A deep dive into values for therapists who specialize in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). I am not a therapist, and I picked up the book because I was curious and wondered if it was an extension of Victor Frankl’s logotheraphy. He’s briefly mentioned before we are guided head along into values. The fundamental tenet of the book is that exploring values with clients can help them navigate through personal crises and problems that they choose to have therapy for. Values aren’t words, but actions, what people invest their time and energy in. Values are not goals. I found the first few chapters exploring values, contrasting them with goals and the role it plays in therapy very engrossing. The remaining chapters are about strategies to cultivate valued living. That became repetitive after a while. I suspect I will only do the exercises if I ever actually go to therapy.

As an aside, it looks like what separates self-help books from therapy ones are randomized controlled trials and peer reviews.


  • Values aren’t about words. They are found in watching what people actually do with their lives, where they invest their time, energy, and focus. The goal of exploring values in therapy is to help build a person’s ability to contact and experience the patterns of living they might choose.
  • Harry, there’s two kinds of tired. There’s good tired and there’s bad tired… Ironically enough, bad tired can be a day that you won. But you won other people’s battles; you lived other people’s days, other people’s agendas, other people’s dreams. And when it’s all over, there was very little you in there. And when you hit the hay at night, somehow you toss and turn; you don’t settle easy… Good tired, ironically enough, can be a day that you lost, but you don’t even have to tell yourself because you knew you fought your battles, you chased your dreams, you lived your days and when you hit the hay at night, you settle easy, you sleep the sleep of the just and you say ‘take me away’… Harry, all my life I wanted to be a painter and I painted; God, I would have loved to have been more successful, but I painted and I painted and I’m good tired and they can take me away.

    • Singer-songwriter Harry Chapin (1988)
  • Key characteristics of values: they are freely chosen and they are appetitive (people are drawn towards it rather than focused on moving away from it)
  • Valuing relies more on things like choosing, creating, assuming, and dreaming than it does weighing out a list of pros and cons.

What could values be?

  • What a well-lived life would be for you personally
  • How you are living when you are living a meaningful life
  • Those qualities that, when you get to the end of everything, you want to have embodied in your life What you want your life to stand for
  • What is meaningful and what you would want to matter to you
  • The journey you would choose for this one life you know you have to live
  • What you want the journey to have been about once you get to the end of this life
  • The kind of person you want to be as you move through this world
  • The qualities of living that would lead you to say, “Ah, now that was a life well lived!” once you have gotten to the end of it
  • Intentionally constructing a well-lived life.

Psychological Flexibility

  • Values are reflected through effective action, on where we focus our time and effort. This required psychological flexibility: 1) Willingness, 2) Defusion, 3) Present Moment, 4) Flexible Perspective Taking.
  • Willingness is choosing to be with what is without struggling or attempting to run away from it.
  • This process of being able to look at thoughts and evaluate them in terms of their workability, rather than being caught up in what they present themselves to be—literal truths about the world—is called cognitive defusion.
  • Flexible perspective taking: our thoughts about us shape our conception of self.

Tools to discover and cultivate values

  • The Feared Eulogy: Write out a detailed eulogy you would want to have read at your funeral, one that reflected your ideal, well-lived life. Be as detailed as possible about what you would want said about the life you’d most want to have lived. What did you make important in your life? What kind of an impact did you have? What and who mattered to you? What or who didn’t really matter to you? How did you act toward the people in your life that were important to you?
  • Starting small makes experimenting with new behavior and learning from those experiments easier. But even very small shifts in a trajectory result in vastly different ending points over the course of years or decades. So, start small and go day by day, focusing on one action by valued action at a time. Over the course of a lifetime, those little molehills of valued action will become a mountain of a well-lived life.
  • A dead person goal is any goal that a dead person can accomplish better than a living person can. For example, if the client’s goal is to not fight with their sister, any dead person is always going to fight less with their sister than any living person will. Not fighting with your sister is a dead person goal. Dead person goals create lifelessness as opposed to a life of vitality. But expressing love and appreciation to your sister is something that a dead person can’t do; it’s an active goal that has potential.
  • If you were an actor playing a character who was feeling “confident/happy/good about themself,” how would that character behave? What do you imagine that character would be able to do that you don’t feel is possible in your life as it is now?
  • If you could take a pill that would mean you would feel good all of the time without ever feeling anxiety, sadness, worry, self-doubt, or anger, then how do you think you would spend your time?
  • Write the Character of You exercise or Superhero Alter Ego metaphor. If a client is caught up in the past or future, sometimes the best thing to do is start from scratch. One way to do this is with the Write the Character of You exercise. In this exercise, the client is asked to imagine that they are developing the main character for a screenplay or novel they are writing. The character they are developing is an alternate version of themselves. This character has no predetermined backstory, no habits that define them, no history that limits them. The character should represent who they would most want to be, in their ideal world.
  • Imagine you could start all over again and reinvent yourself in your job. It’s a clean slate and you can embody any qualities you want as a new you. How would you ideally want to be if you could start over? What qualities would you want this reinvented self to embody?