Mindful living is valued living. What do I mean by values? Values are anything that is important to us, but they specifically refer to a desired state of being, a mode of existence or desired approach to life. Values are not goals because goals can be set, accomplished and reset. Instead, think of values as a moving target. There is no particular place to get to, only a striving that requires constant change and growth. Examples of goals versus values can be illustrated in the following; I’m going to reduce my child’s temper tantrums (this is a goal) vs. I’m going to be a better parent (this is a value). The difference between the two may not be apparent at first, but remember the differences. Working on reducing your child’s temper tantrums requires a specific approach that will most likely be measurable and time sensitive. Being a better parent is an ever-evolving process that is never fully realized, rather, it is something that we aim for and hope to improve upon time after time.
How are values important in psychotherapy? We are either moving away from our values or towards them. Oftentimes, when we are moving away it is because we either have not clearly defined our values or something has gotten in the way of our values and thrown us off track. For example; If I’m in a constant state of depression and routinely turn towards larger and larger amounts of alcohol to cope, then I’ve either not identified that I value being happy, or sadness and alcohol consumption have gotten in the way of my being a happier person. It may seem obvious that wanting to be happy is a value, but when there is a struggle or barrier, its important to name the value; “I value being happy.” Naming the value is the first step to higher awareness. Once you identify the direction, then the roadblocks to happiness become your focus. “I want to be happier but my drinking is getting in the way.” This statement can lead to the identification of more values; “I value drinking in moderation,” or “Maintaining abstinence from alcohol and other mind altering substances is important to me.”
The key is identifying what is important to you, then asking yourself, “Am I moving towards or away from what I find important?” Finally, if you are moving away from what is important, ask yourself what needs to change? Valued living is present-moment living in that we are focused on the here and now; the behaviors, the thinking and the feelings that get in the way of feeling fulfilled, right here, right now. Honest and insightful evaluation of the present moment will lead to increasingly favorable outcomes in the future. The goal is not to hit the bullseye with 100% accuracy, but to simply identify (and label) the target.