In my practice as a psychotherapist, I see several clients who describe a sense of discontent. They find themselves wondering: “Why is it that I never have enough time to do everything I want to do?” or “I feel so overwhelmed, like I’m just going through the motions, but not really feeling meaning in anything I do.”
In this fast-paced world, I believe it’s only natural to get caught up in an over-committed, “under-prioritized” way of living. Sometimes we find ourselves caught up in the cycle of doing things we don’t really want to be doing over and over again because we feel like it’s something expected of us, or something we “should” be doing. Consequently, we get busier and we’re not really aligned with our priorities. As this builds up, we may find ourselves experiencing a general feeling of disconnect and discontent.
When these types of issues arise for my clients, I ask them to think of a time when they felt really content or genuinely at peace. What was unique about that time in your life – what were your priorities then and how are you, or aren’t you, aligned with those now? This can be a challenging question for some. I have found a simple value assessment exercise helpful in illustrating this point: Get a pencil and paper and take few minutes to write down your “Top 10 Values.” This list could comprise anything from family, love, honesty, integrity, creativity, or I’ve seen clients use words like humor, compassion, communication, nature, or spontaneity. Some people start writing and get to about the sixth word and stop. “I can’t think of anything else,” they say. Well, how would others describe you? What are principles or values you can’t imagine living without?
When you get to a list of 10 values, divide them in half – and come up with a top five list out of those 10. Then, for the last step, rank in order these top five values from one to five, No. 1 being the most important.
What did you come up with? What is the No. 1 value on your list? Is it family? Is it trust? Is it love? Whatever it is for you, you must then ask yourself: How well are my priorities in life aligned with my top five values? If family is No. 1 on your list, for example, are you finding that your priorities are really aligned with what that means to you? If not, how can you start to make changes to get back to a way of living that individually matches what you deem valuable. This exercise is a concrete way of taking the time to assess what is truly important in your life. It sounds simple, but you may find the results surprising.