S2E14 Values

Finally! In this episode, the docs talk through one of their favorite topics on WEMW: values. Dr. Pete and Dr. Rubin define what values are and how they function like directions, discuss their relationship with flexibility, and identify how clarifying and acting in alignment with our values can bring us more meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in our lives.




Pete: So it's finally here, the episode on values. Hey, Nikki.

Nikki: Hey, Pete. I know, we've been doing some teasers for this one for maybe like, the whole time [inaudible 0:30]

Pete: What has taken us so long?

Nikki: I think things come up. And I think we're also, we do talk about values, we weave it in quite a bit. So we're like, I think we sort of maybe it felt like, we've been addressing it and then we kind of realized, “no, we have not formally discussed this”.

Pete: We have not, and the other thing is, I think it's so common in our vernacular, like it's something that we talk about on a daily basis that,

Nikki: Yeah,

Pete: And I think, Hey, listeners, we need you to remind us about that every so often. Because we do forget once in a while, and we're not even sure who our audience is, so hey audience. So values and Nikki, I'm going to give you a definition. How do you feel about that?

Nikki: Oh, well, I'm curious where this definition is coming from. I'm like getting ready. I'm like, ‘Am I going to have to, like act combat what Merriam Webster has to say, or?’

Pete: Well, I like to always go to our Merriam Webster,

Nikki: I know. Well, that's why I was making that guests here.

Pete: So she, Miriam, has three, the monetary worth of something. So that's the value, obviously.

Nikki: Sure, yeah,

Pete: A fair return or equivalent in good, services or money for something exchange, or relative worth utility or importance.

Nikki: So the third one is inching towards…

Pete: Closer. Oh, I'm sorry, there's a lot more here. The fourth is something intrinsically valuable or desirable. So that's a combination we're getting there.

Nikki: Sure, we’re getting there.

Pete: I don't like the fifth relative duration musical. Okay, so none of those really work for what we're trying to do.

Nikki: Okay, well, so I'm like, “Oh, good, my ACT definition is…

Pete: So give it to us.

Nikki: Okay. So, values, when I say values, like to patients, when I'm introducing them, I'll say like, “look it’s this thing”, Pete’s kind of already hinted at, we all, like know, kind of what values are, but it's really rare that we sit and define it. And from an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy lens, when we talk about values, we're talking about a couple things. We're talking about, basically, verbally defined, that's an important piece of it.

Pete: It sure is.

Nikki: Yes, a verbally defined direction, that basically we can move towards. So, in American culture, specifically, like we're really goals oriented, and I want to be clear, obviously there's nothing wrong with goals, like Pete, and I do problems and goals with lists with patients all the time, like, what are we going to be working on. But values are really different, because just like direction, there's literally no endpoint like you can't achieve west, like, you can go all around the globe, like I could start traveling west from LA, I can end up back in LA. West hasn't been achieved, it's infinite. So values…

Pete: Good visual, hopefully listeners...

Nikki: Yeah. So values function the same way. And then I'll add in this really important piece, and when we're thinking about or acting in alignment with our values, they elicit one or more of the following feelings. And that's a sense of meaning, purpose, vitality, which is like a sense of being alive, fulfillment, contentment, connection, vitality, like groundedness, or like the sense of being solid or warmth. So, those are... And there's like, no end point to those either. Like, I would say to people, “those are bottomless wells”. Like, there's no point in your life where you're like, “well, I've just felt all the meaning I can feel, like, I’m good.”

Pete: Well, and one of the metaphors we use is like if we're heading west, so if I'm leaving New York, here on the East Coast, and if I want to go through Chicago to get to LA to visit you, but what if I decided along the way to go to Montreal,

Nikki: Or you get lost and end up in Montreal, even,

Pete: And how often do we get lost?

Nikki: All the time, all the time, right.

Pete: So those are our values.

Nikki: Yeah. Well, we can reroute, like that's…

Pete: We reroute, because I’m trying to get to LA.

Nikki: Yeah, you're trying to get to LA. So it's like, the values are campuses, they help us determine where we want to go that actually Robyn, Dr. Robyn Walser, who we had on last season, talking about existential…

Pete: Hey, Robyn,

Nikki: Yeah, hey, Robin, talking about existentialism and behaviorism. Robin has this wonderful way of saying this about values as she often does. She says ‘values help us determine which direction we want to point our feet in, so then we can start walking’. And I love that because it's like, how often do we like feel stuck in our lives, what do we want to be about? Like, who are we, what are we doing? And for most of us, it doesn't occur to us like, “Oh, I get to choose what I connect to, I get to choose what's important to me, and I get to then choose which direction I go”.

Pete: Right, and choosing doesn't mean, it's not about accessibility. I mean, choosing means if I'm broke, I can choose to go and fill out the paperwork to get some assistance. I can choose to save some money, and rather than going and buying, like an extra-large soda, I'll buy a large soda. I think that's the thing that values are, it helps us. Because in that moment, like, say, for example in that example, I need to eat, right? Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we need to have our basic needs met. And that's part of our values, where I might, if I'm really tired, and I want to go out, because I'm having FOMO, fear of missing out for those that don't know. I may have to choose to sleep and miss out on an opportunity to socialize with somebody that I want to socialize with.

