Setting goals for our life is a very common practice, especially for those who are ambitious by nature. There are some who practice the strategy of physically writing their goal so that it can be a visual reminder of what they are striving to achieve. This is a practice that has been around for thousands of years. It is recorded in the book of Habakkuk 2:2-3 which describes a vision that is intended for others to support.
However, because of the trials of life, we can sometimes find ourselves sacrificing our values in order to reach our goals or fulfill our vision. This could cause conflict within us and/or others. Many problems and mental illness can result when we lose sight of our values, just as losing sight of a goal or vision could cause an individual to become way off course from the intended target. Paying attention to a distraction could cause the best of athletes or performers to accomplish far less than what they are capable of. When this happens, it is time to refocus on the goal at hand.
As mentioned earlier, sometimes our values can get lost in our efforts to reach goals and visions. We usually do not realize this until we find ourselves having problems with significant others in our life, or simply finding ourselves unhappy with our own behavior. Values are different from goals because values like an inner compass. They help define who we are and what we stand for in life. They play a vital role in how we behave in various situations, regardless of our fleeting thoughts and feelings.
Acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) is a therapeutic approach that helps us to acknowledge our values and commit to them. When unfavorable situations, thoughts, or feelings start to function as a distraction, our commitment to the values that have been established can help us maintain those values, and thus the behavior that we prefer.
This does not mean our behavior will always be perfect. As a military sharpshooter may sometimes miss the target, especially when there are many distractions, so are there times when a value may not be upheld. Just remember, the value is the target which remains, and the behavior is the result of maintaining focus on the value.
As with a vision or a goal, it may be necessary to write down your values. They can be kindness towards others, patience with a loved one, or just in general. It could mean apologizing to one who has been offended or forgiving another for his or her offense. Whatever the values are, they are to be acknowledged as a part of who we are so that when distractions come, our desired behavior will not be easily forsaken.
This can be challenging when an undesired behavior has become the norm. It is easy to believe that such behaviors define who we are. But if the behavior is undesired, this is proof that it is not a part of our value system which can be resurrected with a little effort.
Learning to diffuse thoughts that are contrary to our values may also be necessary. A thought that says, “I’m a bad person because I failed to be kind…”, could be diffused by remembering instances in which you were kind, and acknowledging that very displeasure with not being kind. The point to remember is focus, and refocus, when necessary, rather than wallowing in failure. Perseverance is always necessary.