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 Moving through emotional pain towards what's most important: One of of my favorite strategies for staying balanced and getting out of my head

Moving through emotional pain towards what's most important: One of of my favorite strategies for staying balanced and getting out of my head

Guest post from Dr. Natsumi Sawada, Registered Psychologist (originally published here).

Dr. Natsumi Sawada is a psychologist in private practice in Vancouver, B.C. Natsumi is passionate about using psychology to help people live meaningful, peaceful, connected, and joyful lives. For more of Natsumi's transformative tips check out her blogFacebook or Instagram


A central feature of one of my favorite therapies, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (aka ACT) is the idea that identifying our “values” and moving towards them even when we are experiencing emotional pain is crucial for psychological health and wellbeing.  

What are values? They are the things in life that are most important to us. They are what we want our lives to be about. They are different from goals in that they are not things that we can achieve or complete and they are not future destinations. They are the the things that are most important to us in life and in the now. Examples might be: Helping, creativity, our relationship, emotional closeness, caring for others, kindness, independence. One way to tap into your values is to ask, “Who or what is most important to me?” I will write more on identifying values in an upcoming blog post.  

So why move towards values even when we feel terrible? 

Well, ACT proposes that pain is an inevitable part of being human (or sea slug for that matter). To experience physical and psychological pain in the form of difficult thoughts, emotions, and sensations is to be human. It is not pathological, abnormal, or something to be changed. Our lives cannot be separated from pain. We inevitably experience loss and disappointment; feel sadness, anger, fear, guilt, and shame; experience self doubt and self judgment. We don’t often recognize that everybody suffers especially in the Instagram era when all we see is everybody else’s glowing faces and smiles on our screens while we struggle through the slop. But the idea that everyone is happy is bogus. The truth is, every person feels emotional pain and will feel pain throughout their life. Values are important because moving towards them orients us and give life meaning (and all the positive things that come with it). If we want to create meaning in our lives we cannot wait for the skies to clear because being human can at times be a little like living in Vancouver in November.  


This sounds grim but it’s actually great news because to be psychologically healthy we need to experience positive AND painful emotions. For one thing, it’s natural to feel painful emotions. Imagine you never felt sad or afraid. I don’t think I need to explain why that would problematic. Painful emotions and thoughts serve important protective functions. We need to experience fear, sadness, and guilt to function in the world and to be human (more on this later). Some people argue we need to embrace this vulnerability that we all share, to connect with and be of service to others. Some research even suggests experiencing too much positive emotion is bad for our health and well being. It can cause us to engage in more risky behavior, impede our performance, and hinder our ability to empathize and take others’ perspectives (something that is crucial for good relationships). Research also suggests pursuing happiness can do more harm than good because the more people pursue happiness the less they seem to experience it. See this article for more. So forget the “don’t worry be happy" stuff. Ideally we have a little of both.  

However understandably, humans don't like to experience pain (and don’t even like to experience the possibility of future pain) so often when we experience it we struggle against it like a fish on a hook and line. We think about it, we worry about it, we dread it, we anticipate it, we question it, we obsess about it, we try to mentally problem solve our way out of it. A large part of the war we fight against our painful mental experiences (such as sadness, anxiety, anger, worries, doubts, obsessions, rumination) often takes place in the form of a why question: Why can't I be happier? Why me? Why am I so weird? Why am I messed up (or insert another insult of your choice here)? Why does life have to be this way? Why is everybody such a [bleep]?  

According to ACT, while this is a totally understandable response to pain, this mental war is problematic because whether you experience a little psychological pain or what seems like a lot, the struggle against it makes things so much worse; It creates pain 2.0 otherwise known as suffering. This is similar to an idea found in Buddhist philosophy, illustrated by the story of the two arrows:  


“…When touched with a feeling of pain, the ordinary person sorrows, grieves, and laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows…”   

The idea here is that when we experience pain (it could be physical pain as described here or emotional), we often react to it by fighting against it. We feel anxious and we get mad at ourselves for feeling this way, we feel sad and we feel ashamed, we feel depressed and we ruminate on the question “what is wrong with me?” and then ruminate on the answer, “you are deficient.” This causes us to, in effect, shoot ourselves with a second arrow: We add suffering to pain.  

One goal of ACT is to teach us how to reduce this suffering by learning to let go of the automatic habit of shooting the second arrow when we experience pain and instead move towards our values. Rather than getting caught up in the net of pain and suffering, we engage with and move towards what's important to us even when we feel pain. The idea is that we can experience painful mental events such as sadness or anxiety or the thoughts, “I can’t do it” or “I don’t want to” or “I’m a failure”  AND we can go on bike rides, work in the garden, do our work, paint a picture, act in a loving way, meet a friend, and do other things that create meaning and value in our life. The experience of a painful mental event cannot stop us from doing these things. The idea in ACT is that we recognize these thoughts and feelings with mindfulness AND then we move towards what's important to us with pain in hand.  


Does it sound hard? It can be! The experience of sadness for example can organize our whole being to want to lie in bed, cry, eat cheetos and ice cream, surf the internet mindlessly for hours, and ruminate about what went wrong. Does this mean this is our only option? No. As difficult as it might be we can mindfully recognize our emotions with kindness and then, with the same attitude of love and care, ask ourselves, “Does acting on my urges take me farther from or in the direction of who or what is most important to me?” We can then do our best to take a small step towards what is important. It is not always easy but with a lot of practice we can learn how to do this. We can learn how to respond more flexibly to emotional pain instead of always going with the knee jerk reaction of resisting it, hiding from it, smothering it, and turning it into suffering. Some of the mental skills that can help us learn to do this are mindfulness, self compassion, and distress tolerance. I will talk more about these skills in future blog posts.    

I’m writing this post because I find this idea of moving towards values with pain particularly valuable and I use it a lot in my own life. When I feel despair, sadness, or anxiety, for sometimes what seems to be no reason at all, one of the most helpful things I've learned to do is to mindfully take note of the emotion and accompanying urges that arise in me, remind myself of my values, and encourage myself to take one tiny step in the direction of my values.  

For example, if I feel despair I might notice the urge to listen to sad music, lie in bed and watch Netflix, or ruminate about the things that are not going well for me and what I’ve done wrong. However, while understandable, these behaviors are designed to numb or escape pain and take me further from my values of learning and teaching, caring for others, developing my skills as a psychologist, being an engaged and loving partner, and creative expression. So, I do my best to notice these emotions and urges with kindness, acknowledge how painful they are, and then if all goes according to plan, I take a tiny step in the direction of my values. I repeat TINY. This is crucial because when we feel anxious or down even “small” steps can seem overwhelming. My tiny step might be washing the dishes in the sink, reading a page of a book, going for a walk around the block, or send a half dozen friends a cat meme (someone usually responds). Although it’s important to note that the point of moving towards values is not to get rid of pain, I sometimes find that after I have made a move towards my values, my difficult emotions loom less large or sometimes even pass. And, at the very least I’m sad but at least I’m sad AND I went for a walk and took a step towards health.  

If you want, try this out for yourself. Write down a few of your values and the next time you find yourself caught up in painful thoughts or emotions, see if you might remind yourself of some of your values and ask yourself the question, “Does acting on these mental experiences or thoughts take me closer to or farther away from what is most important to me?” If the answer is farther you might ask, “What tiny step might I take towards my values?” If this seems really difficult get in touch with a counsellor or psychologist for help. 

It's important to note that what feels tiny to me might feel microscopic to you or it might feel huge. Take a step that feels tiny to you. It might be doing five jumping jacks or washing three dishes or it might be reorganizing your house or running a marathon.  Meet yourself where you are at. The main point is to take a tiny step towards your values, notice that you did it, and see what happens next and repeat. Let me know what happens.  



This post is a continuation of my last post, which can be summed up nicely by this quote my colleague Andrea recently posted on Instagram:

“You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”

In that post I asked you to get in touch with all of the reasons WHY you want to keep your cup full. These are your WHYs for taking care of you: the values and people you want to nourish in your life. If you haven’t read it, it’s short, please take a moment to do so: Want to Change the World? Start by Connecting to You.

In this post I’d like to talk about WHAT self-care is for you? I think a common misconception is that self-care is all about tea and massages. These are great ways to recharge if they work for you! But personally I find going for a run or sitting around a dinner table with my friends just as nourishing as going to the spa. Last post I also suggested that you should not start with what other people tell you you should do to take care of yourself or what your inner bully tells you your “lazy butt” should do to take care of you. I think the most nourishing self-care moments are actually when we connect our actions with our values (our WHYs). So, let’s look back at those lists we created last time. Here’s my short list:


Who is important to me? (1)

  • My family

  • My friends

  • My colleagues

What is important to me? (1)

  • Growth

  • Hard work

  • Authenticity

  • Creativity

  • Connecting with people

  • Feeling part of something bigger than me

  • Taking care of my body

  • Being in nature

  • Freedom

  • Fun

I’ll try to give you an example of how you might try to connect your self-care actions with your WHYs in the area of health. Most of us know that exercise is an important piece of self-care, but for many of us it feels like a chore. I was in this boat for a long time. When I was a kid I played many sports, mostly just for fun, because my friends were doing them. But as I got older my friends did fewer team sports and by the age of 18 I was left sport-less. My husband is a professional athlete and when we met at the age of 20 I was inspired to get back into exercise. So, I tried to jump on the gym bandwagon. My husband spent his days at the gym, there must be something good about it right? And so I would go to the gym a few hours a week to work out and it was fine. But then slowly but surely the gym would creep down my priority list and ooops I would find myself months without going to the gym at all. Anyone recognize this pattern? And the pattern continued for years and years until near the end of my 20s when I decided I was tired of feeling bad about not going to the gym and gave up on exercise altogether. Phew what a relief! But then months later, feeling sluggish and unfit, I asked myself “is there another way?” Can I personalize this exercise thing so that I actually like it and it might stick? So I looked back and asked myself what I used to like about exercise? For many sports it was just the social aspect but there were no sports that all of my friends were doing anymore (and I’m not that good at making new friends) so that might not work. But then I realized the two sports I really loved, just for me, were horseback riding and cross-country skiing (neither of which is done in a gym, Aha!) So why did I like them? 1) Because they were both done outside, often in the forest (which connected me to nature), and 2) taking off for hours of trail riding or skiing totally disconnected me from “real life” and rejuvenated me (which gave me a sense of freedom). And so, with less time in the schedule as an adult I decided to try out something similar but more practical: running. I loved it and haven’t looked back since. What I learned is that if you turn exercise into something is meaningful to you, the motivation will come much easier.

Since then I have tried this with different aspects of my life. I’ve broken down self-care into 4 domains for myself: Health, Leisure, Work, and Relationships (1). And asked myself in each of these domains what is a meaningful self-care activity for me? Remember we can find meaning by looking to our WHYs.

Here are some of the self-care activities that work for me (my self-care WHATs):

Domain: Health
Self-care WHAT: Running
WHY: Connection to nature; feeling of freedom

Domain: Leisure
Self-care WHAT: Dinners with friends (especially outside)
WHY: Connection with people; feeling part of something bigger than myself; fun

Domain: Work
Self-care WHAT: Blocking off hours in the morning once a week for writing
WHY: Freedom; creativity

Domain: Relationships
Self-care WHAT: Long weekends up north with my husband
WHY: Connection; nature; growth as a couple, as parents; authenticity; (and freedom from the children!)

If you like the idea try it out and see how it works for you!

“Make a chore into a meaningful decision, and self-motivation will emerge.”
From the book Smarter Faster Better, by Charles Duhigg

I know I promised to talk about finding your lead domino (2) and making daily commitments to action. I did not forget. So stay tuned for part 3 of Want to change the world, start by connecting to you!

Jodie Richardson is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


Great book by Charles Duhigg, Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

Check out this fun video by Dr. Russ Harris: Values vs Goals     

Intrinsic motivation is proven to help us reach our goals long-term. See: Koestner, R. (2008). Reaching One’s Personal Goals: A Motivational Perspective Focused on Autonomy. Canadian Psychology, 49(1), 60-67. 

Also see: Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, Edward L. Deci

1. These are really great questions that Benjamin Schoendorff asks in his ACT matrix training to get at what’s truly important to people and to break down life into important domains. You can find out more about the ACT matrix here. Clinicians can check out his book: The Essential Guide to the ACT matrix.

2. Borrowing this term from Tim Ferriss and The 4 Hour Workweek

Want to change the world? Start by connecting to you

Want to change the world? Start by connecting to you

I’m a psychologist and I help people make changes in their lives. I’ve long wondered why I’m so fascinated with things like eating habits, physical fitness and sleep. A very good friend of mine once called these types of self-care behaviours self-indulgent and I felt ashamed. Is helping people eat, exercise and sleep better really perpetuating self-indulgence? It doesn’t feel like that to me and yet when my yoga teacher says “thank yourself for taking the time to practice self-care today” I feel an aversion to this statement myself. So what’s going on here?