Nikki: Yeah, well, and I think, Pete, what you're getting at here is that, what is going to be workable to focus on in a given moment with regards to our values, is going to vary based on the context. And you and I talk a lot about context on this podcast, because context is a big part of contextual, behavioral science. That the moment and the obvious part of mindfulness, which is like this moment, this moment where the only moment we ever live in and occupy and have agency over our behavior in, is going to determine what's going to work to focus on. So, we don't just have one value, like you're saying, we get to choose, like if you value financial stability, and you don't have finances right now, you get to choose, first of all, if that's something important to you, if you connect with that value, and then you get to choose what behaviors you might want to engage in that align with that. Though, also, you might say, using the other example, like, you value friendship, or you value socializing, and you also value rest, you might choose rest, the behavior of sleeping or staying home in that moment, because that's more workable than going out to the party, it doesn't erase your connection to that value, it's just that moment is going to tell you what you need in that moment.

Pete: There’s nothing other than this moment. So maybe we'll break down a couple more examples. And I'll say, I believe values are universal. So whether I'm in Ethiopia, in Sweden, or in the United States, whether I'm 8, 18 or 80… I mean, so,

Nikki: What's so funny, Pete can see my wheels turning behind my eyes, I know when you can see, um, check it out if you're watching the YouTube channel, you can see how we're talking without talking. Yes, so I think there's like a wonderful dialectic here present, which is, there are many values that are universal. And there are many values that are individual. And so I think that it's really important to say like, we as individuals get to choose what we value and we may share values with like, our culture, our country, like our spiritual community, our friends, whatever context we move through. But I think that's so important is because, like for example, in American culture, highly values individualism, this is the example I was using. And so I say, like, you may or may not value individualism if you're an American or live in the United States, you might value community oriented approaches like collectivism, you might value collectivism, and individualism.

Pete: There's your dialectic.

Nikki: There it is.

Pete: Well, and middle path. So I think that’s also a part of the Zen thing there, it's this middle path of like, it's not just one or the other. And that's thing about values. Again, listeners thinking about if I'm traveling east, I will get lost. What values do is it helps point our shoes in the right direction, get us back on track, steer us in the course of where we're going. And I'm going to break it… Like I actually look at it universally, in a more global ways, probably when I'm in better so the way that I look at values and some of the worksheets I use are like working career, romance, education, learning or knowledge, friends and social life, health, family of origin, spirituality, community environment, recreation, leisure or parenting, so those are like, kind of the general that I use.

Nikki: Sure, you're going to laugh because I'm going to challenge you again on it, which…

Pete: Do it.

Nikki: Yeah. And I wouldn't say that those are universal, I would say that they are, those are common, like categories. Those are common overlaps, like it would, I don't know, I don't think I've ever worked with somebody who didn't value respect, or kindness. Like that's always come up. But I've worked with some people, for example, that value adventure and others that don't.

Pete:  Well, but adventure would be under like recreation and respect. Maybe it could be under like, career or family of origin. So I think, that's the thing, I think with ACT, and you've, I'm sure, done this exercise where we have like, the values cards, where there's like, 100 different values.

Nikki: I know, I don't like it.

Pete: Well, because I think… Well, okay, why don't you like it? So listeners like this exercise, there's about 100 different values and things like anything you think of really, like, I don't know, like, world peace and your love.

Nikki: Well, yeah, or like literature. I was like, it's like science. So what I actually what don't like about that exercise, and what has always very much puzzled me and the way values are taught, like if any of our listeners Google Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, values exercises, values clarification exercises, you'll come across some of these on the internet. And we've talked about this a lot on the podcast is that the way humans are wired is that we're wired to categorize things. We're wired to like chunk information, which makes sense from a processing standpoint, however, it really gets in the way of flexibility and curiosity and opening up. And so what I found clinically, is that when I, in the past, used to use those categories, I found that people got stuck a lot more, that they had a lot harder time, sort of like greasing the wheels of their mind to open up to like, what do they connect to it with. And so I teach it a different way, I actually just model for people, like we'll do an exercise where I'm, like, ‘I'll say a value, you say a value’. And just, really…

Pete: It’s like Simon Says,

Nikki: Yeah. And I'll say to them, like, “you don't have to value what I value, if what I say resonates with you write it down”, but like, I'll do it to model sort of, like, Pete's going to laugh when I says, like I'll say to people, like dogs. And people are like, “oh, oh, yeah, that's a value”, I'm like, “Yeah, it's a value, absolutely it's value”. So like, that's not in the card sort, and I feel like people get stuck, because then they get in that mode of like, ‘I've got to do it the right way’. Or like, ‘what's my social responsibility category’, so I'm just always thinking about how can I continue to also cultivate that psychological flexibility. So that's my Nikki Rubin approach to values.

