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Values: How to find what's really important to you

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

In Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT), one of the basic pillars is alignment of values and actions. Do your actions align with your values in this situation/problem? Often, if they do not align, a person experiences great distress and guilt. And conversely, when they align, a person experiences a sense of doing the right thing or living up to their standards (peace).

This begs the question then, What are my values?

What Are Values?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines values as, "the principles that help you to decide what is right and wrong, and how to act in various situations". There is often a moral judgement attached to these as well, think the old adage Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Similarly, the associations between Frugality and Scrooge, Creativity and Genius, Playfulness and Youth, or Wisdom and Age. They can be ideas of how to best live, or what our groups/communities identify as good or right.

A faith community typically values honesty, integrity, personal responsibility, faith, grace, and charity. How your specific community acts, functions, or believes may differ on the rest.

A school community would value honesty, integrity, personal responsibility, education, respect, and tolerance. Our school's values also include: Collaboration, personal achievement, communication, critical thinking, and diversity.

A business may have their own values as well! I know for me, this specific activity was immensely helpful in determining how I wanted my business to flow and function in my life. Thank you for asking, my values in business are: Honesty, Authenticity, Clarity in communication, Acceptance, Balance, and Humor.

And lastly, families are their own little systems! Each family has a distinctly THEM value system. Yours might include Playfulness, Togetherness, Respect, and Kindness. It can actually be a really fun activity to get the kids in on this one with you! See what they come up with. You'd be surprised.

The Values Sort

The values sort is a common activity used by therapists in a variety of fields. You're given a list (or cards) of 50 common values, and asked to sort it into categories. This can be helpful for the therapist to learn what's important, and how important it is, to the client. Sometimes you're asked to sort out the 10 least important to you, and some that are not important to you at all.

For this exercise, choose your top 10, then narrow that down to top 5.

To be clear, the source is on the picture. I did not make this graphic.

These values can and will change over time, that's normal. And like I explained above, each different community or environment you're a part of will have their own mix of values. What's important to you as a young adult isn't as important when you're having kids or raising a family. Ten year old me was ON FIRE for Environmental Sustainability. And, while that's still important to me, it's no where near the top 10. A Scout troop's top ten might include Originality and Humor, but those are less likely to be on their school's mission statement.

Life change us. Experiences and education shape us. We are each living life as best we can, assuming others are doing the same.

I cannot control others. And bad things just happen sometimes. But, I can control my actions. And I can be intentional in aligning my actions and my values. You can too.

I hope this activity provides some discussion points for your family, thinking points for you, and peace in knowing you're doing your best.

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