I think I’ve figured it out… people (including me) sometimes associate self-care with selfishness, but they are not the same thing. Selfishness is putting my needs above others, but self-care is simply acknowledging that my needs need taking care of too. Self-care can, in fact, help us be less selfish since when our needs are satisfied we are better able to meet the needs of others. It’s the put on your oxygen mask first thing. Self-care is not just a personal endeavor; it’s about being the best human I can be for myself and others, my family, my friends, my clients, and hopefully the world.

Keep your big dreams for yourself, others and the world… and care for yourself enough to make them happen.

With that preamble, I'm hoping you might be thinking, ok then maybe I would like to practice a little more self-care. You've probably been thinking about it anyways, who doesn't think they should exercise more, sleep better, or eat healthier? I'm just asking you to see these things as self-care rather than "things you should do" and to see self-care as a worthwhile endeavor for not only yourself, but also the world around you. Oh yes, and as something you can do right now (not at some utopic moment when you have the time and energy to do so in the future). You still on board?  

Ok, so here's where we do not start... with what other people, like your mom or your co-worker have told you you really should do to take better care of yourself, or with  what your inner critic tells you your lazy butt should do to take better care of yourself. Instead start by connecting to YOU (in a nice way) and the things that are truly important to you. From that place (and maybe that place only) you can make real, lasting changes in your life. In psychology we call this intrinsic motivation. It’s motivation that comes from inside of you, like “I’m doing this because it’s inherently pleasurable” or “I’m doing this because it’s truly important to me” (1).

So, first question I'd like you to ask yourself is "WHO is important to me in my life?" (2) My husband, my children, my parents, my friend Jane, my boyfriend, my children, my dog, etc. Make a list and write it down.

Second question, "WHAT is important to me in my life?" (2) Not as easy as the first one right? So, think personal values here. One way to know what your values are is to think about someone you admire and ask yourself what it is about that person that you so admire? Is it their tenacity, their strength, their kindness, their authenticity, their connection with their family, their love of learning, etc. Write down 5-10 values that are important to you.

So, you might have a list like this:

Who is important to me?

  • My husband
  • My children
  • My best friend Jane
  • My sister
  • My colleagues
  • My dog

What is important to me?

  • Learning new things
  • Love
  • Relationships
  • Kindness
  • Nature
  • Feeling free to make my own choices
  • Being present in the moment
  • Health

Now, why have I asked you to make this list? These are your WHYs. All of the reasons to take care of you: For the people who are important to you and the values that are important in your life. You'll be better able to connect to those people and live out those values if you have your oxygen mask on. Does this make sense?

If so, please take the time to connect to your WHYs. In trying to keep blog posts readable I've decided to make this into a few part series. Stay tuned for our next post in which we’ll talk about how to choose your lead domino (3) for self-care, that is the habit that will have the biggest impact on your life and help other habits fall into place.  We’ll look at how you can tap into your WHYs to increase your motivation to follow through on your goals and we’ll help you make daily commitments to action.

It’s not about proving to yourself that you can do it, it’s about figuring out how you can make it happen.

Jodie Richardson is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


1. Intrinsic motivation is proven to help us reach our goals long-term. See: Koestner, R. (2008). Reaching One’s Personal Goals: A Motivational Perspective Focused on Autonomy. Canadian Psychology, 49(1), 60-67.  Also see: Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, Edward L. Deci

2. These are really great questions that Benjamin Schoendorff asks in his ACT matrix training to get at what’s truly important to people. You can find out more about the ACT matrix here. Clinicians can check out his book: The Essential Guide to the ACT matrix.

3. Borrowing this term from Tim Ferriss and The 4 Hour Workweek.

The Skinny on ACT

The Skinny on ACT

By: Brent Beresford, PhD Candidate




Hello Readers,

            You may already have heard about Acceptance and Commitment therapy, or ACT—which, as its authors like to say, is pronounced “act” and not “ay-see-tee”. Recently, our resident psychologist Lisa Linardatos posted a Ted talk by Steven Hayes, founding author of this approach—check it out to find out more about ACT straight from the source. What I wanted to do here was to briefly let you in on what ACT is all about. I quickly realized that it might take a couple of instalments to do that. So we’ll start from the bottom, and see where we get. But first, perhaps it’s interesting to know that ACT isn’t all that new. Steven Hayes, Kelly Wilson, and Kirk Strosahl first started adapting this approach in the 80s. After several years of using and investigating the approach, they finally put together a first book about ACT in 1999. Since then, ACT has become one of the most researched therapeutic approaches; creating a huge buzz in the world of psychology. You can see just how much is being done by going to the ACT online learning and research community (

