Step-by-Step Guide to Defining Your Values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Story: Guided by the Star

Nestled amidst rolling hills and mist-covered valleys, David stood at a crossroads in the village center in Bullsville, his heart heavy with uncertainty. The warm hues of the setting sun painted the sky, casting a golden glow upon his face. With a weary sigh, he yearned for a guiding light, an ethereal beacon to navigate the labyrinth of his thoughts.


Suddenly, a gust of wind whisked away the uncertainty, revealing a weathered map at his feet. Its faded parchment held promises of adventure and purpose, kindling a spark of hope in his weary eyes.

With the old map clutched tightly, David embarked on a quest that would take him through diverse landscapes. Each step unveiled breathtaking vistas—the majestic mountains with their snow-capped peaks, the forests with towering trees whispering ancient secrets, and the crystal-clear rivers that flowed with the wisdom of ages.


Along his journey, David encountered Samantha, a skeptical and judgmental individual who believed in conformity. She questioned his choices, discouraged him from exploring his potential, and fueled his self-doubt with her cynicism.

David retorted, “Look, Samantha! This map is a sign! It’s telling me there’s more to life. I need to follow my own path, explore the unknown.”

Samantha raised an eyebrow and mentioned, “Really, David? You think a piece of old paper will lead you to some grand revelation? You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.”

David already amazed by the scenery retorted, “Samantha, look around! Isn’t this incredible? There’s so much beauty and wonder in the world, waiting to be discovered.”

Samantha mocked him by saying, “Still chasing your silly dreams, David? When will you realize it’s time to give up and face reality?”

Samantha’s sharp wit challenged David’s beliefs, forcing him to succumb to his insecurities.

Despite Samantha’s skepticism, David remained determined, fueled by the radiant glow of the guiding star that danced among the constellations.


As David neared the summit, the air grew thin, and the challenges grew more formidable. Before him stretched a vast chasm, its depths obscured by swirling mist. Doubt and fear clawed at his heart, magnified by Samantha’s relentless skepticism and discouragement.

At that moment, David transcended his limitations and stepped into his true power.

At the mountain’s peak, a glorious sunrise painted the sky with hues of pink and gold, illuminating David’s path. The guiding star shone brightly above, mirroring the newfound clarity within his heart.


David felt a profound sense of purpose and authenticity as the light enveloped him. He realized that defining his values was not merely an intellectual exercise but a transformative force that infused every aspect of his existence.

With his values as his compass, David descended the mountain, ready to live a life aligned with his true self, no longer swayed by Samantha’s doubts.

In the end, David discovered his purpose and embraced his authentic self, bringing resolution to his journey of self-discovery. The guiding star continued to shine, a symbol of the transformative power within each of us. And as David walked into the horizon, he was left with a sense of fulfillment.

David journeyed back to the valley below, guided by the mystical star’s light.

In the village, David’s family and friends notice the radiant glow surrounding him. They saw newfound confidence and purpose in his eyes.

Word of David’s journey and transformation spread like wildfire, inspiring others to explore their true selves and embrace their unique paths. The village became a hub of self-discovery, and the guiding star’s light touched every soul willing to seek clarity and fulfillment.

In time, David became a beacon of hope, guiding others on their quests for purpose and authenticity. He opened a commune where people came to find their inner light, mirroring the guiding star’s wisdom. His days were filled with laughter, joy, and the hum of self-discovery.


David’s commune thrived as the seasons passed, and the guiding star fostered unity and inner wisdom. The transformative power of defining personal values touched the hearts of all who dared to embark on their quest for self-discovery.


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy combining cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness practices. It aims to help individuals develop psychological flexibility and navigate life’s challenges effectively. In ACT, personal values are crucial in shaping the therapeutic process and guiding behavior toward a meaningful and fulfilling life.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based therapeutic approach focusing on acceptance, mindfulness, and values-driven action. Steven C. Hayes and his colleagues developed it in the late 1980s, and it gained significant recognition in psychology. ACT emphasizes accepting complex thoughts and emotions while committing to actions aligned with one’s values.


Why are personal values important in ACT?

