Applying Values to Goals, and Goals to Action

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Applying Values to Goals, and Goals to Action

by Talie Lamolinara, MSW Intern

Values are the drivers of our intentions and aspirations, and when we are unclear of what our values are, we tend to feel lost, stressed, or upset.  When we lose sight of why we are working so hard or why we are devoting so much energy to school, work, or a relationship, it is helpful to increase awareness of what we truly value in life. To do this, we need to begin by consciously define what values are important in living a meaningful life. If you’re having trouble, read through the following list adapted from The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook and ask yourself how important each of these areas are in your life.

  • Family
  • Romantic Relationships
  • Parenting
  • Friends and Social Life
  • Work
  • Education and Training
  • Recreation and Fun
  • Spirituality and Religion
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Self-Care

While having knowledge of what our values are is essential, the meaning will be limited if there is no action taken to live by those values. In other words, we are often very good at saying all sorts of great things that we would like to do differently, but often we don’t back up those words with action. We must begin to then translate those values into committed action. As stated by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) developer, Steven Hayes, committed action refers to the ability of an individual to choose to act in ways that are aligned with the individuals’ chosen set of core values, with the larger goal of living a purposeful, intentional life. To do this, we must be willing to act differently while remaining flexible to life’s inevitable changes. ACT provides a mindfulness-based approach to living a life of committed action. Try this simple 3-step exercise in helping set values-based goals:

Step 1: The area in my life I am committed to improve (choose one or two): work, education, health, parenting, family, spiritual, environment, personal growth, leisure, social, romantic relationship, or community.

Step 2: The underlying values of your goals include:

Step 3: Some of my goals are: Ideally you want to set a SMART goal.

= specific (Do not set a vague or poorly-define goal, instead specify what action  you will take).
= meaningful (This goal should be personally meaningful to you).
= adaptive (Determine if this goal is likely to improve your life in some way).
= realistic (Make sure this goal is realistically achievable).
= time-framed (Try to set a day, date, and time for the achievement of the goal).

  • Immediate Goals: Begin with something small and simple that you can accomplish within the next 24 hours that will move you towards your values-based goals.
  • Short term goals: List some things you can do over the next few days and weeks.
  • Medium Term Goals: Reflect on actions you can take to move towards your values-based goal within the next few weeks and months.
  • Long Term Goals: List some things you can do over the next few months and years.

When we begin to engage in committed action through goal-setting, we are fulfilling our desires to live a meaningful life.

Harris, R. (2007). The Happiness Trap: stop struggling, start living. Australia: Exisle Publishing.
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT skills training handouts and worksheets. New York: Guilford.