What matters to you most in this world? How do you want to spend your short time on this earth? What would you like to stand for? How do you want to relate to people and the world around you? What are you doing when you feel most at peace, most satisfied?

Your answers to these questions point you in the direction of your values. Your values are what matters to you most deep down in your heart. Values are different to goals because they can never be ticked off. They are an ongoing process; a direction we move in, but can never “arrive at”. For example, “finishing my teaching degree” is a black and white goal that can achieved, whereas “being a compassionate teacher” is a value that can never be “completed”. It’s an ongoing process. Getting married is another great example. Once you are married, it’s done. In contrast, your values are about how you want to act in your relationship (whether you are married or not). Perhaps you want to be a thoughtful, interested or reliable partner. You can never really tick off any of these values because each of these qualities have an ongoing nature to them.

Living according to your values isn’t easy. More often than not when we make a decision we have to choose between competing values. Relaxation versus working over-time. Avoiding conflict versus expressing your views. Comfort versus trying new things. When you are clear about what matters to you most though you are in a better position to make conscious and mindful choices.

If you are interested in identifying and exploring your own values, why not put some time aside to try some of the exercises below?

Imagine your own eulogy

Imagine yourself looking in on your own funeral. This might seem like a strange and sad suggestion, but this will get you thinking about how you would like others to remember you. What sort of qualities would you like other people to speak about when they reflect on what you meant to them? What special memories would they reflect on when they spoke of you? What would be the key moments that they would recall about your life?

Imagine yourself five years from now

Now picture yourself just five years down the track from now. What have you done over these five years that you’re really passionate about? What are the key memories that stand out for you? Why do these moments stand out? Which aspects of your personality and character do you feel proud of? Which aspects of your personality and character create ongoing difficulties for you? How have you related to the people that you care about? How have you been spending the majority of your time? How is your health? Do picture yourself having any regrets? Are there areas of your life that you feel you’ve avoided addressing?

Waving the magic wand

When you go to bed tonight imagine that someone waves a magic wand over your head and when you wake up in the morning you can live your life in any way that you choose, with the guarantee that other people will approve of, love and respect you for what you do. Without the constraint of being worried about other’s judgements what do you think your life would look like? For some people life might look more or less the same, with a few minor variations. For others you might dream of changing careers, changing the way you interact with family or friends or pursuing an interest that you previously felt embarrassed about.

How would your life be different without… (insert an issue that you find challenging here: for example, anxiety, fear, depression, low self-esteem, guilt)?

How would you interact with others differently if (insert issue here) wasn’t around? How would this change how you relate to yourself? How would you spend your weekdays? How about your weekends? What would you do in your leisure time? How would you behave at home? How would you behave at work? Is there anything that you would stop doing or do less of? What would you do more of? Would you still have the same job? How would you relate to your body? Are there areas that you might challenge yourself in if [insert issue here] wasn’t around? How about risks that you might be more willing take in certain areas of your life if [insert issue here] wasn’t such a focus in your life?

Your heroes

Bring to mind three people that you admire. Spend some time reflecting on why you admire them. What are their key qualities? What are their strengths? How do they manage their weaknesses? If they have faced adversity or challenges in life how did they behave during these times? How do they spend their time? How will other people remember them when they pass away?

The identification of values is an important component of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Each of our Psychologists at Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology are experienced in working with clients using ACT and mindfulness-based approaches. Research has demonstrated that ACT and mindfulness-based approaches can be effective for the treatment of depression and anxiety. These approaches are also useful for helping people to build more meaningful and satisfying lives, regardless of whether they experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. If you would like some assistance with figuring out your values or exploring your values in more depth please contact us on (03) 9376 1958 or info@innermelbpsychology.com.au

Now, to practise what I preach I am going to post this blog without spending any extra time proof-reading or editing, because I value taking a proper mid-morning break (more so than perfecting my blog!).

This beautiful image was taken by Dominik Schroder.