Cimone Safilian-Hanif, PhD Profile Photo
Medically Reviewed by
Cimone Safilian-Hanif, PhD in International Psychology, on February 11, 2024


The concept of values and taking actions that align with your values can be incorporated into treatment and complement the overall goals of DBT. Exploring your values, setting goals that align with those values, and developing strategies to overcome barriers to living a life in accordance with your values supports overall life satisfaction.

Having a strong sense of purpose can make emotional distress more manageable. Living a fulfilled life based on the values that are most important to you can make the bumps along the road more tolerable. Imagine that you are having a situation of distress, but you know that tomorrow there is something you're really looking forward to doing - something meaningful to you. This can be different for everybody, some people value their relationships the most, others their work, their health, or their hobbies. This exercise will help you identify the aspect of your life that you value the most. After you do that, we'll work on finding concrete actions that you can do so that you live your life according to what you value the most.

Scroll Up


These three steps will help you align your actions with values and make difficult situations more manageable.

Step One: Life Aspects You Value the Most

The list below consists of life aspects or life values that are predominant in people's lives. Different people will value these aspects differently. Depending on how important they are to you, choose three values that are the most important to you (adapted from Valued living questionnaire by Wilson, 2002).

  1. Romantic relationships (dating, marriage)
  2. Family (family relationships other than parenting and marriage)
  3. Work (advancing at work, finances)
  4. Socializing and friends (spending time with friends)
  5. Educational goals (finishing school, taking different courses and classes)
  6. Spirituality, religion (sense of connection with something bigger)
  7. Health and self-care (taking care of physical and mental health)
  8. Community life (charity, contributing to your community)
  9. Parenting (promoting and supporting the different life aspects of your children)
  10. Recreation and fun (hobbies, activities in your free time)

Step Two: Reasons Why You Value These Aspects

After you choose the three values that are most important to you right now, think about why you find these aspects important and what exactly about them is meaningful for you. Take your time and in the worksheet provided, write down the reasons.

Example: Let's say that one of the three values that are most important to Emily is work. When thinking about the reasons why this is important to her, she wrote:

"I like how productive I feel after I've finished a project. I like to challenge myself and I don't shy away from learning new things and putting more effort into what I do. Another thing that is meaningful to me about work is the financial security that I am building for myself. Being independent is very important to me, it has a sense of freedom and I feel strong when I know that I've taken care of myself."

Step Three: Actions Based on Values

Think about what exactly you would do to live your life according to the values you chose. What activities would you want do to? Be specific - think of actions that are realistic, and think of when exactly you would do them, and how. It's not enough to write general statements like "I want to be better at school", but think about what you would actually do to achieve that (for example "I can organize my time better and research how to study more effectively").


Emily was thinking about how she can promote this value (work) in her life more. She came up with the following:

The things that I can do are:

1. I want to start working on a new project by myself (in my free time), so next week on Monday, I'll start searching on the Internet something that would be interesting and challenging for me to do from home.

2. I want to be a little more productive when I'm working, so I think that meditating every day would be a good solution to this. This evening I am going to look at apps that can help me with this.

3. I feel like I could benefit from learning about people in my area that have become successful, so later I will search for podcasts and books to inform myself about the things that they do differently and that I can benefit from.

Scroll Up


The worksheets will help you align your articulate your values and align your actions with these values

DBT Distress Tolerance: Actions Based on Values
DBT Distress Tolerance: Actions Based on Values - Reasons

Scroll Up


There are more than three aspects in my life that I find important. So how should I choose?

Think about which one of the values gives you a sense of fulfillment the most. Try to remember what makes you feel more excited and what is more meaningful to you. You can also try to rate the values on a scale of 1 to 10, and then pick the top three ones. You can do this exercise again after a couple of months because maybe you will find that your interests have changed a little bit and that you want to explore another value.

What if I don't have enough time to commit myself to doing the activities based on the values I chose?

It is true that sometimes our days are too packed with obligations and things that we simply have to finish. However, try to think of an activity that won't take up much of your time and that you can realistically do. It doesn't have to be something big that you can't find the time to do. Instead, think of smaller and shorter activities that you can do perhaps from your own home. For example, if the value you chose to work on is socializing and friends, you might not be able to go out every night and have a fun night out with them, but perhaps you can be intentional about doing it once a week.

Since I've been depressed for some time now, I don't feel like doing any of these activities.

One of the most helpful things when you really don't feel like doing much is to start small and set realistic goals. Starting small can help with feeling a sense of accomplishment and build momentum over time. If you have a hard time choosing the values that are most important to you, look back and try to remember what was important to you in the past. Explore potential hobbies, interests, or social engagements you used to participate in. Then, choose a small activity that won't require much energy, try to complete it, and see if you enjoyed it more than you thought you would. Try to commit to engaging in these small activities, even if you don’t feel motivated to do so at first. Breaking the cycle of avoidance and withdrawal can be key to building momentum and kickstarting motivation.

Scroll Up


If you have any behavioral health questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare or mental health care provider. This article is supported by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from behavioral health societies and governmental agencies. However, it is not a substitute for professional behavioral health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Scroll Up

Comments About Actions Based on Values

  1. My problem is that the things I value I don’t have in my life. Relationships fail, no job etc

    ADMIN – Hey Anon, sorry to hear that! Lets see how we can improve the situation.

    I think this exercise can be useful to you. Now that you have identified some things that are valuable to you (step 1), the next steps are to clarify why you value this, an the final step is to think about what actions are in line with your values.

    If having relationships is an important value to you, write down why it is important to you, and what actions would be in line with that value?

    If one of my values was to have a better relationship with my mother, then some actions that would be in line with that value would be going to visit her once a week, helping her with her grocery shopping, or staying away from certain topics when we talk.

  2. i think dbt should place more focus on this kind of thing, have a few lessons about it. i’m gen z and too many of my peers are disillusioned by the current world and feel extremely purposeless and directionless in life as well as apathetic. myself included, and depression certainly exacerbates this.

Scroll Up
Add Your Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

"Going through all the DBT worksheets really helped me rethink the way I was approaching my life. Thank you!"

- Tillie S.

"Life changer! I struggled with depression and anxiety before I did this course. Do it!"

- Suzanne R.

"I started doing your worksheets a month ago. My therapist says they helped us make faster progress in our sessions."

- Eduardo D.

"Stick with it. It really works. Doing these exercises every day helped me get over a really bad spell of depression."

- Juliana D.