Personal values serve as guiding principles in ACT, helping individuals clarify what truly matters to them and providing a compass for decision-making and behavior. In ACT, values are not seen as fixed goals to achieve but rather as ongoing processes that can shape one’s choices and actions. Research has shown that living a values-based life increases psychological well-being and greater life satisfaction.

What are the benefits of defining your values?

Defining personal values in ACT offers several benefits. Firstly, it provides a sense of direction and purpose, helping individuals prioritize what truly matters to them and make choices in alignment with their values. Secondly, defining values can increase motivation and resilience, as individuals are more likely to persevere through challenges when deeply held values drive their actions. Additionally, research suggests that value clarification in ACT can lead to improved mental health outcomes, including reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Overview of the step-by-step guide

The step-by-step guide in ACT for defining personal values involves a reflective process that helps individuals gain insight into their core values. It includes self-reflection, identifying significant life experiences, exploring emotions and values associated with these experiences, examining critical areas of life, brainstorming value statements, evaluating alignment with one’s authentic self, prioritizing values, and translating values into actionable behaviors. This guide aims to provide individuals with a practical framework to define their values and incorporate them into their daily lives, fostering personal growth and well-being.

Understanding Personal Values in ACT

Understanding Personal Values in ACT involves defining personal values, differentiating them from goals and beliefs, and recognizing their role in guiding behavior and promoting psychological well-being. In ACT, personal values are deeply held principles guiding actions and providing direction and purpose. They are distinct from goals and beliefs, as values represent enduring qualities rather than specific achievements.

Definition of personal values in ACT

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), personal values refer to deeply held beliefs and principles that guide individuals' actions and behaviors. They represent what is most important and meaningful to a person, providing direction and purpose. Personal values in ACT are not to be confused with goals or beliefs; instead, they serve as overarching qualities or characteristics that individuals aspire to embody and express consistently.

Differentiating values from goals and beliefs

While goals are specific targets or achievements individuals strive to accomplish, personal values in ACT are broader and enduring qualities that guide goal-setting and behavior. Values are not necessarily outcomes to be achieved but are more about how one wants to live and the person one wants to be. Beliefs, on the other hand, are cognitive constructs that represent one’s understanding of the world. Values, beliefs, and goals can intersect and influence each other, but it is essential to distinguish them to clarify the underlying motivations and aspirations driving one’s actions.

Role of Values in guiding behavior and promoting psychological well-being

Values play a vital role in ACT as they provide a foundation for making choices and taking action in alignment with one’s authentic self. Individuals living according to their values experience greater fulfillment, purpose, and psychological well-being. Research has shown that value-driven behavior is associated with higher life satisfaction and resilience in adversity. By aligning their actions with deeply held values, individuals can cultivate a more meaningful and purposeful life, enhancing their overall psychological functioning.

Relevant research and case study

Research by Harris, May, and Haddock (2008) demonstrated that value clarification exercises in ACT led to significant improvements in psychological well-being and decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression among participants. This highlights the practical relevance and effectiveness of defining personal values within the therapeutic context.

Additionally, a case study by Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda, and Lillis (2006) showcased the transformative impact of values-based interventions in ACT, illustrating how individuals overcame personal challenges and created a more fulfilling life by aligning their actions with their core values. These examples emphasize the importance of understanding personal values in ACT and their potential for promoting psychological well-being.

Step-by-Step Guide to Defining Your Values

The step-by-step guide to defining your values starts with reflecting on your life and experiences, allowing you to gain insight into how they have shaped your values. Taking time for self-reflection deepens self-awareness while identifying significant life experiences and examining associated emotions and values provide further understanding.

Exploring core domains, identifying critical areas, and considering their importance help define what matters most. You can articulate your core values and explore their diversity by brainstorming and defining value statements. Prioritizing values and considering potential conflicts create a hierarchy guiding decision-making.

Ultimately, living your values involves translating them into actionable behaviors and setting goals aligning with them. Regularly reviewing progress and adjusting as needed ensures ongoing alignment with your values in life’s ever-changing circumstances.

1. Reflect on your life and experiences

Reflection is a fundamental cognitive process that allows individuals to gain insight and understanding by examining their thoughts, emotions, and experiences. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) context, reflecting on one’s life and experiences is crucial in defining personal values. By taking the time to engage in introspection, individuals can explore the various aspects of their lives and the impact these experiences have had on their values and sense of self.

