Promoting Psychological Flexibility Through Identifying Your Own Values
By: Brittany Hedman, Masters Level Intern
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a therapeutic approach which seeks to improve client overall wellbeing through promoting the continued development of ones’ ability to engage in psychological flexibility. As stated by Russel Harris (2009), “psychological flexibility is the ability to be in the present moment with full awareness and openness to our experience, and to take action guided by our values. Put more simply, it’s the ability to ‘be present, open up, and do what matters’” (Harris, 2009, p. 12). This concept is central to the theory of ACT and the theory offers 6 main domains, or aspects, in which we can engage in this:
- Personal Values
- Taking Action
- Flexible Perspective
- Cognitive Defusion
Throughout the months, I will be providing insight into each area and how you can develop more psychological flexibility through improving each of these areas of functioning. Today, this article will focus solely on the strategy of utilizing personal values as a mean of assisting you in improving your overall psychological flexibility. However, feel free to ask your therapist about how you work to can learn and improve each of these areas within your sessions!
In ACT, personal values are seen as serving an important part in shaping our overall wellbeing. When the personal values of an individual are unclear or at war with how we act/behave, then we can often times feel stuck. One reason for this is if we have lost sight of, or lack the ability to identify, our core values and then to live in alignment with them. When we are not living in alignment with who we are, this can create distress for us and actually encourage continued engagement in psychological “inflexibility”.
This is also because a lack of clear values can make a us feel a sense of loss of direction, lack of motivation, and even prevent us from creating or achieving goals. Since our values are a core part of who we are, they can be called upon in times of ever-changing uncertainty. In other words, values allow us to remember who we are and what we stand for – a constant in an inconstant environment:
“From an ACT perspective, psychological suffering is not anomalous. It is normal and pervasive. The struggles to remove psychological adversity fixes, and intensifies, that adversity in an individual’s experience. Even more importantly, it is a struggle that interferes with a life lived in persistently in the pursuit of ones’ values. ACT is aimed squarely at helping [you] to relinquish this struggle in order to live a life of pursuit of [your] most deeply held values” (Hayes et.al., 2004, p. 126).
How can you move in a direction of living more in alignment with what you value and to feel more authentic in who you are? Below are some simple ways:
- Clarify your own values! You can easily find a list online with some of the major core values that people hold. Some examples can include your religion/spiritual beliefs, creativity, friendship, courage, sustainability, pursuit of knowledge, humor, and joy.
- Once you clarify your values, then pick only a few that you want to practice working towards living in alignment with. Perhaps the ones you feel right now are the more pressing to you. This way you are not overwhelming yourself.
- Explore your present state of living in alignment or misalignment with values. Some of your values you may already be living in alignment with, while others you may feel a great deal of distress about right now because you know you have not been living based on your values.
- Be practical. Remember not to make any rash decisions. You might read this article and think, “Brittany wants me to quit my job and travel so that I can live out who I want to be!”. While that sounds nice, we need to live practically and find balance with our responsibilities and values. It’s more about making small steps and using our values as a tool for holding onto who we are in the midst of uncertainty or trial.
- Practice setting manageable goals in alignment with your values. Why? Because when you are aligned with your values, goals have more meaning. Not only will you feel like what your working towards has a greater purpose, but you will be more motivated and willing to achieve your goals. You can think of goals as the treasure map for living out our values and getting us to where we want to go.
- Give yourself grace as you work towards developing who you are and living out your values. Please remember that your life is a journey. We live in an ever-changing world with ever-changing circumstances and choices. Developing into who we want to be or live takes times.
meaningful values = more meaningful goals = more meaningful lives = more sense of purpose, joy, and direction.
In essence, clarity and movement towards personal values enable us to live much more meaningful and satisfied lives. Ask your therapist how you two can work together to implement your own values into session or how your therapist can aid you in developing your own personal goals while also offering you the support and accountability you may need. In the end, by uncovering your core values and working to live in alignment with them, you may come to appreciate deep exploration of yourself while finding empowerment in practicing psychological flexibility in an ever-changing world.
Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Hayes, S., Follette, V., and Linehan, M. (2004). Mindfulness and acceptance: Expanding the cognitive-behavioral tradition. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Interested in scheduling a session with Brittany Hedman? Request an Appointment Today!