            Before talking about what ACT is, I think it’s interesting to note where it stems from—because the basis and foundations of ACT are what set it apart from many other approaches. A major element that underlays ACT is in the way the approach understands human suffering as being universal and normal. Kelly Wilson writes about it as the ubiquity of human suffering, or simply as the human condition. So, instead of seeing some of the ineffective and painful things that we do as being pathological (like worrying, isolating ourselves, catastrophizing), ACT sees them as being typical learned ways of facing pain and suffering that are perhaps amplified and no longer adaptive to the lives we want to lead. Though this might seem like a small detail, it is actually what allows for ACT therapists and their clients to find a common place from which they can work together. Understanding that the obstacles that are difficult for clients can be the same ones that are difficult for therapists allows for a great amount of empathy, and also allows for an appreciation of others as fellow travellers in the rock and roll ups and downs that life brings us.

            Another important element that relates to this is ACT’s understanding of a typical human behaviour that can lead to suffering—what Russ Harris calls the happiness trap. Basically, in our search to want to feel better, we often use our problem-solving mode of mind to find solutions. The problem being that I feel like crap; the obvious solution that I should be happy. Two issues with this are, first, that there are certain myths that we believe in that make us think that this solution is appropriate, and second, that the mode we use to go about being happy may actually lead to more suffering. Harris describes these myths in detail, but I’ll just name them here: happiness is the natural state for ALL human beings; If you’re not happy, you’re defective; To create a better life, we must get rid of negative feelings; and You should be able to control what you think and feel. Though each of these myths are distinct, they share a common idea: that we can somehow control our happiness and pain. Of course, that is the unfortunate message that is pervasive in our society.

            What is happiness anyways? Is it about “YOLO” and big smiles, and floating on clouds? Or can it be about “living a rich and meaningful life”? The issue is, as Harris puts it, if we want to live a full life then we will experience the full range of human emotions—including the ones that are less pleasant. Is that necessarily a bad thing or abnormal? Not according to ACT. So, with that in mind, Jason Luoma and colleagues clarify ACT’s goal as not being about feeling better, but about having the focus be on living better. In order for that to happen, a huge part is in acknowledging that this suffering is a normal part of our lives. Why do we have to acknowledge this? Not for any intellectual reason; but because if we look deeply at our own experiences, we can see, as Kelly Wilson writes, that as we turn away from our suffering we also turn away from other things—sometimes missing some of the richest elements in our lives.


            And so, where I’ll end is on a short exploration of a key element in living full and meaningful lives—our values. Wilson writes that values and vulnerabilities are poured from the same vessel. Meaning that often it is in the areas that we care about most that we are most likely to experience pain. If we take a moment to look at our experiences, we might see that often the times that it hurts the most are the times involving those people that are the most important to us. And so, turning away from that pain can often involve turning away from those people. This is a reason that ACT focuses on constructing our values and making our lives be about those things that bring us the most meaning. But how to do that? How often are we permitted to take a step back and explore what makes sense, what brings vitality and true fulfilment?

            Perhaps this exercise, Already 80, can allow you to contemplate these things, bringing what is truly important to light. In being more aware of these values, we may already feel the pull of wanting to head in their direction. An invitation is to tread lightly—holding values rigidly or wanting to live them at all costs can be tantamount to smothering them.

Brent Beresford

Brent Beresford is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical and Research Psychology program at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM), and formerly a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


Harris, R. (2007). The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living.

Luoma, J., Hayes, S., & Walser, R. (2007). Learning ACT: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Skills-Training Manual for Therapists.

Wilson, K., & Dufrene, T. (2008). Mindfulness for Two: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Approach to Mindfulness in Psychotherapy.

The “Values Hack”

The “Values Hack”

My clients send me the most interesting articles and last week, true to her nature, one of my clients sent me a thoughtful piece on some possible limitations of mindfulness. I read through it and was happy to see that the author was not just trying to find something wrong with a now very popular practice, and thought he made some interesting points about the limitation of mindfulness in helping people make meaning out of things. This point reminded me of a discussion our team had a few months back after one of our mindfulness training sessions, and triggered my desire to write this post. After a 45-minute meditation in November I asked my colleague Natsumi (who I teasingly call my mindfulness guru) “What about making meaning out of things?” “What do you mean?” She asked in her inquisitive, soft, non-judgmental tone. I was struggling with how to integrate this thing that I do which I (again lightheartedly) call a “Values Hack” into my attempt to live mindfully. To clarify things I will define them both.

