According to Wilson (2009), values can be defined as:
“Freely chosen, verbally constructed consequences of ongoing, dynamic, evolving patterns of activity, which establish predominant reinforcers for that activity that are intrinsic in engagement in the valued behavioral pattern itself”
Simply put, a value is about:
“what a person finds to be important and wants to be doing with his or her life.”
Values are chosen consequences that can never be fulfilled. Rather, they serve as motivation for certain behavioral directions.
Whereas goals can be achieved, values cannot be achieved. For example, a value of being creative can never be fulfilled. Even if the person creates a painting (a concrete goal), it would be silly to say, “Now that I have created this painting, I’ve accomplished creativity. Now I’ll proceed with the next thing.” Therefore, values are best formulated as verbs, in that they are not something that is ever fully achieved. For example, a value might be “being creative” .
That having said, it is a smart idea to align your goals with your values, so that the things you are trying to achieve are things that you intrinsically find important and allow you to experience meaning.
In short, your goal is not to achieve your value, but when your goals and values are aligned, you will experience more meaning and avoid procrastination.
“If our goals are not well aligned with our values or our sense of self, we’re more likely to procrastinate.”
Timothy A Pychyl (Ph.D.)
Value congruence is the extent to which an individual’s behavior is consistent with the stated value. Sticking with the example of creativity, value congruence is achieved if I am creative in my work on a regular basis. Not being creative would lead to value incongruence. In that state, it is difficult to experience a sense of meaning and I will be more likely to procrastinate.
Finding out what your values are
You can take a free Personal Values Assessment here and find out what your core values are.
Reflecting on what is most important in life doesn’t have to be an activity that you perform in a room by yourself armed with pen and paper. You can use this set of Reflection Cards designed by Holstee to engage in meaningful conversations with your family, friends, or people at work to make reflecting fun and discover each others values in a low-key way. We’ve tried them out at the PositivePsychology.com and highly recommend getting a set and giving them a try.
A Take-Home Message
Values clarification is a crucial part of CBT, because it helps the therapist and the patient understand the end goal of treatment. Therapists can also use patient’s values to help convince them that lifestyle changes are worth the initial discomfort. Values clarification is not just important for CBT, though.
When we are unsure about our own values and morals, we risk a few negative outcomes. First of all, being unsure about our values can lead to stress and anxiety. Even worse, being unsure about our values can lead us to act contrary to our values, which can lead to even more stress and anxiety (along with guilt). For these reasons, it is important for all of us to know what our values are (whatever they may be) and act according to them.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. For more information, don’t forget to download our three Positive CBT Exercises for free.