Looking for Balance? Start By Defining Your Values

By Elsbeth Willey Russell

There’s a reason people often refer to “balance” when talking about the tug of war between home and work life. When you take on work deadlines, personnel issues, budget challenges, boardroom goals, children’s activities, aging parents, grocery shopping, home repairs and maintenance, relationship building with your significant other and more, it can often feel like you’re walking a tightrope while balancing multiple plates in the air.

I was balancing an advancing career in association management, while parenting twin boys with my husband, and pitching in where I could to help my aging parents when life knocked me right off my tightrope and flat on the floor.

After several troubling health issues developed, I was hospitalized and given a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis: a debilitating degenerative brain disease with no cure.

To say I felt out of balance would be an understatement.

For the first time, my priority was me. I had to focus on my health and regaining my mobility if I was to be productive as a mother, wife and daughter, not to mention a professional.

As part of that recovery I began seeing a neuropsychologist, who helped me work through the feeling that I had completely lost control of my health and, consequently, my life in general.

I began to explore Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) with my neuropsychologist’s guidance. The theory behind ACT is that mindful behavior, attention to personal values, and commitment to action can help you learn to accept your psychological experiences – and eventually change your attitude and emotional state.

Psychologists Barb Markway and Celia Ampel define values in “The Self-Confidence Workbook” as “the principles that give our lives meaning and allow us to persevere through adversity.”

In order to define my values, I worked through several steps with my neuropsychologist to identify which were most important to me and how close my actions and activities aligned with those values. We started off by reviewing a list of common values. I noted which were important to me and which were not important.

The list includes statements like:

  • Assertiveness: to respectfully stand up for my rights and request what I want
  • Responsibility: to be responsible and accountable for my actions
  • Safety and protection: to secure, protect, or ensure my own safety or that of others
  • Trust: to be trustworthy; to be loyal, faithful, sincere and reliable

Once I picked the statements that best described values that are important to me, we looked at an image of a Bull’s Eye that was divided into four sections: Work/Education, Relationships, Personal Growth/Health and Leisure.

I then wrote my values on my Bull’s Eye beside each of the areas, choosing my top three in each area. After identifying the values in each of the areas, I marked on the Bull’s Eye where I stood. If I felt I was living fully by my values, I hit the Bull’s Eye. Some values were closer and some farther away from the target.

Once the activity was complete, I was surprised to see how closely I was already aligning my life choices to my values. I also learned how living according to your values is truly an act of self-care.

While for me, living according to my values meant I was able to realize I was still in control of what really mattered to me, for someone without a serious illness just trying to balance work life and home life, this exercise can help you to reduce the weight of unhealthy values.

Living according to your values allows you to place greater weight on the activities, experiences and people you find truly important. This won’t be the same experience for any two people. We each find value in different areas of our lives depending on our beliefs.

My psychologist also pointed out that it’s very difficult to live your values exactly on point in each area of your life simultaneously. It’s OK for activities that keep you living according to your fitness-related values to slip slightly if you’re in a season in which your family values need to be more of a focus.

The bottom line is, when the tasks, activities and behaviors you’re putting energy into align with what you feel is important in life, you’ll feel more of a sense of balance, as well as bit of relief about the parts of life that aren’t in your control.

Elsbeth Willey Russell has a degree in Journalism from the University of Florida. With nearly 15 years of experience managing marketing and communications in the association space, she currently works in marketing in the private sector for a growing tech company. A married mother of identical twin boys she was diagnosed in 2017 with both Lyme disease and Multiple Sclerosis. (She likes to think she’s now accustomed to surprises that come in pairs.) As a working mother living with chronic illness, Elsbeth has developed a new passion for finding balance, and maintaining a healthy and purposeful lifestyle.

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