“What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.” – Pablo Picasso
Once you feel that you have a clear sense of the underlying values that you wish to live by, the next step is to translate those values into committed action. While possessing knowledge of what your values are is essential, it will mean very little at the end of the day if there is no action taken to live by those values. You must begin to make the behavioral choice and commitment to making your values manifest through your actions.
Committed action means engaging in large patterns of effective action that are driven and guided by core values. In order for committed action to be effective, you must be willing to be flexible as circumstances shift and change. Flexibility allows you to adapt to the inevitable changes of life, while still being driven by your underlying values beneath the surface. No matter how many times your behaviors fall short, you can always take the time to reassess your actions and get them back in line with your values.
Knowing your true values, you can begin to set realistic goals based on those values. For example, if you value doing well in school, a concrete goal would be to study for three hours each day. Goals come and go as circumstances change and evolve, whereas values are a constant driving and motivating force for behaviors.
Harris (2009) explains that there are 4 steps to committed action:
(1) Choose a domain of your life that is a high priority for change.
(2) Choose what values you wish to pursue in this domain.
(3) Develop goals that are guided by those values.
(4) Take action mindfully.
The larger goal of translating values into committed action is to live a purposeful, intentional life that is guided by your deepest heartfelt values. When your life feels out of balance or without direction, it is quite possible that those feelings are the result of being out of touch with your values or not behaving in accordance with your values. Once you bring into conscious awareness that which is most valued and treasured in your heart, you can begin to take steps towards translating those values into committed action.
Setting Values-Based Goals
Try engaging in this 3-step Acceptance & Commitment Therapy exercise towards setting values-based goals to get started (Harris, 2009):
Step 1: The area of my life that I choose to work on is (choose one or two): work, social, health, parenting, family, spiritual, environment, personal growth, leisure, education, romantic relationship, or community.
Step 2: The underlying values of my goals in these domains are …
- Specific: Be specific about what actions you are committed to taking. Recognize what is involved in taking effective action. For example, a non-specific goal is to “spend more time with my partner” whereas a specific goal is to “make a special dinner for my partner tonight and spend quality time together.” The point is for your goal to be specific enough for you to be able to clearly recognize whether or not it has been accomplished.
- Meaningful: Notice if your goal is authentically guided by your values (as opposed to a rigid rule or a sense of what you “should” do). If you feel that your goal lacks a sense of deep meaning or purpose, reflect on whether or not that goal is truly in the service of your values. Remember that values are based on what matters most to you, not to other people/society.
- Adaptive: Ask yourself if your goal is going to be moving you in a direction that you believe is likely to enhance or improve your quality of life. Reflect on whether or not your chosen goal is moving you closer to or further away from your truest purpose in life. Will you be better in some meaningful way as a result of reaching this goal?
- Realistic: Goals that are not realistically achievable are only setting you up for failure, disappointment, or inaction. Find a balance between setting overly “easy” goals versus “unattainable” goals. Use your wisdom to ascertain the difference between the two. Be honest with yourself about what goals will push you outside of your comfort zone and help you grow, while still being within reach.
- Time-framed: Get even more specific about your goal by setting a time and date by which you plan to accomplish it. If that is not possible or is unrealistic in some way, set a general time frame and make a commitment to yourself to stick by it.
Step 3: My values-based goals are …
- Immediate goal: Begin with something small and simple that you can easily accomplish within the next 24 hours.
- Short-term goal(s): List some things you can do in the service of your values-based goal within the next few days and weeks.
- Medium-term goal(s): Reflect on specific actions you can take to move towards your values-based goal within the next few weeks and months.
- Long-term goal(s): Make a plan of what actions will move you closer to your values-based goal over the next few months and years.
Beginning to live in accordance with your true values takes the willingness to engage in committed action. The best of intentions mean very little without behaviors to back them up. Armed with the awareness of some of your most deeply cherished values, begin to move forward towards living a values-based life. The next steps involve creating concrete goals that are in line with your values, making a specific short-term and long-term plan of action for how to reach those goals, and finally … doing it.
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Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
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