When we know what matters most to us and what brings us the greatest meaning and sense of purpose in our lives, it can be difficult to put this knowledge into action. In Part One of this blog series I identified what values are, discussed the value domains and challenged you to create your values compass in which you rated the importance of each domain and attached adjectives to each which indicate how you want to show up in that area of your life. If you have not done so, I recommend that you read Part One and complete this values compass exercise.
Identifying your Level of Engagement
With the values compass in front of you, look at the level of importance that you have indicated for each domain. Now, write a second 1-10 rating next to that number which signifies your level of engagement in each value domain (10 being the highest level of engagement). As you evaluate this number, think of the specific actions or efforts that you are currently making toward this domain.
This is often an eye-opening experience, in which we learn where we currently stand in the various areas in our life that we have identified as meaningful. We may find that we are just as engaged as we’d like to be in a certain area (Example: You rated the importance of spirituality at a 7, and you’ve rated your engagement level at a 7). We may find that we are currently over-committed to a value (Example: You rated the importance of social life at a 5 but you are engaged at an 8). We may also find that we are currently under-engaged in a value (Example: You rate the importance of romantic partnership at a 9, but your active engagement is a 6).
As you identify your engagement level and compare it to your importance level, allow yourself to become aware of what emotional experiences may be coming up for you. Acknowledge that maintaining engagement in all of your values simultaneously is no easy feat and that it is an exercise in constant commitment, flexibility, and acceptance of your limitations.
Identifying Specific Actions
To begin identifying value-oriented acts start by picking one value, perhaps the value that has the biggest gap between importance and engagement, or perhaps the value for which you can most easily think of engagement acts. Set a timer for one minute, and after you press start, quickly write down as many acts, both large and small, that will engage you in this value. Attempt to avoid overthinking what you’re writing, just let your mind flow and get it all down. After the minute is over, take a moment to examine your list, and perhaps allow yourself another 30 seconds or so to write down any other acts that come to mind upon this examination. Repeat this process for one or two additional values. If you come across values in which you are over-committed, identify specific actions that will help you set limits and boundaries in these domains.
What Committed Action Looks Like
Examine one of your valued action lists. As you look at this list, allow yourself a moment to wonder whether you might succeed or fail to act. Without attempting to predict your future, allow yourself to feel the natural emotions that arise when you realize that you won’t know whether you will succeed or fail in committing to an action until that particular moment arrives. Often these are the same emotions that keep us from making a commitment in the first place. Now, bring your mind out of the future and into the present. Make contact with the present by noticing as each moment passes, and as a new present moment continues to emerge again and again. This awareness will be crucial as you continue to commit to action in each new moment, and it will allow you to let go of the failures of past moments and the ambiguity of future moments. The goal of committed action is to continue to return your mental and physical awareness to the present and gently release each moment as it passes.
Understanding the nuance and ambiguity of committed action can be difficult and isolating. It is easy to get stuck or lost within the stories we tell ourselves. Bypass this struggle and consider working through this narrative with a trained professional by one of our Chicago Therapists.
Identifying values and committing to action are two principles included in the psychological theory of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). A powerful introduction to this theory, which further discusses these principles is Dr. Kelly Wilson’s Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong.