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How Getting Crystal Clear on Your Values Can Help Reduce Overwhelm

Looking back now, through all of that I wasn’t always crystal clear on my values. Well, I kind of, might have been, sometimes, if someone asked me. But I certainly didn’t have the clarity that I have now.

~ Angela Mitten, The ACT Counsellor

A woman in white Tshirt with sunglasses and hair over her face
Woman in sunglasses

I have been a counsellor and consultant in Bendigo Central Victoria, Australia where I have a private practice. I also see clients in the ‘online space’ from various places in Australia. Certainly, online delivery of services has increased over the past 18 months, and is something that we are all much more familiar with now.

I haven’t always been a counsellor though. Aside from counting my teenage babysitting experiences, I started working with children when I was 25 and was a single mother and wanted to work from home. I started doing family day care and looked after many children. I did a certificate in childcare at that time and was encouraged to pursue further studies in education.

Since then I went on to get an undergraduate degree and majored in sociology and women’s studies, followed by a Graduate Diploma in Teaching.

I was a teacher for many years mostly in primary schools, all the time learning new ways to support learning, moving from classroom teaching to music teaching, some art teaching and student wellbeing.

While I was teaching in a remote, aboriginal community in the Northern Territory I started studying psychology and then shifted into a Masters in Counselling degree at Monash University, it seemed like a better fit for me.

Looking back now, through all of that I wasn’t always crystal clear on my values. Well, I kind of, might have been, sometimes, if someone asked me. But I certainly didn’t have the clarity that I have now.

There were many times that I felt really overwhelmed. I was juggling being a mum and trying to make ends meet and be the best teacher I could be, all the while trying to cope with some pretty terrible things that had happened, but keep up the appearance of a person who was coping. Nevertheless, but some of my values shine through when I reflect on that time. Values like contribution, knowledge, education, fairness, justice were all there below the surface, guiding my choices.

In this blog I’ll be talking about how getting crystal clear on your values can help reduce overwhelm.

By the end of this blog you will have a bit more information about how this clarity can help you with problem solving and overwhelm.

Do you ever feel that you are sort of being pulled from pillar to post?

Do you feel like you need some clear direction?

Uncertainty about which direction to go can be quite overwhelming can’t it?

When we don’t have a clear path in life we can feel a bit lost. Then, when we are faced with a problem it can be difficult to know the way forward, which direction to go in.

If we aren't aligned with what deeply matters to us we can get dragged away from what truly matters, or easily swayed when someone tests our boundaries.

I never really liked the word values. I can remember sitting in staff meetings that went on for ages trying to come to a consensus about what the 5 values were in the workplace. It was like the values of the workplace were being forced somehow. Other times I can recall feeling like the word values had some sort of moralistic tone.

I’ve come to see now that knowing what your values are and being able to articulate them can provide insightful guidance. When it all boils down to it, values are about what truly matters. They are what you want to stand for in life.

Over time, I have developed a much greater clarity about my values and how I want to live out my values. The clarity is amazing when I’m faced with problem solving - although can still have the potential to be tied in knots when I’m faced with a conflict in values. That’s when two or more values might be in conflict with one another.

When I was younger I was kind of a rebellious teenager, a bit wild I guess for the times (or so my Mum tells me). I used to sort of back up against things like values. That word had kind of negative connotations to me. That word sounded too much like toeing the line to me. It conjured up images of old fashioned stuffiness and being stifled.

I guess that left me in a little bit of a hole. You see, life throws lots of challenges our way. There’s pain and grief and loss and big big decisions to be made. The purpose of ACT is to build a rich, full and meaningful life, even in the face of immense challenges. When we know what deeply matters to us we can stand firmly by our convictions, weigh up if our proposed actions are aligned and make values based decisions. Even in the face of great challenges or adversity.

So the ‘commitment’ part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is taking committed action towards your values. It is about choosing moment by moment which values you are prioritising and moving towards those values.

It’s important to remember that these ‘towards’ moves can be teeny, tiny steps. Incrementally though, these actions build up and give us strength and conviction to continue. Our life becomes more meaningful and enriched as a result. Tricky thoughts and feelings have less of a grip on us when we start walking down this path.

Committed action in alignment with our values can take many forms.

It might be apologising when you have hurt someone because you value connection, commitment and integrity.

It might be going for a walk because you value fitness or good health, or having a rest because you value self care.

It could be choosing to clean out your cluttered wardrobe as you value order or it could be volunteering at the foodbank because you value community and kindness.

You can elect to bring particular values to the foreground in your life, highlight them if you like. When people engage in Random Acts of Kindness, for example, they are tapping into a personal value and then putting it out into the world.

They are living the change that they want to see in the world.

What I’m suggesting here is that finding out what really matters to us and connecting deeply with these values can bring a depth of meaning to our lives. I’m encouraging you here to explore what really matters to you. What do you want to stand for in life?

From the moment people enter counselling sessions with me I am on the hunt for values. If I just asked a person straight out what are your values they might look a little lost. When people haven’t really had these kinds of conversations they can feel a little disconnected or bewildered.

I’m noticing, you see, often from the things they might be struggling with in other people. It’s like tapping into identifying values via the backdoor. I listen for the values that are at the core of their complaints.

  • “It’s so unfair, she pushed in front of me in the line”, I make a note that fairness is a value.

  • “My husband is so messy and disorganised”, I make a note that order is important to this client.

I can build up a good sense of what truly matters to this client. At the right time, I can reflect those values back to them.

Sometimes we tease out, how does it matter?

How is that value expressed in your life?

Is that a value that you might want to be connecting with more frequently?

How might your life be different if you did that?

Try it now for yourself. Do you have something that has been upsetting you lately? Maybe something in someone else’s actions or words? Now flip it back to yourself. Get curious. What information does this give you about yourself?

Remember, it’s all about you. Many other people will not be living their lives according to your values, or even living in a way that appears to connect to any particular values.

Come back to what you can control.

I discovered ACT while I was completing my Masters in Counselling and it resonated with me very deeply. So I set out to learn everything I could about it. I’m still on that journey. It is a very deep and enriching one.

While it can seem like a simplistic approach at first, I have found it to be of great therapeutic value for my clients. I also find that it is a wonderful framework for simply living a rich, full and meaningful life.

Life is filled with ups and downs; pain, loss, frustration, trauma, confusion, shame, disappointment and grief come to visit us all at some point. When we are crystal clear on our values the overwhelm that can occur when big stuff happens can be reduced.

ACT recognises this and does not set up false promises that life will always be a bed of roses.

Rather, ACT shows us a way to handle difficult thoughts and feelings more effectively so that they have less impact on our life as we move in the direction of our values.

I have found ACT to be such a supportive and compassionate approach to facing the challenges that life has thrown my way. Because of that, I now want to share this practice beyond the therapy room.

Want to learn more? I'm cooking up some online supports by way of workshops, webinars and short courses. Join the waiting list here to find out about upcoming workshops and courses.'

Take care,



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