Living in Line with Your Values: A Psychological Approach to Authentic Living

“I dropped off my partner for the surgery and then went to work for the next twelve hours.” Stephanie shared. “I was so busy at work, I didn’t even know how the surgery went until 8 hours afterwards! My partner could have died and I wouldn’t have even known.” 

“The feelings that you are feeling right now are sending you a message, Stephanie,” I directed. “Can you tune in to that message to see what it’s telling you? What is important about what happened?”

Understanding Values from a Psychology Perspective

Values are the guiding principles that shape our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Values represent the fundamental aspects of a person’s desired way of living and the qualities they want to embody. These values are not goals to achieve, but rather, they guide a person’s actions and decisions, providing a sense of purpose and direction in their life. They serve as a compass, steering us in the direction of what truly matters to us.

In the realm of psychology, values represent the core beliefs and ideals that give our lives meaning and purpose. Living in accordance with one’s values is considered crucial for psychological well-being and the reduction of psychological distress. Research has shown that individuals who actively embrace and live in accordance with their values tend to experience higher levels of well-being and life satisfaction. This psychological perspective underscores the intrinsic connection between values and our overall sense of fulfillment.

The Connection Between Values and Authentic Living

Something that I love about values-based living is that, contrary to goals, we can choose to live according to our values, regardless of our life circumstances. For example, let’s say Josh has a goal of running a marathon by November 1st. Josh can train his mind and his body, be consistent with his routine, and do everything in his power to prepare himself for that marathon. But sometimes things get in the way of our goals. Perhaps Josh gets injured and it is medically impossible for him to run anymore. An unexpected illness or injury can significantly offset the course of someone’s goals, despite their best efforts.

In Josh’s case, he could tune in to what values were driving him to the goal of running a half marathon. Was he doing it because he values his health and taking care of his body? Did a marathon appeal to him because he values challenge and achievement? Or was he motivated to run the marathon so that he could spend more time with his little sister who also signed up to run the marathon? A person can always be striving to live in line with their values regardless of circumstances. Although Josh cannot run a marathon, he can still make choices to be healthy, take care of his body, seek out challenges, or spend time with his family.

Living authentically means embracing who you are and aligning your actions with your true self. When you live in line with your values, you experience a sense of congruence between your internal beliefs and your external behavior. This authenticity leads to reduced stress, improved emotional regulation, and increased resilience in the face of challenges. The journey toward authentic living is a transformative one, empowering you to make choices that reflect your innermost desires and convictions.

ACT Approach to Values and Psychopathology

“Well, I am feeling ashamed, I guess,” Stephanie reflected. “Ashamed that I put my work over my partner on a really important occasion. I don’t want to be a work-a-holic!” 

“That makes a lot of sense. You were dealing with competing demands on your time and the choice you made left you feeling unhappy. Usually when we have a negative emotion like that, it means that we did something that wasn’t in line with our values.” Stephanie thought about that for a moment and then I continued. “What would you say is the value that fueled this interaction?”

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a therapeutic approach that emphasizes the importance of living a values-driven life. ACT posits that many psychopathological symptoms arise from a disconnection between our values and our actions. When we engage in behaviors that contradict our values, internal conflict and distress can result, contributing to conditions like anxiety, depression, and stress. By prioritizing values alignment, individuals can experience significant improvements in their mental well-being and overall quality of life.

Identifying Your Core Values

Stephanie thought for a minute and then responded, “I know that doing well in work is a value I have but I would say that this experience taught me that family comes above work, especially for important events like surgeries.

Discovering your core values is the first step toward living an authentic life. To identify your values, consider reflecting on moments of joy, fulfillment, and contentment in your life. Think about individuals you admire and the qualities they embody that resonate with you. Explore your passions, interests, and areas of engagement. To assist you further, try engaging in self-assessment exercises or using guided prompts to gain clarity on what truly matters to you. You can find an online card sort here.

Living in Line with Your Values: Practical Strategies

  1. Setting Meaningful Goals: Align your goals with your values to create a sense of purpose and motivation.
  2. Overcoming Challenges: Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth and learning, drawing strength from your values.
  3. Integrating Values into Daily Life: Make conscious decisions that reflect your values in your daily routines and interactions.
  4. Self-Compassion and Flexibility: Practice self-compassion and be flexible with yourself as you navigate value-driven choices, allowing room for growth and adaptation

Benefits of Living Aligned with Your Values

Living in line with your values has a multitude of positive effects on your psychological well-being and overall life satisfaction. When you honor your values, you experience a deeper connection to your authentic self, leading to increased emotional regulation, resilience, and better mental health. Your relationships with others also benefit, as living authentically allows you to connect with others on a more genuine and meaningful level.

Stephanie’s ability to reflect on and clarify her values not only helped her make sense of an emotionally painful situation but it also helped her be on the lookout for other situations where she might repeat that same mistake. As she lived more in line with what mattered most to her, she started to feel better about her actions and more fulfilled in her relationships and life in general. She shared that choosing to act in accordance with her values helped her become the person she wanted to become and boosted her self-esteem. 

Conclusion

Living in line with your values is a powerful path to authentic living and enhanced psychological well-being. Embracing your values empowers you to make choices that reflect your true self, leading to a more fulfilling and satisfying life. Remember that the journey toward values-aligned living is ongoing, and it’s okay to explore and adapt as you grow. By embarking on this journey, you’re taking a crucial step toward creating a life that resonates with your deepest convictions and aspirations.

Find Your Next Read:

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How Your Brain Lies To You: Cognitive Distortions and How to Reprogram Your Thinking

The Power of Super Feelers: Understanding Intense Emotions and DBT’s Approach