Understanding The Differences Between Goals and Values



Have you ever found yourself living outside your values? Do you notice you constantly reach for the next best thing you believe life has to offer you? With this goal-oriented mindset, you can miss out on the small joys along the journey. You become so busy "goal chasing". Whether you are waiting on that next promotion, searching for the home of your dreams, or planning the most idyllic wedding, it is easy to get caught up in this achievement mindset. While it is healthy to set goals and look forward to these exciting moments, it is crucial to be mindful of when we become so hyper-focused on the outcome of our goals. Here, is where we can feel frustrated with ourselves that we miss out on what is actually important to us.


By grasping the nuances between goals and values we can set ourselves up for success.


Goals are the specific ways you intend to live by your values. A goal is something that you aim for and check off once you accomplish it. You can set personal, professional, relational, financial, health, or fitness goals.

Meanwhile, values are like a compass that keeps us headed in the desired direction. In other words, they are directions of committed action that we choose to live by every day. With a value, there is no end-point. This creates less pressure and room for shame and guilt. Living a life according to our values helps us shift our focus away from achievement, and brings us satisfaction throughout the journey. Even if you are unsure of what your values are, everyone has core values. Values can be your morals, spiritual beliefs, family traditions, and much more. By digging deep through self-reflection we can clarify our personal values.


" Our personal values are the measuring scale by which we determine what is a successful and meaningful life." - Mark Manson


Here are some simple questions to help you uncover your values

  • What inspires you?

  • What makes you tick?

  • When do you feel grateful or appreciative? For what?

  • When do you feel like your most authentic self? What are you doing in those moments?

  • What is your favorite way to spend the weekends?

  • Where do you spend most of your time, energy, and financial resources?

  • What qualities do you value in your closest friends?

If you get stuck with these questions, begin by choosing an area of life to examine (Work/Education, Leisure, Relationships, Personal Growth/Health). Begin to jot down a list and decide which values are VI (Very important), SI (Somewhat important), or NI (Not important) to you.


Once we know our values, we can set achievable goals in alignment with what is most important to us.


Steven Hayes’ Acceptance and Commitment Therapy belongs to the so-called “third wave” of behavioral therapies. It posits that each and every day we make judgments based on our values. These judgments shape our behaviors and what we believe is right versus wrong in the world. Hayes believes that by understanding our own values we can develop more self-awareness and live more in the present moment.


Life is consistently uncertain. We never know where the journey will take us. You may be working towards becoming the Marketing Director at your company, to find out your partner has been asked to relocate your family for a new job. This can be very difficult to navigate. However, if we can focus on our underlying core values, we can avoid feeling completely defeated when our life turns out in unexpected ways.


We hope this post brings clarity for you in identifying personal values. If you want to dive deeper into exploring your values alongside a therapist, the psychologists at North Berkeley Counseling are here to support you. We see clients in our office in Berkeley, California, as well as online throughout California, Florida, and Virginia.