Living Our Core Values Even When Negative Thoughts and Feelings Arise

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    We often end up stuck, waiting to fix ourselves or ‘feel better,’ before we can live out our core values. But what if that didn’t have to be true?

-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark

There are basically two parts to living our core values.

First, we have to figure out what really matters to us the most. Then, we must find ways to work constructively with the distractions that try to convince us something else is more important.

Negative thoughts and feelings are common distractions that can lead us off-course. Across a lifetime, we develop habitual patterns of relating to the thoughts and feelings that dwell in our minds.

And just like anything else we’ve seen a million times, we often take for granted all of the reactions and associations that accompany these thoughts and feelings. It’s a dance that has played out for decades, and all of the steps seem to occur automatically.

Take, for example, the word “lemon.” If you sit with that word for a moment, it’s likely to trigger a chain of related thoughts, images, and associations. We have so much familiarity with lemons that we take for granted that the word “lemon” is only associated with roundness, juiciness, and yellowness in our minds.  

In precisely the same way, a persistent negative thought can become tightly fused with a host of associated meanings and reactions.

Having the negative thought, “I am unlovable,” for instance, might convince us that we: (a) are in fact unlovable, (b) should never take any interpersonal risks, and (c) would do better staying at home alone.

So we often end up stuck, waiting to fix ourselves or ‘feel better,’ before we can live out our core values. But what if that didn’t have to be true? What if having the thought “I am unlovable” didn’t have to mean that I am actually an unlovable person or that I should live the life of a hermit?

According to one school of psychotherapy, known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), it is possible to accept negative thoughts for what they are without allowing them to distract us from what’s really most important in our lives.

Of course, after years of conditioning, learning to mentally uncouple or defuse negative thoughts from their associated meanings is no easy feat.

It takes practice and a willingness to relate to our thoughts and feelings in new ways.

ACT offers several strategies for helping people manage negative thoughts in a productive way. One of these techniques was developed more than 100 years ago and has been scientifically shown to reduce the believability of negative self-thoughts and discomfort associated with them.

Want to try it for yourself? Then sign up for a free Lifespark Exclusive membership and get access to this exclusive exercise.  

EXCLUSIVE EXERCISE: Try this ‘Cognitive Defusion’ Technique and Change the Way You See Yourself

And in the comments below, tell us how you’ve been able to live according to your values in spite of negativity.


Further Reading:

















Hayes, S. C., Luoma, J. B., Bond, F. W., Masuda, A., & Lillis, J. (2006). Acceptance and commitment therapy: Model, processes and outcomes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 1-25.

Masuda, A., Hayes, S. C., Sackett, C. F., & Twohig, M. P. (2004). Cognitive defusion and self-relevant negative thoughts: Examining the impact of a ninety year old technique. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42, 477-485.


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