Take time for self-reflection

Self-reflection is a deliberate and focused process of examining one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. In ACT, taking time for self-reflection enables individuals to deepen their self-awareness and gain clarity about their values. This involves creating space for introspection, setting aside dedicated time for reflection, and engaging in practices such as mindfulness and journaling. Self-reflection allows individuals to explore their inner world, understand their motivations, and identify patterns and themes that contribute to forming their values.

Identify significant life experiences

Significant life experiences are pivotal moments or events that have profoundly impacted an individual’s life and shaped their values. These experiences can be positive or negative, from personal achievements and relationships to challenges and hardships. Identifying these significant life experiences is an essential step in understanding the factors that have influenced the formation of one’s values. By recognizing the moments that have left a lasting impression, individuals can gain insight into the core aspects of their values.

Examine the emotions and values associated with these experiences

When reflecting on significant life experiences, it is essential to examine the emotions and values that are associated with them. Emotions serve as valuable cues that can provide insight into one’s values. Individuals can uncover the underlying values by exploring the emotions experienced during these significant life events. For example, a person might recall feeling a sense of joy and fulfillment during a particular achievement, indicating that values such as personal growth or accomplishment were being expressed.

Relevant Research on Self Reflection

Research conducted by Vansteenkiste, Ryan, and Deci (2021) highlighted the importance of self-reflection in promoting psychological well-being and fostering a sense of coherence and authenticity in one’s values. They found that individuals who engaged in regular self-reflection demonstrated higher levels of self-awareness and reported greater satisfaction with their lives. Furthermore, a case study by Wilson, Hayes, Gregg, and Zettle (2001) showcased how examining the emotions and values associated with significant life experiences led to meaningful insights and facilitated the alignment of values with actions in ACT. These examples emphasize the significance of reflecting on life experiences, engaging in self-reflection, and examining emotions and values in defining personal values.

2. Explore core domains of life

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), core domains refer to the key areas or aspects of an individual’s life that hold significance and contribute to their overall well-being. Exploring these core domains is essential in defining personal values, as it allows individuals to understand the various dimensions that comprehensively shape their lives. By exploring these domains, individuals can identify the most relevant areas to their values and priorities.

Identify critical areas of life

Identifying critical areas of life involves recognizing the specific dimensions or aspects within the core domains that are important to an individual. These critical areas can vary from person to person and may include relationships, career, health, personal growth, spirituality, and leisure activities. By identifying the critical areas, individuals can clarify where their values are most likely to manifest and where they want to direct their focus and attention.

Examples of core domains (e.g., relationships, career, health)

Core domains encompass various areas that are central to an individual’s life. Examples of these domains can include relationships, which involve family, friendships, romantic partnerships, and social connections. The career domain involves professional aspirations, work-life balance, and a sense of purpose in their chosen field. Health encompasses physical, mental, and emotional well-being. By considering these examples of core domains, individuals can recognize the areas that significantly impact their values and overall life satisfaction.

Consider the importance of each domain in your life

In ACT, it is essential to consider the importance of each domain in one’s life when defining personal values. This involves reflecting on each domain’s significance and impact on an individual’s well-being and sense of fulfillment. By considering the importance of each domain, individuals can prioritize their values accordingly and allocate their time and energy to the areas that align with their deepest aspirations and goals.

3. Brainstorm value statements

Brainstorming value statements is a creative and exploratory exercise defining personal values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Value statements are concise expressions that capture the essence of an individual’s core values within each domain of their life. Brainstorming value statements allows individuals to generate various possibilities and explore different facets of their values, providing a foundation for further reflection and clarification.

Define value statements

Defining value statements involves refining and articulating the core values identified during brainstorming. This step requires individuals to distill their values into clear, concise statements reflecting their authentic selves. Value statements should be specific, meaningful, and resonate with the individual’s aspirations and priorities. By defining value statements, individuals understand the principles they want to live by and the qualities they aim to embody in their actions and choices.

