Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life

The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy


  • On Amazon
  • ISBN: 978-1572244252
  • My Rating: 6/10

Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life is an introduction to acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) with many exercises.

I found Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life an interesting introduction to acceptance and commitment therapy. Sometimes I had difficulties to understand what the authors meant as the writing was a bit confusing. How effective the exercises are I can't say because I skipped them.

My notes


Human beings struggle with the forms of psychological pain they have: their difficult emotions and thoughts, their unpleasant memories, and their unwanted urges and sensations. They think about them, worry about them, resent them, anticipate and dream them. At the same time, human beings demonstrate enormous courage, deep compassion, and a remarkable ability to move ahead even with the most difficult personal histories. Knowing they can be hurt, humans still love others. Knowing they will die, humans still care about the future. Facing the draw of meaninglessness, humans still embrace ideals. At times, humans are fully alive, present, and committed.

Metaphorically, the distinction between the function of a psychological disorder and the form it takes in one's life can be likened to someone standing in a battlefield fighting a war. The war is not going well. The person fights harder and harder. Losing is a devastating option; but unless the war is won, the person fighting it thinks that living a worthwhile life will be impossible. So the war goes on. Unknown to that person, however, is the fact that, at any time, he [...] can quit the battlefield and begin to live life now. The war may still go on, and the battlefield may still be visible. The terrain may look very much as it did while the fighting was happening. But the outcome of the war is no longer very important and the seemingly logical sequence of having to win the war before beginning to really live has been abandoned.

This metaphor is intended to illustrate the difference between the appearance of psychological problems and their true substance. In this metaphor, the war looks and sounds much the same whether you are fighting it or simply watching it. Its appearance stays the same. But its impact – its actual substance – is profoundly different. Fighting for your life is not the same as living your life.

We don't assume that left to their own devices, normal human beings are happy and that only an odd history or a broken biology disturbs the peace. We assume instead that suffering is normal and it is the unusual person who learns how to create peace of mind.

It's remarkable how many problems human beings have that nonhumans can literally not imagine.

Most human beings struggle, even in the midst of what appear to be successful lives. Ask yourself this question: How many people do you know really well who don't experience periods in which they struggle with serious psychological or social problems, relationship issues, problems at work, anxiety, depression, anger, self-control issues, sexual problems, fear of death, and so on? For most people, a list of such contented acquaintances will be very short indeed, perhaps even empty.

The "acceptance" in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is based on the notion that, as a rule, trying to get rid of your pain only amplifies it, entangles you further in it, and transforms it into something traumatic. Meanwhile, living your life is pushed to the side. The alternative [...] is to accept it.

Is the way you live your life characterized by vitality and engagement, or by the weight of your problems? When we are caught in a struggle with psychological problems we often put life on hold, believing that our pain needs to lessen before we can really begin to live again.

Human Suffering

We all have pain. All human beings, if they live long enough, have felt or will feel the devastation of losing someone they love. Every single person has felt or will feel physical pain. Everybody has felt sadness, shame, anxiety, fear, and loss. We all have memories that are embarrassing, humiliating, or shameful. We all carry painful hidden secrets. We tend to put on shiny, happy faces, pretending that everything is okay, and that life is "all good". But it isn't and it can't be. To be human is to feel pain in ways that are orders of magnitude more pervasive than what the other creatures on planet Earth feel.

Psychological pain hurts, by definition. But it does more than that. Often pain holds you back from living the kind of life you want to live. There is no question that a person with a panic disorder would rather not experience the feeling of extreme fear, because it is so unpleasant. But that discomfort is compounded by the fact that the panic seemingly gets in the way of living itself. [...] You start to live your life in ways to accommodate your problem, and, as a result, your life becomes narrower and narrower, less and less flexible.

[...] all of your problems provide you with two sources of pain. It is not just your anxiety or depression or worry that creates pain. Your pain is also holding you back from living the life you want to lead. There are activities you would be engaged in if it weren't for your pain and the role it has played in your life.

Those activities you would engage in if matters changed, represent a different kind of pain: they are called the pain of absence.

Not only must you deal with the immediate pain of your thoughts, feelings, and physical ailments, you also must deal with the pain caused by the fact that your pain prevents you from living the kind of life you want to live.

Generally, the more you live your life trying to ward off the pain of presence, the more pain you get, particularly in the form of the pain of absence.

Why Language Leads to Suffering

[...] ACT is based on Relational Frame Theory [...]. The basic premise of RFT is that human behavior is governed largely through networks of mutual relations called relational frames. These relations form the core of human language and cognition, and allow us to learn without requiring direct experience. For example, a cat won't touch a hot stove twice, but it needs to touch it at least once to get the hint. A human child need never touch a hot stove to be taught verbally that it can burn.

[...] the mind can relate anything to anything in any possible way. In technical terms it suggests that relational responding is "arbitrarily applicable". This fact is hidden from view because the mind justifies these relations by features it abstracts from the related facts. [...] that cannot be wholly true. It cannot be that, in fact, everything actually can be "the parent of" everything else. Yet your mind can always find a justification for that relation or any other [...].

With comparative and evaluative relations we can compare ourselves to an ideal and find ourselves wanting, even though we are actually doing quite well. We can think we are much worse than others, or (perhaps just as bad) that we are much better than others. We can be afraid of negative evaluations from others, even if we haven't ever experienced them, and we can become socially inhibited as a result.

This is our point: humans suffer, in part, because they are verbal creatures. If this is so, then here is the problem: the verbal skills that create misery are too useful and central to human functioning to ever stop operating. That means suffering is an unavoidable part of the human condition, at least until we know how to better manage the skills language itself has given us.

In normal problem-solving situations, when there is something we don't like, we figure out how to get rid of it and we take actions to do that. If we don't like dirt on the floor, we get out the vacuum cleaner. [...] The human approach to solving problems can be stated as, "If you don't like something, figure out how to get rid of it, and then get rid of it." [...] But when we apply this strategy to our own inner suffering, it often backfires.

When you try not to think of something, you do that by creating this verbal rule: "Don't think of x". That rule contains x, so it will tend to evoke x [...]. Thus, when we suppress our thoughts, we not only must think of something else, we have to hold ourselves back from thinking about why we are doing that. If we check to see whether our efforts are working, we will remember what we are trying not to think and we will think it. The worrisome thought thus tends to grow.

This same process applies to emotions. If you try not to feel a bad feeling, such as pain, not only do you tend to feel it more intensely, but previously neutral events also become irritating.

[...] figuring out how to get rid of troublesome thoughts or feelings often backfires when your verbal skills are applied to your internal processes: it reminds you of bad consequences. Suppose you are feeling anxious while doing something challenging (say, giving a speech), and you think, "I'd better not feel anxious or I will completely fail at this." Thoughts of failure can elicit anxiety [...]: the negative consequence and current events are arbitrarily related.

Anxiety is a normal response to poor performance, or humiliation. The problem is that we can bring these consequences into the current situation at any moment through verbal relations. People with panic disorder, for example, tend to think about losing their minds, losing control, humiliating themselves, or dying of a heart attack in association with the anxiety they feel. These thoughts create more anxiety partly because they relate the present to an imagined future in which there is the possibility of these dire results happening.

Language creates suffering in part because it leads to experiential avoidance. Experiential avoidance is the process of trying to avoid your own experiences (thoughts, feelings, memories, bodily sensations, behavioral predispositions) even when doing so causes long-term behavioral difficulties (like not going to a party because you're a social phobic, or not exercising because you feel too depressed to get out of bed).

Outside the body, the rule may indeed be, "If you don't like it, figure out how to get rid of it, and then get rid of it." Inside the body, the rule appears to be very different. It's more like, "If you aren't willing to have it, you will." In practical terms, this means for example, that if you aren't willing to feel anxiety as a feeling, you will feel far more anxiety, plus you will begin to live a narrower and more constricted life.

