Living Out Your Values

Find meaning in life everyday, despite your anxiety.

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What are values?

Values are purposefully made choices about the directions we want to go in life. They serve as compasses guiding us towards the things that we deem most important. 

Why are values valuable?

Part of coping with anxiety and other unpleasant feelings involves continuing to keep a steady focus on living a meaningful life even as difficult emotions ebb and flow. This is a main tenet of a psychotherapy approach called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which has been shown to be a useful treatment for generalized anxiety disorder and a number of other psychiatric conditions.

Examples of Values

Examples of values include family, friends, romantic relationships, work, education, fun, spirituality, community, fitness, humor, the environment, dependability, adventurousness, and achievement.  However, there are an infinite number of areas in which people find value. For a more extensive list of values, see this list by ACT Now.

Learn What You Value

Here are two ways to dig deeper into your values. These exercises are designed to help clarify what you care about most in life and what you want to be working towards. These activities are not about judgment or right and wrong, but rather what actually is important to you.

Values Card Sort

  1. Write all or some of the value words listed above on an index cards. Add other words that occur to you, if you wish.
  2. Give yourself a time limit – maybe 10 minutes or so, and sort the cards into 3 piles: ‘very important,’ ‘important,’ and ‘not as important.’ The aim is to make your sorting decisions on instinct without over-thinking it.
  1. Move the cards in the ‘important’ and ‘not as important’ piles aside.
  2. If you have more than 5 cards in the ‘very important’ pile, quickly re-sort this pile into ‘very important’ and ‘important.’
  3. Arrange the remaining ‘very important’ cards face up on a flat surface.

Next steps: Write down a few ways in which you could bring one of these values into your life.

Think about what your mind might say to put you off track, or ways in which anxiety makes it uncomfortable to move towards your value. Reflect upon what it would mean to live your value today, this week, and in the months ahead.

Connect Values with Action

  1. Write all or some of the value words listed above on an index cards. Add other words that occur to you, if you wish.
  2. Put the cards in a pile, face down, and then pick 5 cards at random.
  3. For each card you select, read the value aloud.
  4. On the back of the card, write down 1 or 2 ways that this value could be turned into a measurable action in the days or weeks ahead.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the remaining values selected.
  6. Pick the value that fits closest to you of those randomly selected, the one that feels most important or relevant, and make a commitment to enact the associated action you came up with.

Next steps: Using a journal or your smartphone, keep track of how it goes. This type of self-monitoring will help you to understand how important the value actually is to you and how it feels to bring it into your life in a more measurable, ‘everyday’ way.

As you bring your actions each day more in line with your values, notice the effect on your anxious thoughts and feelings. 

Where can I learn more?

To learn more about values and the overall ACT approach, check out these free podcasts, worksheets, and mindfulness exercises and other information available through the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science.


Wilson, K.G. Things might go terribly, horribly wrong: A guide to life liberated from anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2010.

Hayes, S.C. & Smith, S. Get out of your mind and into your life: The new acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2005.

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