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Living according to your core values in 7 steps - Lessons from ACT

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT - pronounced like the verb "to act") is based on the acceptance of all emotions and experiences, including negative aspects and suffering, as a part of life. Commitment means that we are committed to living our lives according to our values, which ultimately leads you to live a rich and meaningful life.

You don’t need to eliminate your negative thoughts. Take them with you and do what matters. What a relief!

What are values?

Values are principles you want to live by. They are aspects that are important to you and that guide your behavior. The idea is to determine 3 to 6 values for each part of your life and to act accordingly.

Living according to your values in 7 steps

#1 Divide your life into different categories and write them down

Here is an example of what those categories could be: Family, Friendships, Romantic relationships, Leisure, Work, Studies, Personal Growth, Spirituality. You can also choose a simpler version with Relationships in general, Work, and Leisure. Those are the most common ones but you can of course choose completely different categories or add some as you like.

#2 Write down 3 to 6 values in each category

If you need some inspiration, you can look at lists of values online (for example this one) or think about values you admire in other people. Make a list and ask yourself for each value if it is really important to you or if it simply sounds like a positive value to have. Once you have done that, select the values that really apply to you and sort them by category. You can write each value in one or several categories.

#3 Prioritize your values

Why is this step important? Because sometimes, you might have to choose between acting according to one value or to another. Knowing your priorities will help you decide. Don't worry, you can always change the order later!

#4 Analyze in how many categories each value is expressed

Once your list is done, underline the values present in several categories and circle those only present once. The underlined ones can be expressed in several ways, which makes it easier. However, you will need to pay closer to the ones you circled to make sure you express them in this specific category.

#5 Which values do you need to focus on?

Read your lists of values again. Are there some that you have neglected a little bit or need/want to focus on more? Highlight those values. Are there values that you focus on too much? Try to limit your time expressing those values as over-expressing a value and feeling like you "have to" will lead to stress instead of satisfaction.

#6 Are there conflicting values? How can you express each one?

Once you have done all of this, ask yourself how you could act to reflect each value or in which way you already express them. This is also the time to determine if any of your values are conflicting. For example, if it is important to you to connect with other people but also to spend time alone, it creates a conflict. There a several solutions in those cases. You could act depending on their priority ranking, alternate between both or find different activites to fulfill them. If, for example, creativity is also part of your values, you could combine it by doing something creative with a friend or alone. However, if they are both important to you but you also see that you are focussing too much on your time alone, you could decide to focus less on this value and more on feeling connected with others. The important thing here is active management!

#7 Make a plan of action and act accordingly

Which specific steps will help you express values that are not yet (or not often) reflected in your actions?

If we take the example I chose for #6 and see that I am not focussing enough on feeling connected with other people and being creative, my plan of action could look like this:

Step 1 : meet up with a friend for coffee every saturday (this expresses connectedness)

Step 2: do something creative like writing or painting when I spend time alone. That way I can express more creativity and spend quality time that will give me more energy to spend time with other people.

Step 3: book an appointment for a workshop or a class to spend time with like-minded people.

You should now have a clearer picture of the values that are important to you and on how you can live according to those values. The only thing left to do is to commit to living a life following your values, no matter what you are going through. Your values and priorities might change over time and that is totally fine. Simply reflect on them regularly, readjust them and make the necessary changes in your plan of action. You could even make a yearly ritual out of it or just do it when you feel it's time to do so.

Let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments or via the contact form on my homepage!

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