My therapist Kate (AKA the mental health goddess) recently place 3 cards on the table in front of me. We hold most of our therapy sessions sitting criss-cross on the ground by the coffee table in her office. This isn’t your traditional counseling.
The cards gave me three categories: Not Important to Me, Important to Me, and Very I Important to Me. She said, “I’m going to give you cards with values on them, and one by one you will categorize them.” Easy I thought, I know what my values are. Family, friends, the Gospel, God, kindness.
But I was totally unprepared for the slew of cards she threw at me. Things like success, fulfillment, creativity, helpfulness, openness…and the catch was that I could only have 10 cards in the “Very Important to Me” pile. Do you know how hard that is?? I was shocked by how many things are important to me- and it felt like a a betrayal to put any in the regular old “Important to Me” pile. But I could only choose 10 that were my top priorities. I learned so much about who I am and what I value. (PS here is a link to one of the many variations of this activity that you can do yourself)
Here’s the other caveat of this activity-you sort the values not based on your behavior/choices, but how you feel inside. I’m afraid to admit that if it was based on how I spent my time the Browsing Dumb Memes and Videos on Facebook value would rank tip top on my list (even though come on, those are hilarious). No, I ranked my value system based on what my spirit inside told me and I learned some really valuable things about that person, the person I want to be.
I’m gaining so much from taking a step back and deciding the reason for what I do. Am I making choices because society, habit, OCD, depression, or laziness tell me to? Well I either need to stop doing that thing (if it fits into no values, like Facebook browsing) or fit it into a value and remember my motivation for doing it (like going to work and helping people have clean houses.)
This activity can serve many purposes. For me, once I had my 10 values picked out I made a huge list of “Values Consistent Activities” I put an app on my phone that dings every hour to help me notice when I’m just sitting in anxiety, worrying and picking at my skin. Then I can redirect my attention to something that’s actually important to me.
Now, it’s well to remember that not all of life is deeply meaningful and significant. My first reaction after this activity was “I SHALL NEVER WASTE MY TIME ON ANYTHING THAT IS NOT VALUES CONSISTENT AND WORTHY OF BEING WRITTEN ABOUT IN HISTORY BOOKS!” But at least on the surface, lots of things are mundane and lame and unfulfilling. Things we have to do. That’s part of mortal life. As my sister has always pointed out, we’ll probably still have to do laundry in the Millennium. I imagine there will be tedious tasks until we are resurrected and living safely in our castles made of marshmallows (at least that’s what I’m rooting for them to be).
There is, however, a reason behind everything we do. Today I scrubbed nasty dried up egg out of someone’s refrigerator. I can tell you, that was not a deep experience I will journal about (wait, isn’t that what I’m doing right now? Beside the point…) But that was still a values consistent activity, because one of my core values is helpfulness and I have a job that lets me help busy tired moms every day. The reason behind my doing it made it a worthwhile use of my time.
What are your top 10 values? If you do the activity, please share in the comments some things you learned about yourself!