Pete: I mean, I like it and I think we're saying the same thing. I think it's about accessibility. And I make, I'm going to think about this, because I'm not sure why I have felt so committed to like the one worksheet, which has these, like, 10 basic values, because I feel that they're global, is that the perception that I've taken? Like, everybody has something about that, and nine times out of 10 people come back, and they're like, “Parenting, I don't have kids yet”. I'm like, “yeah. And is that in your cards?” Like, is that something that's important to you at some point? Because I think that's… For me again, as this is like a roadmap that does help people make decisions. So that like, for example, if I have like, somebody who's in a midlife crisis was like I want, trying to settle down, but then it's like, they're struggling to find out whether or not, when to settle down how to settle down. And like, ‘Why settle down, then?’ Maybe you don't have to.

Nikki: And what Pete’s saying is totally on point, that it's about defining the directions that you want to head, even if you are not walking that way yet, like I'll say to people, “just because you've never traveled North doesn't mean you don't get to travel north”. I think what I want listeners to maybe think about is that, we can get, and I'm always obviously fascinated by this as a psychologist, that we can become rigidly attached to anything. And we can get kind of stuck in these sort of like box type thinking about anything, including values. And so what I'll say to people is, “I want you to, like go inward and connect with how you feel”. So like, if it’s parenting, if someone's like, “well, I don't know, I don't have kids”. And I’ll say, “Okay, well”, and I've done this with many patients. When you think about Parenthood, like what do you feel in your body? And then I'll have them, and I have them write down those feelings, like as a little like menu, and they'll say like, “yeah, I guess I feel kind of warm”. And I'm like, “Okay, well, then that's something, that's the information about this”...

Pete: Pay attention to that information…

Nikki: Yeah, pay attention to that, as opposed, for me personally, as opposed to… Because like, also I think, is the first time I've never thought of it this way. I think it's because I myself can get overly attached to like the categories and like doing it the right way. And so I think I found like…

Pete: Because you're a better student.

Nikki: Well, I don’t know if it’s that, more like a goody two shoes.

Pete: A little bit of both because...

Nikki: A little bit of a rule follower, yeah.

Pete: A lot a bit of a rule follower, because for me it’s just like, “oh this works, like let me just see what finds”…

Nikki: And I’m like, “oh, danger zone. I got to expand here”. Yeah.

Pete: Yeah, I liked it. Yeah. Well, let me ask you this. Can I ask you a wordsmith question?

Nikki: Oh, you know I love me some words.

Pete: Do you think is virtue, how close would the word virtue line up with value?

Nikki: I like this question very much. I think that, so I would say, obviously, Pete and I are native English speakers. So I'm speaking from that lens, I would say that in English, a virtue is like, a little bit more like baggage laden, like it's got like a flavor of judgment in there, I think. It sort of implies, like, moral high ground or something like that. Whereas value, again, comes back that more non-judgmental of like, what do you connect with? Like, what do you want to be about? That's my opinion about it.

Pete: Well, because in Buddhism, we teach about virtues. And I was kind of thinking that they are the values in a way, so they are generosity, and they're called the perfections, or the paramitas. And so I felt like that was maybe part of the values, because it's like, it's generosity, proper conduct, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, honesty, determination, goodwill and equanimity.

Nikki: It is, I can't remember what episode we discussed this in. But this is the one we talked before about, like the translation of like, right effort, right speech that I'm so curious about, like, because I feel like the message behind it is the same thing that we're saying that the language is this, maybe in English, more of sort of, like a 10th of a judgement, but in translation?

Pete: Yeah, I agree. Well, it's probably translation. And it's probably that this is a spiritual scripture, which in and of itself is infused with judgment.

Nikki: Interesting. So you would say you would say that?

Pete: Yes. And I will also say that the non-judgmental, like, teachings and approach is really what attracted me to Buddhism, having been Catholic, where Catholicism is a lot of what not to do. It's all the judgment, like, if you do this, this will happen to you. Whereas Buddhism is more like, hey, do this, like this eightfold path will help you…

Nikki: Move,

Pete: Find… help you move. And so I think that these paramitas like yes, there is that flavor of judgment. So I think we're picking up on it, but I'm kind of feeling this like synonymous texture between values and virtues.

Nikki: Yeah, I mean I'm totally with you on that. And I know we've also said this before on the podcast, and we actually talked about in our spirituality episode last season, that for me personally, values, and spirituality are intertwined. Like I always sort of like once I sort of got into, like, exploring values, I kind of, for me, I'm sort of like, I can't tease those apart. That of course, isn't going to resonate with everybody. But I think that's, that's interesting when I hear you talk about it in that way, because that makes a lot of sense to me. And I connect with that.

Pete: Yeah. So I mean, I think hopefully, listeners they found something to take away from today, values are simply guiding us into whatever direction we're going and we have the choice to take the step into that direction.

Pete: This has been When East Meets West. I'm Dr. Pete Economou.

Nikki: And I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin. Be present, be brave.

Pete: This has been When East Meets West, all material is based on opinion and educational training of doctors Pete Economou, and Nikki Rubin.

Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only.