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Problems and Values

In February, I wrote about pursuing values. This month I want to focus on how to think about the broad intersection of problems and values before we turn to next month to put it all together. When we dissect problems, there are four elements that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy finds are in most problems: Entanglement with Thoughts, Life-draining Actions, Struggle with Feelings, and Avoiding Challenging Situations. Read below for a brief activity around those four elements.


It is challenging to engage with values oftentimes because life is simply challenging. The above four areas are where we often get stuck. The key to getting unstuck and back into your values is to ask good questions to diagnose why you are stuck and what the problem is. “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it,” Albert Einstein said. For today, let’s focus on questions, from Russ Harris’s book, ACT Made Simple, for each of the four elements of a problem. If you are able to reflect on these well, you will better understand why you are stuck.

Entanglement With Thoughts

What memories, worries, fears, self-criticisms, or other unhelpful thoughts do you dwell on, or get “caught up” in, related to this issue? What thoughts do you allow to hold you back or push you around or bring you down?


Life-draining Actions

What are you currently doing that makes your life worse in the long term: keeps you stuck; wastes your time or money; drains your energy; restricts your life, impacts negatively on your health, work or relationships; maintains or worsens the problems you are dealing with?


Struggle With Feelings

What emotions, feelings, urges, impulses, or sensations (associated with this issue) do you fight with, avoid, suppress, try to get rid of, or otherwise struggle with?


Avoiding Challenging Situations

What situations, activities, people or places are you avoiding or staying away from? What have you quit, withdrawn from, dropped out of? What do you keep “putting off” until later?


Next month, we will focus even more into how to deal with painful situations that get us stuck and how to increase vitality in living.