You develop specific means by which you try to stop feeling the feelings you are feeling or thinking the thoughts you are thinking. You try to avoid the experience of painful thoughts or feelings by burying yourself in distracting activities, combating your thoughts with rationalizations, or trying to quash your feelings through the use of controlled substances. If you are suffering, you may spend a lot of time performing these distracting coping techniques. Meanwhile, your life is not being lived.

When we try to run away from a painful thought, feeling, or bodily sensation, it becomes more important and tends to occur more intensely or frequently. Because running away also means that we are taking our fearful thoughts literally, they become more believable and entangling. As a result, the "pain of presence" grows. Meanwhile life is put on hold while we struggle with our internal processes. As a result, the "pain of absence" grows as well.

The Pull of Avoidance

When unhappy people really look at their behavior, it's usually easy to see that their experiential avoidance isn't working.

If you have dark feelings and deliberately cover them up, whatever you do to compensate for feeling bad about yourself may begin to remind you that "Deep down there is something wrong with me."

Two main factors keep people stuck in the system of experiential avoidance. The first factor is that the rule "If you don't like something, get rid of it" works very well in the outside world. The second factor is that the short-term effects of experiential avoidance, that is, the application of that rule to our private experience, often can be positive.

Every time you engage in a behavior specifically designed to avoid some negative personal pain, you [...] are likely to feel an immediate sense of relief from not having to deal with the painful thought, feeling, or bodily sensation. The sense of relief you gain reinforces your desire to use the same strategy the next time you are faced with the possibility of having to cope with your pain. Yet, each time you do this, you actually give the painful content, that is, your painful thought, feeling, or bodily sensation, more power.

Avoidance only strengthens the importance and the role of whatever you are avoiding – in other words, when you avoid dealing with your problem, it only grows.

Letting Go

Willingness and acceptance mean adopting a gentle, loving posture toward yourself, your history, and your programming so that it becomes more likely for you simply to be aware of your own experience, much as you would hold a fragile object in your hand and contemplate it closely and dispassionately.

The goal of willingness is not to feel better. The goal is to open up yourself to the vitality of the moment, and to move more effectively toward what you value. Said another way, the goal of willingness is to feel all of the feelings that come up for you more completely, even – or especially – the bad feelings, so that you can live your life more completely. In essence, instead of trying to feel better, willingness involves learning how to feel better.

The scientific literature is filled with evidence that the person's willingness to experience whatever emotion is present is of central importance to many areas of human psychological functioning.

If you commit to a particular act, use mindfulness and defusion strategies when your mind starts giving you problems with pursuing that path, and move forward accepting what your mind offers you; you will be in a better position to live a full and meaningful life – with or without unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and sensations.

The Trouble with Thoughts

Like it or not, inside your skull, you have a "word-generating machine" relating one event to another from morning to night. It is impossible to stop thinking, especially deliberately. When we do things deliberately, we create a verbal path (a rule) and try to follow it. So, when we deliberately try to stop thinking, we create the thought that goes, "we shouldn't be thinking a thought", and we try to follow it. Unfortunately, since this verbal path is itself a thought, the process merely mocks us.

Although we are thinking constantly, we consciously notice that we are thinking only occasionally. Anything that comes so naturally and occurs so commonly recedes into the background. How often do you notice that you blink your eyes, or breathe?

If thoughts are what they say they are, any experience that can program a thought is an experience that can control your behavior. When we take thoughts literally, we are at the mercy of every random experience life throws at us.

Cognitive fusion refers to the tendency to allow thought to dominate other sources of behavioral regulation because of the failure to pay attention to the process of relating over and above the products of relating. To put it into less abstract terms, cognitive fusion involves treating our thoughts as if they are what they say they are.

[...] cognitive fusion can be quite harmful. For example, think of all the "I am" statements you produce in relation to your pain: "I am so depressed". "I am so anxious". [...] This kind of language puts you in a place where you actually identify yourself with your pain. Cognitive fusion means you are taking these statements as literal truths and, eventually, you begin to believe that you, in fact, are your pain. It becomes very difficult to see that your pain does not define you, in part because it is very difficult to see that these are thoughts that your mind has produced.

Put simply, the root cause of experiential avoidance is cognitive fusion.

