by Dr. Jan Newman
As a parent, partner, friend, daughter, or son? How do you want to be in your workplace, team, community, or other groups?
According to Russ Harris, values are “desired qualities of action: how you want to behave; how you want to treat yourself, others, and the world around you.”
They are the principles that guide and motivate us throughout our lives, and they require ACTION to live and move in the world.
The Sweet Spot by Lou Lasprugato
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, values form the why and the how of action. Here are some important rules about values:
Values are not goals. They can’t be accomplished. You can’t check them off a checklist. There’s no end game. As Dr. J tells her clients, values are the “infinite end game.” My values as a parent can never be attained. There’s no point where I will say, “There you go. I’m done acting like your parent.” A goal is different. My parenting value of being loving could guide a goal for an action of taking 10 minutes a day to give my child special time with minimal interruptions and active listening and specific labeled praise.
Values are not feelings. Sometimes people will say that a value as a feeling like “being happy” or “feeling successful.” As much as we want control over our feelings, we don’t have it. Has anyone ever told you to calm down? How did it work? You feel what you feel. As my grandmother used to say, “it is what it is.” And, as I often tell my clients, the feelings that come along with following your values look less like the scene from Wizard of Oz with the happy munchkins and more like the part where they walked through the dark forest with flying monkeys, lions, tigers, and bears, oh my! If I spend time taking care of my partner on the weekend when he is sick, I will be sacrificing things that might be more fun. In the long run, though, following my values may create more positive emotions.
Values are about your actions, not other people’s. Sometimes when my adult clients ask for help on their dating profiles, we will discuss the qualities they are looking for in a partner. When we move to values, people often will say “my value is having someone who treats me with love and respect.”
If you can’t control the actions behind it, it’s not a value. A value of loving would be “to express love and care in my actions towards others.” If I value being loving as a parent and hug my child to express my value of being “loving” and he doesn’t return it, I didn’t fail at my value. There’s no end game, remember? So, then it’s what can I do right now to be loving towards my son in this moment? It could be checking in with him, “Can I check in with you about what happened? . . . everything ok, honey?”
Values are context-driven. Your values depend on what’s going on in your environment. When your partner raises their voice at your child, you will notice that there is a conflict between values for your child and your partner. In this situation, you may honor your value of compassion and loving towards your child but checking in with your partner which can be done in a way that empowers and respects him or her yet reflects the teamwork you value in your co-parenting?
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