I ended my last column by listing the six components of psychological flexibility.
- Valued living.
- Observing Self.
In this column I’ll start discussing these components and focus on what valued living means and how to live a more values-based-life.
What Are Values?
Your values are the roadmap for your life and the direction it takes. They reflect your morals and ethics and are the foundation of what I call, your big picture. Your big picture is your view of the world and how it should be. When reality doesn’t match your big picture you often get stressed. This is why you need to take time and be clear about your values and how they relate to your stress.
There are two different levels of values; core and satellite values. Your core values represent the things that are central to who you are and are non-negotiable. Your core values are the bedrock of your personality and include things like your country, spouse, children, religion, and freedom. Your satellite values consist of less-important things that you hold dear but aren’t as strongly committed to. Satellite values typically include political beliefs, cultural traditions, community service, personal attributes (intelligence, beauty, and so on), hobbies, recreational activities, sports, and so forth.
The more you live in concert with your daily life criteria, the less stress you will have. Your life will be driven by your own values, not those of others. You begin to minimize the games that you play and maximize being who you truly are. A really powerful exercise to help you assess what you truly value is called “Thirty Thousand Days.” The name comes from the number of days contained in 80 years, the Census estimate of the average American lifespan. It is designed to help you assess your values by looking at how you want to spend the remaining days you have left on the planet (based on an 80 year old lifespan). I’ve found that this activity has more meaning the older one is. The first time I did it, I was blown away by how powerful it was. I was in my 50s, had lived more than half of my life, and realized that in many areas my life was out of synch with my values. I realized that I was doing lots of things that I really didn’t want to do anymore. I was neglecting the people and activities that I really valued while spending time with people who brought me down and doing things that didn’t contribute to my life’s purpose.
Values Exercise: Thirty Thousand Days
- Calculate the exact number of days you’ve lived so far. Count the number of full years you’ve lived up until this year and multiply those by 365. Next add up all the days (including today) that you’ve lived this year.
- Subtract this number from 30,000. This is the approximate number of days you have left on earth.
- Make up the following three lists: (a) things I want to start doing, (b) things I want to continue doing, and (c) things I want to stop doing.
- Describe how you can use information from these three lists to start living a life that is more in synch with your values.
When you do this exercise it helps you focus on the things in your life that matter the most. The things on your lists represent your values and their importance is emphasized by their relationship to the time you have left to explore them.
Setting Values-Based Goals
The best way to ensure that you live in consort with your values is to set values-based goals that you commit to. Having clear, attainable values-based goals is an excellent way to organize your life and your time and to focus on things that have the most meaning for you. Setting unclear or unattainable goals however can actually become a source of stress. Writing your values-based goals down gives you a record of what you want to accomplish and makes it easier to follow through and make a firm commitment.
The best goals for the purpose of reducing stress are ones that are realistically within your reach. By setting realistic goals, you can guarantee yourself a better chance of success and not create unnecessary demands that can over-extend your resources. Realistic goals are rooted in action. Goals such as finishing college, starting your own business, buying a house, having a baby, etc., revolve around behavior, not just talk.
To realize your goals and live a purposeful life you need to take action. It is not enough merely to dream about what you want. You have to do the work. This involves making a commitment of time and energy (both finite quantities). When you reach your goals, your mind creates new mental images and self-talk that are helpful, positive, and motivate you to set bigger and more difficult goals. Setting unrealistic goals however works just the opposite way and sets you up for failure. If you continually fail to reach your goals because they are unrealistic or unattainable, it can reinforce any negative mental images and self-talk that already contribute to your stress and getting stuck in a rut.
The best way to ensure that your goals are met is to set concrete, measurable objectives for each goal. Establishing measurable objectives helps you stay focused when you start to get lost in the process of doing the actual work. Measurable objectives basically answer the question, “Who will do how much of what by when?” For example, imagine that your goal is to start your own retail business in five years. You could have yearly objectives for things such as writing your business plan, gaining retail experience and saving money as collateral for a small business loan. An example of a measurable objectives for this goal could be: “By the end of 2020 (by when), I (who) will save $15,000 (how much) to serve as collateral for a $50,000 small business loan (what).”
Values Exercise: Setting Effective Values-Based Goals
- After looking at your values in the “Thirty Thousand Days” exercise, decide which aspects of your personal and professional life you want to work on, improve, or explore (for example, improve your level of fitness, save some money to start a business or buy a house, learn a new Hobby, etc.).
- Prioritize your goals. Rank them on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most important) and continue using your # 1 goal.
- Use your objectives to break your goal down into smaller segments that can be measured. If you eventually want to be able to run a marathon, set objectives for running one mile, 5 miles, 10 miles etc. This will help ensure your success.
- Make sure that your objectives answer the question: “Who will do how much of what by when?”
- Be sure to give yourself enough time (by when) to meet your goals and objectives.
- Reward yourself for success. Put some money aside or get someone you love to commit to doing something nice for you when you meet your goal.
Periodically review the progress you are making in meeting your objectives and reaching your goals. You might decide to change the time frame or add or delete an objective. While goals and objectives help give your life structure and meet your purpose, they should also be flexible enough to adapt to changes in your personality and your life.
In my next column we will start to explore the second components of psychological flexibility, Mindfulness.
Until then remember to Stress Less and Live More.
Dr. Rich Blonna is an expert in understanding how the mind and body work together in creating and managing stress. He is the author of several stress self-help books and courses and the popular college textbook, Coping With Stress in a Changing World 5th Ed; McGraw-Hill Publishing. He is a retired Professor Emeritus from William Paterson University in New Jersey. For over 25 years he has devoted himself to helping people just like you stress less and live more. www.drrichblonna.com.