In a previous post, I go over the concept of values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which describes the aspects of life that we care about, that give our life purpose and meaning, and drive us forward each day. They are the ways that you want to show up in different domains in your life, in different relationships with other people.
In ACT, committed action is the idea of doing what it takes to live effectively by your values. If values are the aspirational side of the coin (the person you want to be), then committed action is the active side.
One of the most helpful skills for being able to translate our values into our actions in the world is being able to set effective goals that promote, rather than detract from, the version of yourself that you want to be.
There is a helpful paradigm for setting effective goals that follows the acronym SMART:
Let's look at these one by one:
Rather than having vague or poorly defined goals that would be easy to misremember or redefine later, try to be as behaviorally specific as possible. That is, instead of “exercise” it might be “run on the treadmill.”
Motivated by Values
Check to make sure that the goal is aligned with your values. For example, if your goals for exercise are in support your value of general physical health and well-being rather than losing weight, then framing your goals in terms of frequency of exercising will be a better match for the value than would framing them in terms of the scale. A helpful rule of thumb is asking yourself whether or not the goal is a live person’s goal, meaning that you need to be alive to achieve it. A corpse can lose weight, but a corpse cannot (to my knowledge) exercise.
This basically means to make sure that the goal is a wise goal for you to pursue, in that it will be adaptive for your life, or will improve your life in some way. For example, the goal of exercising more often may not be adaptive for your value of physical health if you recently started chemotherapy and would benefit more from rest.
This means to ensure that your goals are reasonably achievable given the resources you have available. For example, if you’re expecting yourself to work hard on a project starting late at night, when in reality by that time your mental resources are always drained, you may become unnecessarily hard on yourself for not achieving the goal, when the goal itself of doing more mental work when you were tired was actually a flawed one to begin with. Setting realistic goals helps avoid this eventuality.
Putting a time-frame on the goal helps us stick to the goal more closely. For example, “Run on the treadmill for 15 minutes a day on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday” is much better than “run on the treadmill.”
We can avoid some of the pitfalls of setting ineffective goals when we consider SMART goal-setting: Specific, Motivated by Values, Adaptive, Realistic, and Time-Framed. It should be noted that moving forward on our value-based goals often involves some considerable emotional pain. For example, in order to start going to the gym again, you may need to tolerate feeling out of shape at first and to tolerate thoughts that “I’m so far behind where I should be.” The ACT unhooking skills for thoughts and emotions can be helpful ways to address these barriers to carrying out our goals. For a different paradigm of applying our values to daily life, see Here.
In the process of clarifying our values and setting relevant goals, it can of course be helpful to have the assistance of an experienced therapist as a guide (in this case an ACT therapist). If you live in Seattle or the greater Washington area, and are interested in working on this via telehealth, please feel free to contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation today or learn more about my approach on my website.