A Value-based Approach to your New Year
I have a friend that recently shared with me that he enjoys closing out his year by being introspective for a period of time right before the ball drops. He stated that he likes to looks over every aspect of his life, success and failure, good and bad, and accepts every part of it while looking at what he gained from his experiences. He stated that he attempts to recall the man that he has been and desired to be over the year and any hinderances that may have been presented to him that altered his goal-driven lifestyle. I admired the nature of what he was sharing and his willingness to make himself vulnerable to address not just the wonderful experiences in his year, but the difficult times as well as those that were full of doubt and fear.
As I listened, I thought of how I love speaking with my clientele about the two different dynamics of responsibility. First, the things that we have our hands in that we manipulate and maneuver, that whenever those things return back to us, reaping what you sow if you will, and how what we did or didn’t do in a particular situation will have an impact on the outcome of that situation. Second, the thing that is falling out of the sky right now and just by chance the individual will be walking down that same sidewalk the falling thing is destined to arrive at, and though the starting point for the object and the person were completely different, they arrive at the same time at that point and the person is struck in the back of the head by the object. This exemplifies that there are things outside of the realm of our responsibility and just by chance we found ourselves in a position that if we could have tried to avoid it, we would have, but sure enough it is there and now we must deal with it even though we have sown nothing, we now reap.
I was contemplating the dynamics of responsibility in my own life. In particular I began to look at the driving forces behind the decision making that I had over the past year. I identified situations that played out in which I both had my hands in, and which I didn’t see coming and life dealt a blow. I thought about my responses in each realm and came to the conclusion that I had more difficulty accepting the outcome of situations in which I had meddled and had my hands in than those situations that I could not see coming. I believe that an individual will determine the true weight of a situation in their lives based on their own scale and measures, and they will use those measures to determine what they will or will not accept in any situation whether in the realm of their responsibility or something they could not have predicted based on how there are functioning at that period in their lives.
I thought about my clientele. So often their sessions begin with how they have been thinking and feeling poorly, and they’ll explain to me the nature of their actions in response to these situations in their lives. I have seen for years this same scenario play out in both my adolescent and adult caseloads in different positions that I have held. I had worked for years with clients to try and help them change their thought content to impact their behavioral choices in both the things that they have had some level of responsibility for and those things that they could not predict would happen. It always felt empty at the end of a session as I wanted to offer more, but was unable to do so with the approaches by which I was offering treatment. I knew that I was attempting to offer something, but with my modality it seemed true progress would come at some ethereal plane of existence beyond the realm of where the individual I was working with was functioning. Eventually though, I found a value-based treatment modality in acceptance and commitment therapy.
I have found a modality to offer clients that normalized their thought and feeling processes and didn’t seek to slap a label on them and fit a snug category for diagnostic and insurance purposes for billing. A model that accepted the client for who they are and looked to work with them on how aspects of control produce the very unwelcome outcomes they were seeking to find healing from. An approach that offered up more than just the cultural expectation of “Do what makes you happy”, but actually looked at what that actually means and how it produces stress and strain to strive in our thinking and feeling to be as this deity-like human being that does not exist. It proposes acceptance or thought and feeling content and commitment to action in the individual’s life that aligns with what they value, not what they think and feel, and accepting the nature of thoughts and feelings as a normality rather than a problem that needs to be fixed and controlled.
I also contemplated my past year as a therapist and looked at the treatment outcomes of my clientele. I looked at how I assisted my clients in identifying values in their lives that could be their guide through their treatment experience and began helping them form measurable goals that align with their values. I remembered how when they would come in and how they would share their commitments to their values and what it meant to them. I remembered listening them tell me they feel strange because they are no longer fighting with their thought and feeling content, but instead find place for it in their lives. They come in and one session after the next they discuss how they commit themselves to their values and how their values supersede their thought and feeling content in their decision making.
I also thought about how it is not a cultural norm to look at our lives through the lens of our values in our decision making. For example, I often look at substance abuse treatment and the nature of our culture and see how alcohol and tobacco are available at every corner. I wonder if we actually care about our well-being, or we just want to feel good. Just to feel good does not mean that our well-being is okay, ask any individual that struggles with an addiction. Substance abuse is glorified in our movies, our streaming networks, our social media, our media coverage, and in the same breath that we claim it is a problem, we take another drag on our cigarette. This is just one example of many of how we use and/or excuse a feeling or a thought to drive our behaviors, no matter whether it compromises the things that matter most to us or not.
I would encourage us all to live our lives this year through the lens of our values. As I listened to my friend speak, without him even knowing, he was stating his decision making in response to his values time and time again. They were bigger than what he was feeling or thinking in any moment, and as I processed his stories, processed my own thoughts, and the stories that I recalled from my clients, I found that when values were the driving force for all of us that the outcome was much more accepted than not. I encourage anyone and everyone to read up on the theory, it will make excellent reading for your New Year. Align your goals for the New Year right up with your values and commit yourself to follow through on them and give up the unnecessary struggle to control your thoughts and feelings, which are fundamentally an accepted and basic natural experience of being a human being. It is called Acceptance and Commitment Theory and it was created by Steven Hayes. There are many texts that utilize it and most that I have found are simple to read and easily accessible through both the library and the internet.