About Psychological Health: Figure Out What Matters to You
This is the fifth of a six-part series on psychological health. Psychological health is all about how you can feel less stuck and live a more vital life. In previous articles I talked about the importance of being present, being willing, observing your thoughts, and seeing yourself differently. In this post I want to spotlight the importance of getting in touch with what matters to you, your values.
Values are everything
I think about values a lot. I bring them up in my very first conversation with my client. I talk about them when my client is struggling or feeling stuck. I think about them for myself too. When I’m feeling less than motivated, confused about what direction I should take in my own life, or feel like I’m making the same mistakes I’ve made before, I go back to my values.
Why? Because your values point you in the direction you want your life to go. What is important to you? What really matters? Where do you want to see your life go? What would make your life feel meaningful?
Values vs goals
Values aren’t the same as goals. You can have a goal to get a new job that is a better fit for you, to eat more vegetables, or to go to the gym four days weekly. These are all things that you can accomplish. And then what? You set new goals.
Underlying each of these goals is a reason. Why do you want a job that is a better fit? Why would you want to eat more vegetables or go to the gym? Because all of these goals point to something that matters for you: to have a career that is fulfilling, to live a healthier life. These are your values.
How we get stuck
Often when we feel stuck in our lives it’s because we aren’t living in the direction of our values, but instead being ruled by the feelings, thoughts, memories and other internal experiences we struggle with.
Here’s an example:
Being healthy matters to you. It’s something you value. You also struggle with feelings of sadness and overwhelm. And when you are struggling with these one way you take care of yourself is to watch TV. While there is nothing wrong with watching TV, you also know that it doesn’t help you feel healthier; you’d feel healthier if you went for a hike or went to the gym.
Knowing that there are days where you will feel sad and overwhelmed, there are two ways that this might play out:
1) You feel sad and overwhelmed and automatically move into a coping mechanism that helps you feel better. You watch TV. You make a choice based on how you are feeling and thinking in the moment.
2) You feel sad and overwhelmed and notice this (you’re being present). You then consider your values (being healthy matters to me). You then can make a conscious choice to move in the direction of your values (I can go for a walk) or away from your values (I can watch TV).
I’m not saying that there is a right or wrong choice here, but rather, that there is a choice that will leave you feeling pretty much the way you always feel about your life and a choice that will move you closer to what you want. Being clear on what matters to you, your values, can allow you to make decisions that move you forward.
Every aspect of your life is driven by values
Your career, your education, your family, your friends, your health - all of these are areas where your values can come into play. Take a moment to consider what’s important to you in the various realms of your life. What matters? Where direction would you like to see your life go? If you could be willing to have your thoughts feelings and memories, what choices would you take to move your life forward?