Brainstorm values within each core domain

Within each core domain, such as relationships, career, or health, individuals can brainstorm to generate a comprehensive list of values relevant to that area. This process involves exploring the values that align with each domain’s specific dimensions and aspirations. By brainstorming values within each core domain, individuals can capture the breadth and diversity of what matters to them and identify the fundamental principles that guide their behavior and decision-making.

Encourage creativity and open-mindedness

During the brainstorming phase of defining personal values, it is important to encourage creativity and open-mindedness. This involves allowing oneself to think freely and expansively without judgment or constraint. By embracing creativity and open-mindedness, individuals can tap into their imagination and explore values that may not have been immediately apparent. This approach broadens the possibilities and fosters a deeper exploration of values, leading to a more comprehensive and authentic understanding of one’s values.

4. Assess alignment with your authentic self

In defining personal values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), assessing alignment with one’s authentic self is crucial. This involves evaluating the degree to which the identified value statements resonate with an individual’s true essence, core beliefs, and personal identity. Assessing alignment requires individuals to reflect on whether the values they have identified genuinely reflect who they are at their core and align with their most profound sense of self.

Evaluate the unity of each value statement with your authentic self

When evaluating the unity of each value statement with one’s authentic self, individuals examine the coherence and consistency between their identified values and their fundamental sense of identity. This evaluation involves considering whether the value statements align with one another and create a unified framework for decision-making and behavior. It is essential to assess whether the identified values support and reinforce each other, promoting a sense of wholeness and unity in a values-driven life.

Reflect on personal strengths and growth areas

Reflecting on personal strengths and growth areas involves identifying and acknowledging the individual’s unique qualities and areas for potential development. In defining personal values, this reflection allows individuals to consider how they align with their inherent strengths and talents. Individuals can leverage personal strengths to live by their values by recognizing personal strengths. Simultaneously, reflecting on growth areas provides opportunities for personal development and growth that can support integrating values into daily life.

Identify potential conflicts or inconsistencies

In defining personal values, it is essential to identify potential conflicts or inconsistencies between different value statements or between values and external pressures or expectations. This involves examining whether values clash or contradict one another, creating internal tension or disharmony. Identifying potential conflicts or inconsistencies helps individuals navigate value dilemmas and make informed choices about prioritizing and aligning their values in the face of challenges.

5. Prioritize your values

Prioritization is crucial in defining personal values within Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Prioritizing values involves determining the relative importance and significance of each identified value. This step requires individuals to rank their values based on their judgment and assessment of what matters most to them. By prioritizing values, individuals can establish a clear hierarchy that guides their decision-making, behavior, and allocation of time and resources.

Rank the importance of each value

When ranking the importance of each value, individuals assess the significance and relevance of each value to their overall well-being and fulfillment. This evaluation involves considering the impact of each value on various aspects of life, such as relationships, career, health, and personal growth. By assigning a numerical or qualitative ranking to each value, individuals gain clarity on their relative importance and can allocate their attention and efforts accordingly.

Consider trade-offs and conflicts

While prioritizing values, it is essential to consider potential trade-offs and conflicts between different values. This involves recognizing that in certain situations, individuals may need to make choices that require them to prioritize one value over another. By considering potential conflicts, individuals can anticipate challenges and make informed decisions aligning with their essential values. It is a dynamic process that involves navigating the complexities and nuances of real-life situations.

Create a hierarchy of values based on personal significance

Creating a hierarchy of values based on personal significance involves synthesizing the rankings and considerations made for each value. This step results in developing a structured and organized framework that reflects the individual’s core values. The hierarchy represents the relative importance and interplays between values, providing a roadmap for decision-making and behavior. By creating a hierarchy, individuals understand their values' and order and can make choices that align with their deepest priorities.

6. Live your values

Living one’s values is the ultimate aim of defining personal values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It involves actively integrating the identified values into daily life and aligning one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions with those values. This transformative process requires individuals to go beyond mere conceptualization and translate their values into tangible behaviors and choices. Living their values, individuals experience a sense of authenticity, fulfillment, and well-being as they navigate life’s challenges and pursue meaningful goals.