Mindfulness helps us notice, be present, without judgment and practice being with whatever comes up without trying to change it or make it go away and to do so with compassion and kindness for the self and others (in a nutshell and from my junior yet consistent mindfulness practice).

A “Values Hack” on the other hand is about changing the present moment by changing your mindset to create moments of meaning out of otherwise stressful, boring, or tedious situations.

  • Step 1. Know your values (i.e., what is important to you). A helpful way to learn what is important to you is to think about the people who are living the way that you want to live. Please see my first blog post for some tips on doing this (you can scroll all the way down to the second to last paragraph if you wish to skip the rest). For example, some of my values include, curiosity, learning, connection, kindness, humility, hard work, courage and gratitude. Some come naturally, some I have to really work at cultivating.                                                                                                
  • Step 2. Remember your values on a daily basis and call on them to guide your actions and your mindset, especially in difficult situations. This might sound easy but it is incredibly hard because a lot of times we have these voices in our heads yelling just the opposite of what our values may stand for.

How is this different from mindfulness? Let’s take an example.

Your friend just came back from an amazing trip to Barcelona and is excited to show you all her pictures! You didn’t have the money to go on vacation this year and are feeling tired and overwhelmed with work. Well, you might quite automatically feel jealous, angry, or sad because it feels unfair that she gets to go on vacation and you don’t, you feel so tired and are wondering when you’ll get a break.

In my experience mindfulness would have you notice your thoughts, feelings and sensations that come up in this experience, accept them without judgment and possibly practice loving kindness towards your friend and yourself.  This is useful and would likely stop you from saying some passive-aggressive comment to your friend about how you heard Bora Bora is better than Barcelona at this time of year.

The values hack is different in that it really is about changing your mindset about the situation -- remembering your values and making meaning out of an otherwise unpleasant situation. So, for example taking this as an opportunity to learn about a different culture, or to connect with your friend while sharing something important to her, or to practice gratitude for what you do have.

My colleague Lisa told me she hacked herself when she found she could not get on her treadmill because she had so many boxes stored on it and was procrastinating about cleaning it off – she changed her mindset to view the cleaning as part of the exercise process, giving meaning to lifting those heavy boxes and cleared the space for her exercise that day. This “values hack” has helped me more than any other tool I’ve ever come across. I helps me get things done, make moments of meaning out of otherwise stressful or negative situations and ultimately live more in line with what is important to me. When I have tough decisions to make they are so much easier because if it’s in line with my values I can more easily choose to just move forward with it despite the insecurities, judgments, and what-ifs in my head.

So, I come back to the question how does this integrate with mindfulness? I think some people more naturally gravitate to acceptance and being present and others, like me, more naturally want to find some sense of meaning or control. This was so well exemplified one day when Natsumi and I were driving in the car together back from a conference and stuck in major traffic. Both of us had some stress because we knew we had to be back for something at a certain time but we both managed not to get on that stress train and fill the car with useless negativity about something we couldn’t control. When I asked her how she coped with the traffic she said she took the opportunity to be present and was noticing how beautiful the world around her was (the clouds, the trees). I on the other hand, I had used my values hack to see this as more time to connect with Natsumi & learn from her as I knew she would be leaving us soon to explore the world and then move to the other side of Canada!

So, coming back to this conversation we had in which I asked Natsumi how I could integrate my values hack with mindfulness, her response was perfectly mindful in that she was curious, non-judgmental and… did not give me an answer. And I love her for this. Losing her made me realize how much I need mindfulness in my own life – sometimes it’s about making meaning out of things and that does give me a much needed sense of control but sometimes it’s about noticing what’s going on without trying to change it or control it in any way and that is so much harder for me to do but it is what I love and find so reassuring in other people. So, try them both on for size, see which one fits you most naturally, see which one might seem foreign or new. Practice them both and see what you think. I think I hacked myself because I added mindfulness to my list of values to practice. I have my suspicions that it’s not just another value but a different layer entirely. I’ll meditate on it… 

For more on your values check out:

The Upside of Stress, by Kelly McGonigal (it’s packed full of research about changing your Mindset and the first half has a lot of values-based exercises)

Baumeister, R.F. (2013). The Meanings of Life, aeon.

The Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) Website 

Jodie Richardson is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.