Identifying and Doing What Matters

In our last post, we discussed the importance of lightening the load, including freeing up time, exercising self-compassion, and letting go of our struggle with uncomfortable and distressing experiences. One of the important processes we identified involved ensuring that we have a balance between activities we believe that we should do versus those that we want to do. However, many individuals find it difficult to identify their own values let alone activities that would be meaningful and fulfilling in their lives. Today, we discuss a few techniques to help you identify and use your values as a guide to incorporate more fulfilling activities into your life.  

Values Lists 

 One helpful resource to aid the identification of values involves reviewing lists of values and marking those that resonate most with how we desire to behave in our lives. One useful resource includes the values questionnaire (pages 23-24) presented in the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) book ‘The Confidence Gap’ by Russ Harris, which presents the reader with 60-values (e.g., independence, fitness, adventure, kindness). Readers are asked to mark each value as V, Q, N (very, quite or not so important), and eventually select the top six values that are most important to them.  

The Bull’s Eye Exercise 

The Bulls-Eye exercise is frequently used in ACT as a brief and effective way to identify the extent to which one’s current life is aligned with their values. The activity begins by asking the reader to list values aligned with four domains of their life (work/education, relationships, personal growth/health and leisure), and to make a mark on the Bulls-Eye that indicates how aligned their lives are with their values in each of the four domains. Marks placed  towards the outer rings of the bulls-eye can indicate the domains in which one feels disconnected from their values and can prompt the process of reconnection. For example, using a values list as mentioned above, one might identify that several of their core values include adventure, creativity and excitement. The bulls-eye exercise may reveal that one’s life is lacking in adventure, creativity and excitement in the domain of leisure, and that activities aligned with these values need to be incorporated to begin living a more fulfilling life.  

Sweet Spot Exercise 

The Sweet Spot Exercise involves bringing to mind a memory that conveys some of the richness and sweetness of life, such as a time when one felt loved, connected, grateful or simply content. You can start by bringing to much such a memory, regardless of whether it occurred recently or during childhood, and begin to make it vivid by focusing upon all the aspects of the memory. This may include imagining the things you could hear, see, smell, taste and touch at the time.  It is important to note that this can be absolutely any event in life, ranging from a simple walk in the park to going on an adventurous holiday. Once you’ve vividly recalled the memory to mind,  ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. What does this memory reveal about what matters to you? 
  2. What personal qualities were you showing? 
  3. How were you treating yourself, others, and the world around you? 
  4. What does this suggest about the way you’d like to behave, or the things you’d like to do, moving forwards? 

Translating Values into Activities 

Once you’ve identified your values, you can begin use them as a guide to living a more fulfilling life, which includes scheduling more meaningful activities that you want to do versus those that you perceive that you should be doing. A simple way to begin doing so is listing out your activities, then brainstorming activities that align with each value. For example, activities aligned with the ‘creativity’ value might include drawing, painting, playing an instrument and writing. Whereas activities aligned with the ‘fitness’ value might include going to the gym, cycling or running. If you find it difficult to begin brainstorming activities on your own, activities lists can help you get started.