Translate values into actionable behaviors

Translating values into actionable behaviors is critical in living one’s values. It involves identifying specific actions and behaviors consistent with the identified values. This requires individuals to reflect on how their values can manifest in concrete actions in different domains of life. By making values actionable, individuals bridge their aspirations and day-to-day behavior, allowing their values to guide their decisions and interactions with others.

Set goals aligned with your values

Setting goals aligned with values is essential for a values-driven life. It involves identifying specific objectives that align with the identified values. By aligning goals with values, individuals ensure their efforts and actions are directed toward what matters to them. This alignment provides a sense of purpose and motivation.

Review progress and adjust as needed

Continuously reviewing progress and adjusting as needed is crucial for maintaining a values-based approach to life. It involves regularly reflecting on one’s actions and evaluating their alignment with the identified values. By reviewing progress, individuals can identify areas of growth and areas where adjustments may be necessary. This ongoing process allows for flexibility and adaptation, ensuring that individuals remain aligned with their values in the face of changing circumstances or new insights.

Overcoming Common Challenges in Defining Personal Values

Defining personal values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can sometimes present challenges for individuals. These challenges may arise from various factors, such as fear, uncertainty, conflicting values, or feeling overwhelmed. However, it is essential to address these challenges to progress towards a values-driven life. This section explores some common challenges individuals may encounter when defining personal values and provides strategies for overcoming them.

Fear of judgment or criticism

One typical challenge individuals may face when defining personal values is the fear of judgment or criticism from others. This fear can stem from concerns about social acceptance or the perception that their values may be unconventional or deviate from societal norms. Overcoming this fear involves recognizing that personal values are subjective and unique to each individual. Research by Leary, Haupt, Strausser, and Chokel (1998) suggests that the fear of negative evaluation can significantly impact psychological well-being and inhibit pursuit of personal goals. Therefore, it is crucial to cultivate self-acceptance and prioritize one’s values and aspirations, irrespective of external judgments.

Feeling overwhelmed or uncertain

Another challenge individuals may face is feeling overwhelmed or uncertain when confronted with defining personal values. The process can involve deep introspection and reflection, which may lead to ambiguity or confusion. To overcome this challenge, individuals can break down the process into manageable steps and engage in self-reflection in a structured and gradual manner. Seeking support from ACT worksheets, guided exercises, or professional guidance can also be beneficial in navigating through feelings of overwhelm and uncertain.

Dealing with conflicting values

Defining personal values may involve encountering conflicts between different values that individuals hold. This can create internal dilemmas and make it challenging to establish a clear direction. Addressing conflicting values requires carefully examining their underlying motivations and potential trade-offs. It can be helpful to consider the context in which conflicts arise and explore the values' relative importance and impact on various aspects of life. Research by Lindholm and Verplanken (2018) suggests that understanding the dynamics of conflicting values and finding ways to reconcile or integrate them can promote psychological well-being and reduce decisional conflict.

Seeking support from a therapist or support group

Seeking support from a therapist or joining a support group can be valuable in overcoming challenges while defining personal values. These professionals can provide guidance, offer a safe and non-judgmental space for exploration, and assist in identifying strategies to overcome specific challenges. Additionally, engaging with others on a similar journey can provide validation, encouragement, and insights from different perspectives. Research by Hayes, Villatte, Levin, and Hildebrandt (2011) highlights the benefits of therapeutic support and group interventions in facilitating values exploration and enhancing well-being.


This article has provided a comprehensive guide to defining personal values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Through the identification and alignment with personal values, individuals have the opportunity to experience significant personal growth and enhance their overall well-being.

Encouragement to embark on the journey of self-discovery

Embarking on the journey of self-discovery and value exploration is an empowering endeavor that can bring about transformative change in one’s life. It highlights the potential for increased self-awareness, enhanced decision-making, and a more meaningful and purposeful life that awaits those who engage in this process.

Potential positive impact on personal growth and well-being

Research and empirical evidence consistently point to the positive impact of defining and living in alignment with personal values. Numerous studies have shown that individuals who prioritize and act by their values experience higher psychological well-being, increased resilience, and improved overall life satisfaction. Integrating values into daily life has also been associated with better mental health outcomes and a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Individuals can tap into these benefits by defining personal values and cultivating a more fulfilling and satisfying life.

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