Becoming More Psychologically Flexible, Step 1: Living Your Values

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how_psychologically _flexible_are_you ?

In a recent post I discussed the six components of psychological flexibility.

  • Valued living (defining valued directions).  
  • Contact with the Present Moment (mindfulness).
  • Committed Action (commitment).
  • Acceptance (acceptance).
  • Observing Self (self-as-context).
  • Disentanglement (cognitive defusion).

In this post I want to focus on what valued living means and how to live a values-based-life.

While most people view values as fixed and immutable, you could also choose to view them as more fluid. I like to compare values to trees. Both have deep roots that nurture them. They have many branches that reach out and have no limits regarding where they can spread and how far they can grow. In times of stress, they can bend without breaking. They can slough off adversity (such as being covered by ice or snow), spring back, and continue to grow. In other words, like the flexible tree and its branches, your values can bend without breaking if you have sufficient psychological flexibility.

Unfortunately a lot of people confuse this with going against their values because they view them as a fixed commodity, capable of being interpreted only one way. Instead of viewing their changing values as going with their lives and experience, they see them as going against what they stand for. Values can be interpreted to mean different things under specific circumstances and in different contexts at varying points in your life.

Let’s use human life as an example. What do you value regarding human life? This question has been raised in discussions ranging from war to abortion to euthanasia, just to mention three areas. Let’s examine how your values regarding human life might be expressed when dealing with the subject of euthanasia. Imagine you’re seventeen years old and you have a neighbor who’s in the hospital with a terminal form of cancer. At this point in your life, you might say something like this: “I believe doctors should do everything within their power to keep sick people alive as long as they can. You never know if they might find a new way to cure cancer.” Imagine that, at twenty-seven years old, you experience the loss of a friend at work who suffered from a different—and long—terminal illness. On his passing, you say, “It’s a shame my friend had to suffer so much until his life ended.” Now imagine that you’re fifty-seven years old and you watch your eighty-seven-year-old mother die in a nursing home from multiple chronic illnesses and dementia. Following a debilitating heart attack and stroke at eighty, which left her unable to eat, bathe, or walk on her own, you’ve watched her physically waste away and sink into a deep depression. She’s told you on several occasions over the past few years that she wishes she were dead. Recently you’ve found yourself saying, “I just can’t see how it’s humane to keep my mom alive against her own will when she’s in such pain and is suffering so much. I think it would be so much more humane to just let her end her life and die with whatever dignity she has left.”

All three of these statements represent different points of view regarding what you value about human life. At fifty-seven, your views are different from what they were when you were seventeen. You realize that your values have changed as your own life and experience have given you a greater understanding of the issue. While you still value human life, you realize that this can be expressed in a variety of different ways. You realize that at age seventeen, you had very little personal experience with suffering and death, and your values about life were really those of your parents. At twenty-seven, living on your own, you had your first personal exposure to the death of a friend. Watching this person suffer and eventually die changed the way you perceived life and death. At fifty-seven, with a wife and family of your own, you watched your mother become incapacitated and suffer. Once again you realized that while you still greatly value human life, you’re no longer so certain that preserving it at all costs and under all circumstances is the best way to express this value.
From a purely secular point of view, none of the three positions devalue human life. Each functions according to the context of the terminal illness and your own life and experience. These positions on your values continuum of human life interact with other values you have about things such as religion, the law, your family, and your culture (to name just a few). Your position also reflects your relationship to the person with the terminal illness. As the relationship changed (from your neighbor to your friend to your mother), so did the context and the function of your value.

Approaching values from an ACT-based perspective of how they function in a particular context might be very difficult for you if you have strong religious values that look at things such as the value of human life in a very specific way. In many instances, religious values are not open to interpretations depending upon the context. Rather than being context-specific and fluid, they are more rigid and inflexible. I’m not saying that this is good or bad—it just is. You need to decide for yourself whether such a view of specific values is helpful or unhelpful for you in managing your stress and living your life.

One of the six major causes of psychological inflexibility and getting stuck is lack of clarity regarding personal values. This lack of clarity is usually accompanied by troubling thoughts and painful emotions that create psychological barriers that keep your clients stuck and unable to make progress . To overcome these barriers clients need to become more psychologically-flexible.
Remember, your coaching clients do not have diagnosed mental disorders; they are just stuck.
My AC Coaching Course will show you how to help them become more psychologically flexible by using easy to learn techniques derives from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Find out more by getting a free copy of my AC Coaching Training Course. This 30 minute training course (a $79.00 value) is yours free .

Click Here to Obtain Your Free Training Course



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