Suppose you have a thought that you must avoid some difficult private experience (an emotion, thought, memory, or bodily sensation) because "it is too much to bear". Something that is "too much to bear" must not be borne or harm may be caused. Your mind [...] evolved over the millenia to help keep you from harm. If you become fused with the idea that this private experience is "too much to bear", then the experience manifests itself as though it were "too much to bear". That is, you identify the initial experience with this second thought so completely that they fuse themselves together. Once they are fused, you will naturally attempt to avoid this experience. That is why fusion underlies experiential avoidance.

Thoughts, even those you use to soothe your mind, create pain in two ways: they bring painful events to mind, and they amplify the impact of pain through what cognitive fusion leads to, that is, avoidance.

Having a Thought Versus Buying a Thought

[...] you can learn to look at your thoughts rather than from them. These cognitive defusion techniques are a core component of ACT. They help you to make the distinction between the world as structured by your thoughts, and thinking as an ongoing process. When your thoughts are about you yourself, defusion can help you to distinguish between the person doing the thinking and the verbal categories you apply to yourself through thinking. Defusion leads to peace of mind, not because the mental war necessarily stops but because you are not living inside the war zone anymore.

When you learn to view your thoughts as thoughts, occurring in the here and now, you still "know what they mean" (the verbal relations are still there; that is, you still know to what your thoughts refer). But the illusion dissolves that the thing being thought about is present merely when you think about it. This greatly reduces the impact of symbols. [...] You may have noticed that the thought, "I am having the feeling that I am anxious", is quite different from the thought, "God, I am so anxious!" The first statement is more defused than the second. For that reason, it is less anxiety-provoking. When you learn how to defuse language, it becomes easier to be willing, to be present, to be conscious, and to live the life you value, even with the normal chatter going on inside your head.

Defusion techniques are not methods for eliminating or managing pain. They are methods for learning how to be present in the here and now in a broader and more flexible way.

[...] getting some distance from your thoughts allows you to see them for what they are.

The point is to break through the illusion of language, so that you can notice the process of thinking (i.e., creating relations among events) as it happens rather than only noticing the products of that process – your thoughts. When you think a thought, it structures your world. When you see a thought you can still see how it structures your world (you understand what it means), but you also see that you are doing the structuring. That awareness gives you a little more room for flexibility.

Our point is that once your history establishes a relational network, you can only elaborate on that network. You cannot make it go away. We are creatures of our histories, and our every moment adds to that history. Our nervous system works by addition, not subtraction. To some degree, things we learned once are still part of us.

Because our thoughts are so pervasive, we tend to position them as a part of the external world, forget that we've done that, and then feel oppressed by the external world we've unknowingly constructed. One good way to break this cycle is to learn to notice the difference between descriptions and evaluations.

Descriptions are verbalizations linked to the directly observable aspects or features of objects or events. These aspects or features are the primary attributes of an object or event. That is, they don't depend on your unique history; in common sense terms, they remain aspects of the event or object regardless your interaction with them.

Evaluations are your reactions to events or their aspects. We can compare events and assign an evaluative label (like good or bad, like or dislike, bearable or unbearable, rude or polite, prohibitive or permissive, and so forth). Evaluations are secondary attributes. Secondary attributes revolve around our interactions with objects, events, thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.

Much of our suffering comes from mistaking evaluations for descriptions. Very often we believe that our evaluative opinions are primary properties and thus that they are descriptions. Yet when we examine our evaluations more closely, they start to smell a little fishy.

If I'm Not My Thoughts, Then Who Am I?

Self-conceptualizations are statements that your mind makes about you as a person that you implicitly take as literal truths.

The problem with identifying with any particular aspect of who you are is that once you become attached to that particular aspect of your identity, you set yourself up to distort the world in order to maintain this vision of yourself. This is as true of positive aspects as it is of negative ones.

