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 help your clients live a more values-based-life.
What Are Values?
Values are like the North Star. They are guiding lights that serve as sign posts for the direction your clients take in life. As such they are intimately related to their goals and commitments. The clearer clients are about what they value, the easier it is for them to set values-based goals that they can commit to. In general, they will be much happier if their goals and commitments mesh with their values and their behavior (something I’ll discuss in greater detail in future blogs).. This is called taking values-congruent action in AC coaching.
Values are the mirror of your clients’ personalities and are central to defining who they are as people. Knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs are also core components of personality that paint a picture of your clients for others, it is their values that are the foundation upon which these other facets are built. Values are hierarchical in nature. Your clients have both core and satellite values.
Core values are the things that are central to who you clients are and they are non-negotiable. Some of your clients would actually fight and die to defend their core values. Clients typically identify such things as country, spouse, children, religion, and freedom as core values.
Surrounding this core are lesser-held satellite values that clients hold dear but are not as strongly committed to. Clients identify things such as political beliefs, cultural traditions, personal attributes such as intelligence and beauty, pursuits such as recreation and sports, and so forth as satellite values. Satellite values are more amenable to compromise and change.
When your clients are young their values usually mirror those of their parents. As they move through adolescence and young adulthood, their values often change and become their own, a mixture of what they have learned from their parents and what they have chosen to embrace from their culture.
While most people view values as fixed and immutable, they are actually very fluid. Values change throughout the life-cycle as a by-product of being exposed to new ideas, new people, and new circumstances. Clients often either do not realize that their values have changed or are unwilling to admit this because they lack the psychological flexibility to deal with the consequences.
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 clients’ values can bend without breaking if they 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.
Becoming More Flexible Through Valued Living
Valued living starts with defining valued directions. This is a three-part process that involves exploring, choosing, and acting on your values.
1. Exploring Values—During the first step of defining valued directions, clients explore their values and take advantage of opportunities to affirm and prize them publicly. This process allows them to stand up for the things they hold sacred. Public affirmation can be as simple as sharing what they value in a private conversation with friends or supporting an organization that shares their values. As a coach you can look for opportunities to help them do this.
2.Choosing Values—The second step of defining valued involves helping clients examine their values against other options. After consideration of other values clients decide which of their values they still hold dear and which (if any) they no longer support. The purpose of this step is not to change clients’ values but to help them examine them. In most cases clients reaffirm their commitment to the bulk of their existing values and take steps to commit to the new ones uncovered in the exploring values activities.
3. Acting on Values—The third and final step involves helping clients take action that is consistent with their values. While this is similar to publicly affirming their values it is more behavioral in nature. For example, choosing a job, partner, or deciding to go back to school are all behaviors that are values-driven.
My perfect day starts with a sunrise paddle in the Gulf of Mexico.
A Perfect Day Values Exercise
One simple way to help clients identify their values and the direction they want to move in is to have them construct their “perfect day.“In other words, if they could plan a perfect day, what would their criteria be? What kind of work would they be doing? Where would they live? Who would they be spending their time with? Other than work, what activities (read, write, cook, make love, etc.) would they engage in? The answers to these questions represent their Daily Life Criteria (DLC) for a perfect day. The answers also reflect their core and satellite values.
List up to ten Daily Life Criteria for a Stress Free Day:
What are the values these DLC’s reflect?
What directions do these values move you in?
How does your typical day compare to this perfect day?
What is standing in the way of you meeting these criteria for having more perfect days?
I am grateful to Gregg Krech and Linda Anderson-Krech of the ToDo Institute in Monkton Vermont for teaching me this activity and preparing me to share it with you. Click here to find out more about the ToDo Institute:
Setting Values-Congruent Goals
The next step in defining valued directions is setting goals that are based on their newly reaffirmed values. Unfortunately, clients often set goals that are based on guilt about what they think they should do or what others (parents, partners, spouses etc.) think they should do. Goals that are based on what other people value are doomed to fail. To counter this clients need to set goals that are congruent with their values.
After clients clarify their values they can use them to set values-based goals. I like to separate goals from measurable objectives. Goals are broader and not necessarily quantifiable (making measurement difficult). Objectives on the other hand are written so they can be easily assessed. A measurable objective answers the question: “Who, will do how much, of what, by when?”
Goal- “Form my own new business.”
Objective – “By the end of March, 2017, I will have submitted all of the forms necessary to form my new business.”
The who in this objective is THE CLIENT, the how much is SUBMITTED ALL OF THE FORMS, the of what is TO FORM MY NEW BUSINESS, and the by when is END OF MARCH 2017. To assess his/her progress, the client checks back on April 1st to see if s/he submitted all of the forms.
Setting Values-Based Goals Exercise
Step 1. Have clients pick one of the values they identified in the “A Perfect Day”activity.
Step 2. Have clients describe how this value currently influences their professional and personal lives.
Step 3. Have clients write one personal or professional goal that is related to this value.
Step 4. Have clients write three measurable objectives related to this goal.
Have clients periodically (for example, daily, weekly, or monthly) review the progress they’re making in meeting the objectives they set for reaching their goal. If they’ve written them correctly, all of their objectives should include time frames.
Tell clients that after reviewing their progress it is OK if they decide to change the time frame or add or delete an objective. While goals and objectives help give their lives structure and help them clarify their values, they should also be flexible enough to adapt to changes in their personalities and your lives.
Suggest that clients start with a simple goal, something that they can accomplish this week and will help them start moving in the direction they want to go in. By keeping the goal simple and the time frame manageable, they have a good chance of accomplishing it.
My FREE Training Course will show you how to help your clients become more psychologically flexible by using easy to learn techniques derived from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Find out more about how to help your clients become more psychologically-flexible by getting a free copy of my Training Course. This 30 minute training course (a $79.00 value) is yours free .