In contrast to a goal, which is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, values are aspirational traits that you’d like to embody. Your values signify your life process, the journey that you pursue during your time here on earth. Your values are not something that you can complete or check off. They are not a place where you arrive. The underlying philosophy of a person who attempts to clarify and pursue his or her values includes recognizing ongoing learning and development as a good way to live life.
Values and goals are related. If you understand these concepts, you can use your values to inform your goals, aligning your goal-directed behavior with your personal life philosophy.
Here are a few examples:
Goal: Complete each homework assignment in x class and turn it in on-time
Values: Ongoing learning and skill acquisition
Goal: Research and purchase a gift for my partner’s birthday one week prior to birthday celebration
Value: Being a loving, thoughtful partner
Many anxious people become too bewildered by their anxiety to be able to clarify and pursue their values.
If your fear of your thoughts, feelings, or sensations drive your behavior, you’ll likely be unable to see what you care about and how you’d like to act. You can’t trust yourself if you can always be potentially knocked off course by anxious thoughts, feelings, or sensations.
One of the ways of thinking that creates, maintains, and intensifies anxiety is perfectionism, or all-or-nothing thinking. This underlying habit of mind can be especially problematic, because it not only contributes to anxiety and depression, but it also prevents the anxious or depressed person from seeing the effective way out of such states.
A person stuck in their perfectionistic way of thinking might think, “I know how I’ll stop being anxious, I’ll make sure that I’m always a loving person.” This is a bastardization of values-driven behavior that is still approached from a perfectionistic point of view.
Approaching values this way does not offer the meaning and purpose that makes values-driven living so rewarding. It becomes another chance for self-criticism and judgment that will increase suffering. As you start trying to live by your values, try to let the vague principles guide your goal-directed behavior, rather than making them rigid and prescriptive.
Also, no matter how anxious you feel, you can get a hint at what you value by the content of your anxiety. Oftentimes, people value the opposite of what they fear. For instance, someone with the fear of harming themselves or others often love life and deeply value their relationships with others.
You can start to get a sense of what you value, by asking yourself, “if I didn’t feel anxious, what type of person would I want to be? How would I spend my time? What would I do?”