How Moments of Joy and Pain Can Help You Work Out What Really Matters To You

In this noisy world, where we are bombarded with messages telling us what to think and do, it can be hard to work out what is really important to us.

In this Big Think Interview, Steve Hayes gives two suggestions for how to connect with your values:

1. Take a moment to focus on what causes you emotional pain. What upsets, saddens or angers you? Then ask yourself, ‘What do I care deeply about here?’.

‘Look where the pain is. Flip it over; you’ll find that’s where the values are.’

This approach of looking for what our pain is telling us about what really matters can protect us from responding to pain in a way that narrow down our life. For example:

‘most people are hurt deeply by betrayals in relationships. And what your mind tells you to do is, don’t be so vulnerable; don’t be so silly; don’t open yourself up; don’t be so trusting; you can be betrayed. In fact, the reason why you hurt so much is that you want relationships that are loving, committed, intimate; you want trust. And what your mind is telling you to do in a way is, don’t care about that so much so that you won’t be hurt so much. It might be better to really get up against and sort of contact that caring, and maybe take a more loving stance even with your own pain, and keep your feet moving towards what you really want, because the cost in terms of intimacy and connection and caring that comes when you try not to be vulnerable, when you’re constantly looking out for betrayals of trust, is too great. It makes it very hard to have relationships of the kind that you really want.’

2. Notice what brings you joy and ask yourself, ‘What does this tell me about what matters to me? About who I want to be in the world?’

‘Think of the times that you’ve felt most with yourself, most connected, most vital, most energized, most flowing, natural. And if you take some of these specific memories and you walk inside them, you’re going to find that there’s things in there that you care about. There’s things in there that, when it’s really working well, are kind of a lighthouse, like a beacon in the distance, that you can move towards.’

‘Go inside the sweetness of life, catch the places where you genuinely were moved by or connected with life, and you’ll find in there kind of a light that can direct you when the cacophony gets very noisy and you get confused and lost, that can direct you towards what you care about.’

According to Steve, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is about:

‘living in accord with your values and in a way that is more open and accepting of your history as it echoes into the present, that’s more self-affirming, self-validating and values-based.’

…and it is based on science!

(For Brisbane based readers: I am running a session on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy at The Relaxation Centre of QLD on Sunday 16th December. We will be doing both of the activities above plus a lot of others – I am very much looking forward to it! If you are in Brisbane and you happen to be free it would be lovely to see you there. All proceeds go to the centre.)


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