In a previous blog, I talked about how to recognize what we value as a way to reframe and manage stress. In this blog, I would like to talk about how I use my values to get motivated. In my work as a child/teen, and family therapist in Washington DC, I utilize Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to help my clients find sources of motivation. We tap this through a client’s values. Here’s how.
These sources of motivation are not the typical sources used, such as rewards, which can be very helpful. Unlike a reward, what we value can be an unending source of motivation. You see, once you have received a reward, your level of motivation will typically not stay as high as it was before the reward unless you have derived some higher meaning (value) from completing the activity other than the reward itself.
Why is it important to have meaning or value as a source of motivation? According to Relational Frame Theory (RFT),–which is the scientific theory that underlies ACT,—motivation caused by compliance or avoidance of a negative consequence does not sustain our motivation, nor does it help us complete the task well.
Here’s an example from the book, Mastering the Clinical Conversation; Language as Intervention:
“If a person volunteers for a charity because they feel that it is what others expect from them, little meaning will be found in this activity”…..Yet, “when the client…shows excessive attachment to social rules (if they have a quality or ‘must’ or ‘have to’ without a clear purpose), they predict poor outcomes.”
Said another way, intrinsic motivation is most useful. But how do we cultivate our intrinsic motivation? One key way is to connect with our values–what matters most to us! While more powerful, this motivation is not always conscious. For example, if I have a value of being physically fit and I set my alarm for 7 AM to workout, more than likely when my alarm goes off at 7 AM, my first thought will be, “ugh, I am tired, I can start tomorrow.” And if I were only to focus on those thoughts, I will most likely not workout. However, if I am able to reconnect with my values of being physically fit, think about the reasons why being in shape is important to me as opposed to the reasons why I do not feel like working out right now, then I have a better chance of moving in my valued direction.
Here are the simple steps—1) Know and identify your values related to the task. 2) Reconnect with those values in times of doubt or choice and 3) Refocus on why these things are important to you. By doing so, you can draw an unending, intrinsic source of motivation to help you sustain over the long term. This is not easy and takes practice~ Like with most things, the more you do it, the easier it becomes! Now the hardest part is starting. So go ahead, ask yourself what matters most to you—then focus on that key value and use it as fuel to start a new habit or practice.