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 have 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 the values you value the most.
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).
- Romantic relationships (dating, marriage)
- Family (family relationships other than parenting and marriage)
- Work (advancing at work, finances)
- Socializing and friends (spending time with friends)
- Educational goals (finishing school, taking different courses and classes)
- Spirituality, religion (sense of connection with something bigger)
- Health and self-care (taking care of physical and mental health)
- Community life (charity, contributing to your community)
- Parenting (promoting and supporting the different life aspects of your children)
- Recreation and fun (hobbies, activities in your free time)
Step Two: Reasons Why You Value These Aspects
After you chose 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, 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.
The worksheets will help you align your articulate your values and align your actions with these values
There are more than three aspects in my life that I find important. So how should I choose?
Think about which ones 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 do 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. If you have a hard time choosing the values that are most important to you, think about what you would choose if you weren't experiencing depression, or look back and try to remember what was important to you when you were feeling more vital. Then, choose a small activity that won't require much energy, try to do it and then see if you enjoyed it more than you assumed you would. Usually when people are depressed they assume that they will really hate doing something that they would otherwise find fulfilling, but in reality there are always shades of grey.