New Year’s Resolutions: The Importance of Values

It’s a New Year! That means it’s time to think about resolutions, right? Instead, I want to highlight the importance of values.

Typically, resolutions refer to setting goals for what you want to achieve this year. Maybe it’s to get that promotion, get fit, get married, or buy a new car. Goals are very concrete—they are about things you can buy or get or have or finish. Setting goals is something we’re all familiar with; after all, we’re a goals-driven society and our training in goals starts young.

Now, it’s not that goal setting is bad; it’s just that I think there’s a better way.

Values are about what you stand for. They’re about what you want to be doing with your life and how you want to behave.  Values are about things you can do, like be kind, be honest, or be caring.  Values shape what a full and meaningful life means for you.  Like a compass, values give direction.  They help us to move through our lives in a way that we can feel good about.

You can never guarantee that you will achieve a single goal you set for yourself…BUT you can absolutely choose to live by your values every moment of every day.  You may not be able to get that promotion at work, but you can still feel empowered by your commitment to being your most focused, efficient and professional self.  You may not get married this year, but you can be loving, caring, and open in your relationships.  You may not achieve your fitness goals this year, but you can live healthfully and show compassion toward your body on a regular basis.

Remember, values are not what you “should” do or “have to” do. Values are statements about how you want to behave in your life… principles to guide you and motivate you through your life.

We focus on values a lot in therapy, especially with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

One little exercise we use during ACT to help patients access their values is to ask them to imagine their 80th birthday party. Try it yourself.Every single important or impactful person you’ve come across in your life is there to celebrate. Maybe even people who don’t yet exist are there (perhaps children or grandchildren you may have in the future). As each person stands up to give a toast, what would you hope they might say about you? What did you mean to them? What role did you play?  What will they say you stood for?  The answers you come up with will help you begin to shape the values that are important to you.

So as you embark on this New Year, with all its hopes and invitations, resolve to stay focused on the things that will make your life rich and meaningful. Resolve to focus on your values.