Human beings are complex. Whenever you say, "I am x", you simply can't be telling the whole truth. Surely there are times you aren't x. It doesn't matter if the x is positive or negative. If you wrote "I am a person who is anxious", surely you can think of at least one moment when you weren't anxious. But notice how it feels when you realize that x is not 100 percent true. For most of us, such realizations come with a sense of disquiet. That disquiet doesn't come just from perhaps being "wrong". It also comes from the need to know who we are.

According to the theory of language that underlies ACT, there are at least three senses of self that emerge from our verbal abilities: the conceptualized self, the self as an ongoing process of self-awareness, and the observing self.

The conceptualized self is you as the object of summary verbal categorizations and evaluations. It is the verbal "I am" self, as in: I am old; I am anxious; I am kind; I am mean; I am unlovable; I am sweet; I am beautiful; and so forth. The conceptualized self is brimming with content; this content is the story about you and your life that you've been selling to yourself. It contains all the thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, memories, and behavioral predispositions that you've bought into and integrated into a stable verbal picture of yourself. This is the self you are probably the most familiar with because it is the product of normal applications of language to you and your life.

In terms of trapping you in your suffering, the conceptualized self is the most dangerous. That's because the conceptualized self fits into a story that provides reasons for your actions and a self that provides coherence for your experiences. It is a kind of comfortable but suffocating coherence that leads relentlessly toward "more of the same". Have you ever noticed that if someone thinks he is unimportant, most events in his life appear to confirm that view? Or have you ever observed that if someone sees herself as a victim, somehow she keeps ending up (in her mind or in actuality) being victimized?

[...] our point is that (a) the facts in our stories don't determine the stories in which they appear, despite what our minds tell us. Many stories are possible. And (b) the facts are significant because of the stories they are part of. This means that what really can make a difference is something that might be capable of being changed. We know the facts. They will not change. But the story about the facts, and the self-conceptualization resulting from that story, are aspects of our lives we've been prevented from changing because of our attachment to and fusion with them. Perhaps that (our story and our attachment to it) can change.

Ongoing self-awareness is your fluid, continuous knowledge of your own experiences in the present moment. It is like the conceptualized self, in that you are applying verbal categories to the self. It is unlike it because instead of being summary, evaluative categories, the categories are descriptive, nonevaluative, present, and flexible: "Now I am feeling this". "Now I am thinking that". "Now I am remembering this". "Now I am seeing that".

You have been you ever since you showed up in early childhood as a conscious human being, and your infantile amnesia fell away (about the same time that these deictic frames of I/you; here/there; and now/then made their appearance). This "I" is what some call the observing self [...]. It is a sense that transcends both time and space, not literally but experientially since this sense is everywhere you go. Whatever happens to you, it is this "I" that will be part of your verbal knowledge of that experience.

What if you aren't defined by your pain, but rather you are the conscious container for it. What would this mean for you?

Mindfulness is the defused, nonattached, accepting, nonjudgmental, deliberate awareness of experiential events as they happen in the moment.

Mindfulness activities are not meant to distract you from the negative content of your mind. In fact, mindfulness and distraction are antithetical. Thinking that you can be "mindful enough not to feel the pain anymore" is just another story your word machine tells you. Using the techniques in this way is simply another avoidance measure that leads right back to the pain you are trying to avoid. Don't try to escape your anxiety, or stress, or depression through mindfulness. If negative feelings come up, just notice them and keep on moving.


Mindfulness is difficult, not because it is hard but because it is elusive. We are constantly being hooked by our verbal predictions and evaluations.

People are often tempted to use mindfulness practice as a time to relax. That is a mistake. If you are relaxed, that's fine, but if you are tense, that's okay too. The point, however, isn't to relax. The point is to be aware of whatever is going on for you without avoidance or fusion.

The practice of mindfulness is about getting in touch with your own experience moment to moment in a defused and accepting way.

Part of the elusiveness of mindfulness is that it is purposive, and thus evokes evaluations, but the whole purpose of being mindful is to learn how to defuse from your evaluations. The best way to think about it is that there is neither a right nor a wrong way to be mindful. Simply be who you directly experience yourself to be (a conscious observing self) in the moment. If evaluations show up, then observe the evaluations but do not believe or disbelieve them. If you take your verbal judgments about your progress literally, that will be yet another instance of fusion with the verbal story your mind generates. Buying into thoughts that judge you as good or not good at being mindful is just the word machine taking control once again.

