Finding True North: How to Clarify Values (part 1)

Rachel wrote previously about how to get clear about values and that post helps explain  how values can be tangibly defined.  But once you have a clear definition, what then?

I’ve had huge problems defining my own values in the past and I’ve tried many, many different ways of doing so.  I can bore for Britain about values.  So what have I found?

Look for Patterns

I don’t think any single test or exercise has proved more illuminating than another, and I also think none has been a waste of time either.  So I’ve concluded the best way of exploring values is to do just that – explore.  That means being willing to commit to a period of reflection and to look for patterns across values exercises.  (In part 2 of this post, I will list a number of different ways of doing this).

Think ‘Core’ and ‘Satellite’ Values

My experience (both personally and with clients) is that spotting patterns in values tends to lead to two sets of values – what Richard Blonna calls ‘core’ and ‘satellite’ values.  The core values come up again and again, in nearly every context.  The satellite values are also important but depend more on the situation.

Some of my core values include doing meaningful work, learning, integrity, loyalty, being physically active, fairness, equity and justice.  Some of my satellite values include health and wellbeing, courage, creativity, security and competition.

Find True North

Unlike Blonna (and many other ACT theorists) I have never felt comfortable ranking values in order of importance.  After all, even core values depend on context.  I’ve never felt that having a ‘number 1’ value actually helps either me or my clients to move forward.

I prefer to take a list of core values and group them together as ‘True North’.  That is, a direction in which to travel which encapsulates what’s really important for that person. I then like to use the matrix to guide moment to moment action.  The matrix asks us to become really ‘present’ to our situation and then to ask:

Right now, in this moment, are you moving towards True North or away?

How to Evolve a More Vital Life

If you are reading this blog, you are probably the sort of person who wants a life that is vital.  According to Steve Hayes, ACT helps us to evolve more vitality by:

1.Undermining Repertoire Narrowing Processes 

What this means in everyday language is that when we are in the grip of strong emotions or have been hooked by painful thoughts our behaviour tends to narrow down and become inflexible. ACT aims to lessen this tendency so that we can choose our behaviour from a broader range of options. This means we can stop doing what we have always done (which tends to get us what we have always got) and start choosing our behaviour based on the circumstances and our values.

2. Situating action in the conscious present

Instead of our actions being triggered by memories of the past, or fears about the future, or inflexible rules; we observe the world as it is and take action based on this connection to the present moment.

3. Choosing your selection criteria

Rather than accepting the criteria the world has given us for what constitutes success or ‘correct’ behaviour, we choose our own values and use these values to guide our actions.

And so we evolve a more vital life

Flexibly choosing our behaviour based on both our values and what the situation offers, enables us to create more richness and vitality in our lives.

The research is growing that the approaches taken by ACT are successful in achieving these outcomes, which is rather cool for those of us interested in empirically supported interventions.

Self Compassion and Stress at Work

Next week I am giving a speech at the Queensland Nurse Leaders Conference on the topic of ‘Stressed Organisations, Distressed Staff’. One of the ideas I will be exploring is self-compassion. The evidence suggests that self-compassion can help when we are experiencing difficulty. Here is a table summarising some of the research on self-compassion and comparing it to self-esteem:

High Self Esteem but Low Self Compassion High Self Compassion
Lower depression and anxiety c.f. low self esteem Less painful emotions when distressing events occur
Defensive in the face of negative feedback React to negative feedback with more acceptance and with an orientation towards growth and the development of mastery
Fail to learn from mistakes More willing to make needed changes
May not always take responsibility for their actions Take more responsibility for their actions
Can be narcissistic More compassionate to others
Associated with more wisdom, more curiosity, more initiative, higher scores on agreeableness

One approach to increasing self-compassion is to imagine someone who is very compassionate – it could be someone you know, someone famous or an imaginary person – and then consider what they would want to communicate to you when you make mistakes or feel disappointed in yourself.

How Using ACT in the Workplace Could Change Almost Everything – Some Slides

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at the ANZ ACT conference with an extraordinary group of ACT practitioners who, like Rob and I, are committed to using best practice to create workplaces where people find meaning and purpose in their work.

The session was wonderful – although I did keep having the thought that it would have been even better if Rob had been there with me!

Here are the slides for that session: ACT in the Workplace ANZACT 2011

The session was a reprise of a session that Rob and I delivered at Parma – a detailed handout for that session is here.