What does a life well lived look like for you? This question can and should be answered in a variety of ways. It is one of those questions that we need to continually ask ourselves while also going out and living life to discover the answers along the way. Counseling is often a space where we explore the depths of who a person is and what they value most, but in this short blog post, I want to suggest a simple practice to help you connect with what you value most.
A few years ago, based on practices from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and from a variety of good leadership books, I started checking in on my values nearly every day.
In addition, at least once a week, I sketch out and strategize in a journal to ensure that I am more likely to live out my ideal life. It is quite simple, but there is a big difference between knowing this practice exists and doing it. Even if you do not do this regularly, I hope that as you read it below, you will try it out for at least today.
Step 1 - Values Reflection: Pause and reflect on who you most want to be today. What are you currently working on in your life? If at the end of the today when you lay your head on your pillow to go sleep you pause and consider your day, what values do you hope you will have lived out that day? Today for me, I want to especially focus on being flexible, assertive, and intentional. After you have named the values you want to live out, proceed to step 2.
Step 2 - Plan Behaviors: Next, write-out each value separately and then plan some specific behaviors that will help you achieve living out those values. Of course, much of living out these values will go unplanned, but it is much more likely that you will succeed if you mentally prepare yourself for specific times you can practice. I do not want to leave it to chance if I am able to act on these values, I want to make it happen. For me today, it would look like this:
Value 1: Be flexible. Behavior Idea #1: Text my wife and ask her what her top housework to-do is that would help her feel more settled at home, and then find a way to change my day around to prioritize it. Behavior Idea #2: Be on the lookout for a schedule interruption in my day today, and instead of being annoyed by it, practice stopping what I am doing and putting my full focus into the disruption.
Value 2: Assertiveness. To be honest, this one took me a bit to come up with. I had to pause and think through what is going on in my life that I care about and to then think through if I am avoiding any confrontations. Behavior Idea: What I came up with is related to some upcoming events in my life where I will need more help from others. I struggle asking for help, so I decided to text or call a few people to ask if they can help me out with a few specific things I know will excessively stress me out if I have to do them all alone.
Value 3: Intentionality. Obviously, this one is pretty vague and already happening in the top two, but for me today, it also gets its own spot since I have a lot of to-do’s. So I asked myself, what matters a ton to me that I could easily not do (but would make my life rich if I do it)? Behavior Idea: Set a timer on my phone for 20 minutes, then put my phone away and use the Forest App to “grow a tree” so that I cannot use my phone - then go play with my kids. During that 20 minutes, I will only play. Nothing else but play!
Step 3 - Schedule Behaviors: Often times, much of step #2 will naturally work itself out, but oftentimes it is necessary to go another step and schedule it. I will literally put these things in my calendar and create reminders. For #1 and #2 I was able to do some behaviors right after I did the activity since they involved other people I could contact right away. I did text them right away so I could start the processes for each. For #3, I put in my calendar for 5:30pm tonight.
Easy enough right? I have worked with a lot of people that like the above idea but never actually do it. It is easy to let momentum and lesser things control your day, but I would challenge you to instead let what matters most be what dictates your behaviors today.
-Dr. Andrew Cuthbert, PsyD