When you get scooped up into the story of your depression, your anxiety, or your low self-esteem, often you may forget that there are many other things going on for you. That story may be the only matter you take notice of.

This is one of the greatest misconceptions that many have about meditation. They seem to believe that meditating is a way to stop thinking or feeling while residing in some peaceful place. That is not the case at all. Painful emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations abound in meditation practice. But you are taught to simply watch them come in and go out.

To sit still for extended periods of time and simply watch what your mind and body produce for you is an excellent way to practice acceptance, defusion, and being present.

What Willingness Is and Is Not

Our general point is that acceptance doesn't mean that your emotions will change, just as defusion doesn't mean that your thoughts will change. Ironically, if change is possible at all, it is more likely to take place when we adopt an accepting and defused stance.

When we say "acceptance" or "willingness" [...] we are not referring to accepting situations, events, or behaviors that are readily changeable. If you are being abused by someone else, "acceptance of abuse" is not what is called for. What may be called for is acceptance that you are in pain, acceptance of the difficult memories that have been produced, and acceptance of the fear that will come from taking the necessary steps to stop the abuse.

If you have an addiction problem, acceptance of substance abuse is very likely not what is called for. What may be called for is acceptance of the urge to use drugs, or acceptance of the sense of loss that may result from giving up your favorite coping strategy, or acceptance of the emotional pain that will arrive when you stop relying on drugs or alcohol to regulate your emotions.

The goal of willingness is flexibility. When you are able to be fully present in the here and now without being judgmental or without pushing away experiences (thoughts, feelings, emotions, bodily sensations, and so on) you have much more freedom to take needed steps to action. If you are willing to have an emotion, feeling, thought, or memory instead of attempting to control it, then the agenda of control is undermined, and you are free from the inevitable by-products of this agenda. These by-products are fairly predictable. First, you lose the war with your own internal content. If you refuse to have that internal content, you've got it. If you aren't willing to lose it, you've lost it. Next, you lose the ability to control your own behavior in a flexible and effective way.

It's not easy to be willing. That doesn't mean it takes a lot of effort. Willingness is hard in the sense of "tricky", not in the sense of "effortful". It's tricky because it's an action that humans can learn but minds cannot. Our minds cannot fully understand willingness, because willingness is nonjudgmental and exists in the present, while the way that minds work is based on temporal relations and evaluations.

According to your mind, the content of your pain is the source of your suffering because the pain is bad. Thus, you can measure suffering by the amount of the (bad) pain. For someone struggling with anxiety, a "good day" is a day with less anxiety. For someone struggling with depression, a "good day" is a day with less depression. And so on. Willingness means abandoning that measurement. Suffering is no longer synonymous with the content of your pain. It is now synonymous with the postponement of living your life in the service of winning the struggle.

Willingness: Learning How to Jump

The power of avoided events derives more from our unwillingness to have them than from the features they have.

Facing our problems is like facing a thirty-foot monster composed of tin cans, wire, and string. In this seemingly overwhelming form, the monster is very difficult to face. If we disassemble him, however, into all the separate cans, wires, and string he's made of, each of these pieces is easier to deal with one at a time.

What Are Values?

Values are chosen life directions.

[...] values are intentional qualities that join together a string of moments into a meaningful path. They are what moments are about, but they are never possessed as objects, because they are qualities of unfolding actions, not of particular things. Said another way, values are verbs and adverbs, not nouns or adjectives; they are something you do or a quality of something you do, not something you have. If they are something you do (or a quality of something you do), they never end. You are never finished.

Choices and reasoned judgments are not the same thing. When you make a judgment, you apply your mind and its evaluative abilities to alternatives, and depending on what you want, you pick one of those alternatives. [...] Ninety percent of the time judgments work fine. [...] But in some areas judgments don't work very well, and in still others they absolutely cannot work. One area they absolutely cannot work is the area of values.

