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Living a Meaningful Life Abroad: Identifying Your Values

Many of the international clients I work with made their initial move abroad in order to live a more meaningful…

post by Melissa

Many of the international clients I work with made their initial move abroad in order to live a more meaningful life. However, with the challenges that come with living abroad, they often find themselves dissatisfied and wondering if they truly can live a meaningful life abroad. Through further exploration in therapy sessions, we usually discover that they’ve become disconnected from that which is truly important to them deep in their hearts. In other words, they’ve lost touch with their values, including those that motivated them to go abroad in the first place.

Committing to living a life guided by your values is one of the two main aims of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a type of therapy that has an ever-increasing body of research demonstrating its effectiveness. It’s a great fit for my globally mobile clients because your values are something that you can take with you, regardless of where you’re currently calling home. In today’s post I want to explain what exactly values are and give you two exercises to help you reflect on your own values.

What are values? And how are they different from goals?

Values are unique to each and every individual. There are no right or wrong values. They are related to what you ultimately want your life to be about. Some clients find it helpful to think of them as your mission statement.

Often we live our lives based on “shoulds,” or external pressure from family, friends, the media or society. Living a life that is guided by your values means that instead of letting these “shoulds” determine the path you take, you let your journey be guided by what’s deeply important to you in your heart.

Unlike goals, values can’t be checked off. They will continue to be important even when a goal has been completed. For instance, if one of your values is exploration, you can check off goals such visiting a new city, but the value of exploration will not cease to be important to you. Another way to think about it is that while goals are a destination to arrive at (for instance, Rome), values are the direction you move in to arrive there (North, South, East or West).

Being more aware of your values, however, can help you to accomplish a goal. For instance, if your goal is to learn a language there are always going to be obstacles, both internal and external, that get in the way of that goal. If you’re able to remember how this goal connects to the bigger picture of what you want your life to be about, then you can learn strategies to stay committed to these goals despite the challenges that arise.

Furthermore, being aware of our values allows us to enjoy the moment rather than being overly focused on completing our goals.  Instead of being focused on arriving somewhere, we can also enjoy the journey. We don’t need to wait until we achieve our goal to start living a rich and meaningful life, we can find small ways to live in accordance with our values each and every day.

How can I identify my values?

There are many exercises out there to help with identifying your values. Two that I enjoy using with clients are the Letter to a Friend and The Bull’s Eye.

Letter to a Friend:

Imagine that it’s 10 years into the future and you’re writing a letter to a caring and supportive friend with whom you feel comfortable sharing personal details about your life. Tell them what things you’re doing in the following areas of your life:

Write this letter as though there was nothing in your way of the life you’d like to live, including no judgement from other people. If some areas aren’t important to you then you don’t need to write about them. After writing this letter take some time to reflect on what this letter tells you about what’s deeply important to you in each area.  

The Bull’s Eye

Now, keeping in mind what you’ve learned about what’s truly important to you, place an X in each section of the dart board below to mark how closely your current life is aligned with your values. Place the X in the center of the board (the bull’s eye) if you’re living fully by your values. The farther you put the X to the edge of the board, the less you’re living by your values in this area.

After completing this exercise, ask yourself: What is the smallest, easiest step I could take in the next 24-hours to be more aligned with my values in one of these areas?

Working on identifying your values can be a challenging process. Many people struggle to clarify the difference between their values and goals, or to find small ways they could start living by their values in the immediate future. Other people realize they lack the skills to move in the direction of their values, such as problem solving, assertiveness, riding the wave of difficult feelings or unhooking from self-defeating thoughts. These are some areas where working with a therapist can be particularly helpful.

If you’d like more support in creating a more meaningful life abroad and would like to see if I’d be a good fit for you as an online therapist, please get in touch to set up a free 15-minute consultation.

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