values change, we want to step back and re-prioritize. What is most important to you RIGHT NOW, in this moment? Are you acting in accordance with your values in your life TODAY?

·       Values are not the same as goals. Values are HOW you want to act or behave on an ongoing basis, qualities that are available at any moment, and what is important to you in the present moment. Goals are future-oriented, an end product, something you want to achieve. An example of a goal is wanting a college degree, whereas the value behind that goal may be a thirst for knowledge or learning new things.

·       Examples of values may include: being loving and caring, being open and honest, maintaining health, openness to change, justice and equality, tradition, etc.

When you are living by your values, you may feel like your life has purpose or meaning. You may feel like you have a strong sense of who you are and that you are truly living the life you want to live. If you are not living by your values, you may feel a sense of discord, struggle with acting in your own best interest, avoid painful emotions, and become fused with judgmental thoughts.

One way to start exploring your values is to do a values card sort activity, which can be found here. It’s often helpful to do this activity alone at first and then also do this activity with your family. Which values are family values? Which values differ from your family’s values? Are you acting in accordance with your values? Were you surprised by anything during this activity? By exploring what is important to you, you can start to take action guided by those values and live the life you want.

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