In the end, judgments cannot tell you which yardstick to pick, because judgments require applying an evaluative metric. That works fine, but only after you've picked one.

Values are not judgments. Values are choices. Choices are selections between alternatives that may be made in the presence of reasons (if your mind gives you any, which it usually does, since minds chatter about everything), but this selection is not for those reasons in the sense that it is not explained by, justified by, or linked to them. A choice is not linked to an evaluative verbal yardstick. Said another way, choice is a defused selection among alternatives. It is different than judgment, which is a verbally guided selection among alternatives.

[...] evaluations are a matter of applying our values and then making judgments based on those values.

Goals are the things you can obtain while walking a valued path. Goals are concrete achievable events, situations, or objects. They can be completed, possessed, or finished. Goals are not the same as directions. If goals are confused with directions, once they have been achieved, progress must necessarily stop. This actually happens all the time, which is one reason why depression sometimes follows getting a degree, getting married, or getting a promotion at work. If, say, getting a degree is an end in itself, there is likely to be an enormous loss of life direction immediately after graduation.

Goals are wonderful and empowering once the distinction between goals and values is clear. It sometimes helps (after a direction is chosen) to focus on goals as a way of keeping on track.

Feeling can be related to values in a different, and less obvious, way than the linkage between good feelings and values. Suppose someone who is a social phobic shudders at the thought of going to a party. Why? Very likely, this is a person who values connections with others. If connecting with others was not of any importance, the person would not be socially phobic.

[...] in our pain, we are given some guidance toward our values. The reverse is also true: in our values, we find our pain. You cannot value anything without being woundable, indeed, your values are the most intimate part of you.

Although living your life according to your values often leads to wonderful outcomes, they are not a sneaky way to "getting what you want" in the concrete world. Values are directions, not outcomes.

Having a direction allows a coherent trip to be taken; and it is the trip that is actually worthwhile. Your life becomes empowered by your values. It is like a journey down a never-ending path. This is a trip that has no finish line; it is not literally about an outcome. It is about the journey you take on your way there.

Values entail responsibility: that is, acknowledging that you always have the ability to respond. The response you can always engage in is valuing, even when there is little you can currently do in a specific situation to make your values manifest [...]. Most of the time, however, there are things we can do and our values allow us to see when we've failed to live up to the directions we've chosen.

Choosing Your Values

To live a valued life is to act in the service of what you value.

When people die, what is left behind is what they stood for. Think of someone who is no longer alive but whose life you look up to and admire. Think of your heroes. Now see if it isn't true that what they stood for is now, after their passing, most important. What's important is neither their material possessions nor their inner doubts. The values reflected in their lives are what's important.

The way you would want to be remembered once your life is over should give you a very good idea about what you value now. We don't know what anyone would say at your funeral, but we do know that your actions today can make a profound difference in how your life works from here. It is not your thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations that your loved ones will remember you by, but the choices you make and the actions you take each day of your life.

Committing to Doing It

When we care about something, we open ourselves to the possibility of feeling pain. If you really risk loving someone, you open yourself up to rejection, betrayal, and loss.

If your value is the compass point by which you want to guide your life's journey, your goals are the road map that can lead you there. Goals [...] are different from values in that they are practical, obtainable events that move your life in the direction of your values. Goals are the guideposts by which you can mark your life's journey, and they are important for a number of reasons. Goals give you a practical means to make your values manifest. They also offer you a metric against which you can measure your progress on your valued path. You may know what you want to be about, but without goals, it's unlikely you'll be able to live these values in the real world.

Setting goals is all about workability. If you don't make your goals workable within the context of your life, it's unlikely you'll get very far down the path of your values. Choose achievable, obtainable outcomes that can realistically fit with your life. Doing this makes it much more likely you'll actually be able to live your values every day. The true goal of this process is to become better able to focus on life as a valued process. Every goal is a step leading you further down the path of your life. The path itself doesn't end (at least not until your life ends).

Once you know what you value and what your goals are, you can choose which steps to take first. You have the compass and the road map. Now you need to focus on your steps.

Conclusion: The Choice to Live a Vital Life