Avoiding Stuckness With Values

[This is from a series of posts written by Rob Archer and Rachel Collis in reply to a reader who felt that values were actually keeping him stuck].

Right from the start, the ACT model made sense to me, and made so many things clearer.

Apart from the bit about values.

That bit left me confused, but I let it go, thinking it would all work out.

But it never did really.  I still get stuck on values really easily.  I think my mind loves the idea that I have a set of values, and jumps at the chance to know EXACTLY what I SHOULD be doing.  Finally!

Next thing I know I’m treating values like they are a real thing.  I conflate values (how I do things) with decisions (what I do).  I mix up values (how I want to be) with my own needs.   I look to values to tell me what the ‘right’ answer is, and when I get stuck, I blame values conflicts.

I don’t think it’s just me.  Values are brilliant for bringing vitality and purpose to life, especially when options are limited.  But in coaching we are often dealing with people with too many choices.  Values can add to this sense of overwhelm, at least in my experience.

Yet at the same time, I feel like values have changed my life.  How the hell did that happen?

How I understand values, when I understand values

The other day  my two-year old daughter told me her name was ‘Orla Archer’ and I simply burst with pride.  The words caught in my heart.  Orla Archer.

Up to the age of about 7 or 8 I was called Robert Davies.  Then my Step Dad arrived, married my Mum and on the day of the wedding they asked me whether I wanted to be called Robert Davies or Robert Archer.  I was never in doubt.

Since then I’ve always been proud of that name, without ever really knowing why.  Now I think it was all about choices.

I chose the name, but I also began to choose other things.  I chose all the best stuff; sport, Liverpool FC and of course, The Beatles.  I also chose organisation, determination, anger, softness, self-reliance.

As Robert Davies I’d never really chosen anything for myself.  I was in survival mode too often.  But from ‘Archer’ onwards, I started to choose things.

Crucially, I didn’t have to state in advance what my values were. If anyone had asked me whether I was ‘living my values’ I’d not have had a clue.  They weren’t the ‘right’ choices necessarily, or the easy choices.

But looking back, this choosing was the beginning of the essential ‘Archer-ness’ that feels like the most worthwhile bits of me, even today.

This is how I understand values.

Values help with hard choices

Values, therefore, are different from decisions, and from ethics and morals.  With values it is the choice that seems key.  What am I valuing rather than what are my values.

My favourite all-time TED talk is by Ruth Chang.  In it she argues that values are about ‘hard choices’; situations where there is no right answer.  Those situations are tough!  But from another perspective they can be liberating, because this is our one chance in life to properly choose stuff….

Avoiding stuckness with values

I still don’t really know what my values are.  Or at least if I cling to the idea that I have a stable set of values for all situations, then I quickly get stuck.

But if in a given situation you ask me what my ‘values move’ is, or how I would choose to respond to a situation, or how I behave when I feel like a version of myself I can be proud of – generally I can do that.

So right now, in this moment, I try to focus on the choosing.

And one day – perhaps long after I’ve gone – Orla Archer will tell you what my values were.





4 thoughts on “Avoiding Stuckness With Values

  1. Further Resources

    For what it’s worth, I’ve found the following links to be helpful when understanding and exploring values:

    Russ Harris: Vicious Values

    Click to access ACT%20Questions%20and%20Answers%20-%20Sample%20Chapter%20-%20Vicious%20Values.pdf

    Rachel Collis: Finding Meaning

    Portland Psychotherapy: Values Exercises

    Working with ACT: Values: Finding True North

    Happy choosing!

  2. Wonderful post Rob! I love your suggestion of focussing on choosing.
    I know I am in trouble when I am finding it really hard to choose my behaviour. When I can feel myself hooked by a thought or feeling and the urge to do something unhelpful is really strong. In those moments, for me, the best version of choosing is often to pause and take a breathe and see if I can wait until I have a sense again that I have choices.
    Also – love the photo!

  3. Great post Rob. It left me pondering 🙂 We live with polarities all the time… it can be a source of tension and show up as conflict; I think the gift ACT brings to coaching is that we can look for synergies instead. Adult Development stages also offers a useful insight – in socialised mind, when our own voice is not as clear, we are guided by others values – Dad wants me to be this; my wife wants this; my co-workers, my friends etc…. growth I think comes from being able to hold these tensions and look for synergies; Upside down coaching is a great way to expand perspective by accommodating what appear to be competing priorities – so the question we ask is, “what will make this more possible” …. until we see the higher order values, which then may create a different pathway.

  4. Thanks so much for your comment Gaurimaini! I would love to hear more about what you mean by looking for synergies…do you have an example? And what is upside down coaching? Maybe this is worth a post of your own?
    thanks again, Rob

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