Finding True North: How to Clarify Values (part 1)

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I wrote this blog post on Working with ACT, a blog I co-author with Rachel Collis.

Rachel wrote previously about how to get clear about values and that post helps explain how values can be tangibly defined. But once you have a clear definition, what then?

I've had huge problems defining my own values in the past and I've tried many, many different ways of doing so. I can bore for Britain about values. So what have I found?

Look for Patterns

I don't think any single test or exercise has proved more illuminating than another, and I also think none has been a waste of time either. So I've concluded the best way of exploring values is to do just that - explore. That means being willing to commit to a period of reflection and to look for patterns across values exercises. (In part 2 of this post, I will list a number of different ways of doing this).
Think 'Core' and 'Satellite' Values

My experience (both personally and with clients) is that spotting patterns in values tends to lead to two sets of values - what Richard Blonna calls 'core' and 'satellite' values. The core values come up again and again, in nearly every context. The satellite values are also important but depend more on the situation.

Some of my core values include doing meaningful work, learning, integrity, loyalty, being physically active, fairness, equity and justice. Some of my satellite values include health and wellbeing, courage, creativity, security and competition.

Find True North

Unlike Blonna (and many other ACT theorists) I have never felt comfortable ranking values in order of importance. After all, even core values depend on context. I've never felt that having a 'number 1' value actually helps either me or my clients to move forward.

I prefer to take a list of core values and group them together as 'True North'. That is, a direction in which to travel which encapsulates what's really important for that person. I then like to use the matrix to guide moment to moment action. The matrix asks us to become really 'present' to our situation and then to ask:

Right now, in this moment, are you moving towards True North or away?