“Although I’d had a consistent string of victories across Europe, a
win on my home turf had so far eluded me. When I slipped off the
wall to come in second…I realized that I had lost because I’d been
more concerned about winning than climbing my best. ‘Choking’
was a term I had learned long ago…and I was reminded once again
about the importance of having the right attitude and state of
mind.” (Hill, 2002, pp. 207)
As I read this paragraph, I realized that in my “playing not to lose” blog I omitted any commentary about “playing just to win.” In particular, we can sacrifice the quality of our existence when we play the game of life just to win achievements, success, good grades, money, status, etc.
Living life as a game, whether the focus is on “not losing” or winning, limits the extent to which we canimprove the quality of the moment. Once we have gained the achievement, we simply move onto the next goal to be fulfilled. Secondly, when life becomes about achieving goals, sometimes the moment-to-moment beauties of life fall to the wayside and some sort of list of successes is all that remains. Lynn Hill never climbed because she likes to win competitions. Granted, she is competitive and her opponents have often lost to her efforts, but overall Lynn Hill climbs simply because she loves climbing.
What if we lived each day as fully as possible simply because we love living?
The movement from merely being goal-oriented to thoroughly living in a moment echoes the value-driven life discussed in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Steven Hayes describes the connection between goals and values well: “Goals are the things you can obtain while walking a valued path” (Hayes, 2005, pp. 159). Returning to Lynn Hill’s “choking” experience, the goal was to win the competition, but the value was to climb as best she could. When she abandoned the value, the goal could not sustain the moment.
Steven Hayes poses the following question in order to help people pursue value-driven lives: What do you want your life to be about?
Obtaining an answer to this question can take hours, days, months, and even years of thought and conversation. There are many parts to life: family, work, friendship, spirituality, etc. Knowing what you “want your life to be about” in each one of these areas can take time, and knowing your values in one domain does not always mean you are clear about another. For instance, knowing “what you want your work life to be about” does not always mean you know “what you want your family life to be about.” Often times, one answer leads to more questions – but therein lies the process of determining a value-driven life.
The following can exemplify the complicated nature of a conversation aimed at understanding values:
C: I want to be a good father.
T: What does that mean?
C: To be there for my children.
T: In what way?
C: When they are hurt…when they are happy…when they are sad…
when they have no problems…I want to support them and love them
and for them to know I care about them no matter what.
T: What would that look like?
C: When my son asks me for help with his homework and I know I
have 50 emails to respond to, I want to be able to walk away from my
work, sit down with him, and help him with his homework without my
mind wandering to the emails. I want to enjoy or at least experience
the moments I have with him….
T: How might you start moving in that direction?
The conversation would likely continue for some time. Each day provides the chance to contemplate the question posed by Steven Hayes (What do you want your life to be about?) and every moment offers an opportunity to practice making value-driven choices.
It can be helpful to experiment with identifying your value for any given moment and then attempt to live according to that value. You could liken the experiment to “setting an intention” in which you note a value-based purpose and approach the day with that “intention” in mind. For instance, attacking a challenging task with the intention of “perseverance” moves the focus from achieving the goal to setting a standard for the way you handle obstacles. On the outside, your efforts may look similar with or without the intention, but the quality of the experience will be much more valuable.