Why Focus on Values, Not Goals, in the New Year

Self-reflection is a common practice as we close out another year. It allows us to consider ways to improve our health and self-care, work life, relationships, and more. Oftentimes, though, this thinking leads to impossible promises and unrealistic goals — and it’s no wonder! We live in a goals-oriented society. It feels like there’s a timeline for everything and so much pressure to achieve, achieve, achieve.


Why Goals Can Be Challenging to Set and Achieve

Not surprisingly, according to U.S. News & World Report, 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. Below, let’s look at three reasons that realistic goals are challenging to set and achieve:

They’re too vague: A resolution like, “I’m going to be a better parent or partner” leaves a lot of room for interpretation, which inevitably leads to disappointment… or simply loss of motivation to continue striving for this goal. What does it even mean to be a better parent or partner?  It’s just way too broad and subjective.

They’re too specific: Conversely, setting a very specific goal — like, “I’m going to get married this year” — also sets you up to be let down. What if you work to put yourself out there and make some meaningful connections but just don’t end up getting married? You might not have met your goal, but there was important progress nonetheless.  It would be unfair to consider yourself having “failed” in any respect.

They’re out of your control: You may decide, “I’m going to get that promotion this year.” The problem here is that, regardless of the effort you put in, making it happen may depend on variables that have nothing to do with you or your skills. This is a set up for disappointment and self-blame that you have “failed” to meet an important life objective.


How Values Can Motivate You

As you read this blog post, we hope that you consider if values could be more inherently motivating and gratifying than goals. Put simply, values are statements about what matters most to you and how you want to live your life. Like a compass, values give you direction, reminding you of your hopes and priorities. They allow you to move through life in a way that makes you feel proud. At any moment, you can act on your values or ignore them. What’s important is that you are in total control; the choice is yours alone.


Although you can never guarantee that you’ll accomplish a goal, you can make the choice to live according to your values each and every day. You can work to be an attentive and engaged parent or partner and feel good about this effort as you make important people in your life a priority. Sure, you may not get married this year, but you can continuously work on making connections and fostering relationships. You may not get a promotion at work, but you can feel good about your efforts to be your most committed, productive, and organized self.


Exploring Values in Therapy

The focus on values in therapy is at the core of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an empirically based psychotherapy developed by Stephen C. Hayes.  A classic ACT exercise for uncovering values is to think about your future 80th birthday party (or your 90th or 100th, depending on your age!). Every person you love is there to celebrate with you, even those who don’t exist yet (like children or grandchildren or close friends who are yet to come into your life). As each person stands up to give a toast, what do you hope they say about you? How did you impact their lives? What role did you play to them? What will they say mattered most to you? The answers to these questions — or, if you aren’t able to fully answer them, your thoughts surrounding them — will be the start of living a life guided by and enriched by your values.


So as we begin 2022, consider thinking a bit more about your values… about who you want to be and how you want to live. Maybe even jot some of these ideas into a journal. Here is a free resource to help you flesh out your thinking. The worksheet outlines a number of different life domains and guides you in identifying specific values in each of these areas. Here is another page, full of exercises focused on defining – and ultimately living by – your values. These exercises come directly from the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) website. The folks at ACBS are extremely generous, offering these resources free to anyone interested. Seems ACBS lives by their values to maintain clinical excellency, share knowledge generously and support others in finding their valued direction!!


Columbus Park integrates ACT theory and practice into our therapy services. Feel free to peruse the Columbus Park website to expand your understanding of ACT and how it may be used specifically in the treatment of eating disorders.


Wishing a happy and healthy 2022 to all!


If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder and suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors, please reach out to our team at info@columbuspark.com to discuss treatment options.