The field of psychology is beginning to embrace what many cognitive-behavioral psychologists have been studying for years; values matter. In fact, they matter a lot. When we live a life that is focused on what we care about, we are healthier. One goal of therapy is to be better at readily identifying our values, and choosing behaviors that reinforce a value-driven life.
I recently read a wonderful article by Dr. Steven Hayes that stressed how important it is to focus your thoughts and behaviors on what is truly important to you. The result is feeling content with your life. When values direct our behaviors, we have less anxiety and depression and more motivation and connections with people and activities we care about.
Therapies that integrate the identification of values help people chose their best path. ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) relies strongly on respecting the importance of values. A goal within ACT is to understand what you deeply care about, and to work toward communicating those values, exploring those values, and living those values. From a behavioral perspective, when you have clear goals you are better able to select your behaviors and present yourself in a way that you are proud of. This leads to internal peace and clarity.
One of the reasons I chose to use ACT in my practice was the powerful techniques it employs to help my clients identify values. For most people this is a very difficult task. We don’t automatically think in terms of values. We don’t examine our day and ask, “Did I choose to act within my values today?” Yet, research shows how very important values are to our mental health. They are a bridge between our internal language and the selection of our actions.
Ultimately we must choose our values. What do you want to live for? How do you want to be viewed? What is truly important to you? Then we have to define our actions. We must put some behaviors “on deck,” and be prepared to live a value-driven life.