Two Important, but Different Tools for Moving Life Forward in the Right Direction
Values and goals are both tools you can use on a daily basis to help keep yourself moving forward and living a meaningful life. People occasionally get these two concepts confused, so I want to take a moment to explain the difference and how both can be useful.
Goals are specific things you’d like to accomplish by a specific point in time. Setting SMART goals is important for motivating yourself and maintaining/improving your mental health. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound, and the nice thing about setting SMART goals is that you know when you’ve accomplished them. You feel good knowing that you’ve done exactly what you set out to do. When you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious it can help to set small but concrete goals so you have a clear plan of action. When I feel overwhelmed, I make a “to do” list of very specific goals that will help me regain a sense of control. What needs to be done? Are some steps more important than others or do things needs need to be accomplished in a specific order? The next step is to make those smaller goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time limited) so you can begin checking them off one by one. As you accomplish the goals you’ll notice a whole host of positive emotions. Some goals are longer term (i.e. become a MD), but they serve the same purpose-give you a sense of direction in a way that you know when you’ve “arrived.”
In summary, the a goal something that you can eventually accomplish. There is an “end” point or a way to say, “Yep, I did it.”
Values, on the other hand, have no end point. Values are more like a northern star, you can see them and you move toward them but you never “get there.” Values are the things that are most important to you and can help you make decisions throughout your life.
While everyone has values (think about it-everyone has something they care about, that’s important to them), we aren’t always purposeful in identifying these values and applying them in their life. When my clients become more clear in what their values are, they often begin identifying decisions they’ve made that caused them emotional distress that were in fact contradictory to their values.
In summary, values guide you but are never a destination. They are about prioritizing what is most important in your life.
Putting them together: Value Driven Goals
You can have the clearest sense of purpose and find the most meaning in your life by setting values driven goals. This means that you set goals that are in line with your values. If you find yourself working extra hours all the time but have identified family as a top value, you may set a goal to leave work by 5pm every single night for a month. If you value helping others you may set a goal to volunteer one afternoon every month for the next year.
Values and goals both come into play during my first few sessions with new clients. We set “SMART” goals in our first few sessions. I often ask questions like, “What would be different in your life if you no longer needed counseling?” In this way, we start with the end in mind and by setting these goals we know when our work together is “done” or has at least moved on to a new phase. Sometimes we accomplish the original goal and set a new goal, but I feel like having a “goal” for counseling is critical. I also work with clients on identifying their values. I ask about what’s important to my clients. What are their priorities? When are you the happiest? How do you make decisions in your life? I have a couple of different games I use to help clients identify their top few core values.
The ultimate goal is value driven action, a concept I learned when I went to a training awhile back for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This means that we move forward with our lives in a way that is consistent with our own personal values. In counseling, this includes setting goals that if we accomplish them will have us living more in line with our values. By accomplishing goals that are in line with our values, we are living a meaningful life that brings a sense of satisfaction. In this manner, counseling can help you find your purpose and get “unstuck.”
If you want to live a more full life where you make choices and set goals that are consistent with your values, consider contacting Aspire Counseling today. As a Columbia, MO counseling center, we help people get unstuck. We will take the time to match you with the right therapist, identify your personal values and move forward to accomplish goals that will give you a sense of meaning and purpose.
Jessica Tappana, LCSW is the founder, director and a therapist at Aspire Counseling in Columbia, MO. She began Aspire Counseling in May 2017 to provide mental health services to individuals in the Mid Missouri area looking for healing from trauma, grief, anxiety and overwhelming stress. The practice now has several therapists and serves primarily ages 12 through retirement. Jessica is proud of the care that is taken at Aspire to match each client with a therapist who is uniquely suited to meet that client’s needs based on personality, training, specialty and experience. Jessica values providing clients with a safe space that promotes healing and only brings on therapists who share her vision of providing counseling by getting to know you as an individual and then providing treatments that work. If you’re interested in beginning your healing journey, you will find a safe and inviting space in our office.