Values and Commitment

The Scoreboard
What’s your favorite sport to play?… Okay, imagine playing football. It’s a crisp fall day and the players are lined up on offense and defense. The quarterback gives the signal for the center to hike the ball, then drops back for the pass and throws to the receiver, who breaks a tackle and runs into the end zone for a touchdown. And so it goes for the next couple of hours, up and down the field—first downs, field goals, tackles, touchdowns. The other team scores, your team catches up. The other team pulls ahead again, but in the last nail-biting seconds of the game, your team pulls out a big play for the win! The final score on the scoreboard reads 21 for your team, and 14 for the opposing team.

Now what if the scorekeeper were to come along at the beginning of the game and offer to put that score up on the board for you? Your team gets 21 points, the other team gets 14, so you win—game over; no need to play for it. Would you take him up on it? Why not?

This is like the difference between values and goals. Winning the game might be your goal, and you may or may not accomplish it. But what’s truly important is the process by which you achieve that goal. It’s really more about how you play the game. That’s like the value.

SOURCE: Stoddard, J. A., & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of ACT metaphors: A practitioner’s guide to experiential exercises and metaphors in acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Remodeling the House
Imagine remodeling your home. You’re excited to choose attractive new tiles and modern appliances and to paint the wall in cool new colors. Your budget is set, and you have everything all planned out. But then you find out that there’s a major crack in your foundation. Trying to figure out how to live your life (how to solve this problem, how to make this choice, and so on) before you decide who you really want to be and what you want to stand for would be like going forward with your remodel without fixing the foundation.

If you hang pretty drapes and lay cozy carpets but your foundation is broken, your house will ultimately start to lean or cave in. You need to spend some extra time and money now to repair the foundation properly, and this may mean you can’t immediately afford the attractive tile and modern appliances. However, at the end of the day, you’ll have a solid home. Identifying your values is like creating a solid foundation for your home. Living in alignment with you values doesn’t guarantee that everything you want will occur or that you’ll necessarily feel comfortable. But you will know that you’re on the right track, and you’ll be living a fuller, richer, more meaningful life that’s congruent with the person you want to be. Living a valued life means that even when things don’t go perfectly, not only will you still be standing, you’ll maintain the integrity of the building.

SOURCE: Stoddard, J. A., & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of ACT metaphors: A practitioner’s guide to experiential exercises and metaphors in acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

The Classroom Professor
A professor stood before his college class with a large empty jar on the table in front of him. He filled the empty jar with ping-pong balls and asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

Then the professor picked up a container of small rocks and poured them into the jar so they filled the spaces between the ping-pong balls. Again, he asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

Next, the professor picked up a bag of sand and poured it into the jar, filling the spaces between the small stones. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous yes.

The professor then produced two beers from under the table and poured these into the jar, filling the spaces between the grains of sand.

The professor then said, “This jar represents your life. The ping-pong balls are the important things—your family, your kids, your physical health, your friendships, and your passions—things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The small rocks are the other things that matter, like your career, your home, and your car. The sand is everything else—the little stuff. If you put the sand in the jar first,” he continued, “you won’t be able to fit all of the little rocks, let alone the ping-pong balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all of your time and energy on the little stuff, you won’t have space for the things that are most vital to you. Make time for the things that are crucial to a meaningful life. Play with your kids. Take time to see your doctor. Go on a date with your spouse or partner. Go on vacation. There will always be time to do the chores and change the lightbulbs. Prioritize the ping-pong balls first, the things that really matter. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and asked about the two beers. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend.”

SOURCE: Stoddard, J. A., & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of ACT metaphors: A practitioner’s guide to experiential exercises and metaphors in acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

The Aerospace Engineer
Imagine that you’re an aerospace engineer and you’re sitting at a control panel watching an aircraft flight on a screen in front of you. Your job is to adjust the dials that control the weight, lift, drag, and thrust of the aircraft in order to keep it flying effectively. All of these elements are equally important, and if you don’t make the needed adjustments, or if you overcorrect, the plane won’t be able to fly effectively. You have to find the right balance for the smoothest flight.

Now, although you have control over these adjustments, other factors remain out of your control. For example, you didn’t design or build the aircraft. You can’t control the weather. If the engine fails, this isn’t your fault. But if you get hooked by worries about the factors that are out of your control, it may impact your adjustment of the weight, lift, drag, and thrust, and this may negatively impact your flight. The important thing here is to focus on the factors you can control and keep them in balance for the smoothest flight. If the weather happens to get rough or an engine does fail, your job is to do what you need to do to keep the plane in the air.

SOURCE: Stoddard, J. A., & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of ACT metaphors: A practitioner’s guide to experiential exercises and metaphors in acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

The Cycling Race
In a way, life is like a cycling race. We are all pedaling, and we wear shirts with words written on them. In French there is a phrase—Vous roulez pour qui?—that translates literally into “For whom do you travel?” The idea is the same as the one Bob Dylan expresses in the song “You’ve Gotta Serve Somebody.” We sometimes believe it’s possible to have blank shirts without anything written on them or that we can not know what we’re pedaling in the service of. But even then, we nevertheless do have something written on our shirts, namely “Nothing” or “I don’t know what I’m pedaling for.” How would it feel to know that you’re traveling for that master?

Now imagine there’s a shop with piles of shirts with all kinds of words written on them: “Elegance,” “Generosity,” “Loyalty,” “Health,” “Love,” “Caring,” Honesty,” and so on. And you can choose, for free, any one of them. Which one would you choose?

And when you do choose, notice what happens. You may hear this voice that says, “Ha! ‘Elegance,’ are you kidding? Have you looked at yourself in a mirror? That one definitely isn’t for you.” Or maybe you’ll hear a voice saying something like, “How come you want to take ‘Caring,’ with that crappy introverted personality of yours?” The question is, can you have all these thoughts and still take the shirt showing the quality you’re choosing to make important in your life?

Now find a goal, preferably a small one—an action that would lead your life a tiny bit in the direction of that value. Then do it. Pedal that bike while wearing that shirt! Of course the voice will come with you—for the entire ride. See if you can welcome that voice without trying to make it quiet down, but also without obeying it

SOURCE: Stoddard, J. A., & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of ACT metaphors: A practitioner’s guide to experiential exercises and metaphors in acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

The Traveling Partners
Imagine that traveling has always been your dream and now you’re going to live that dream. You’ve planned a trip around the world. For several years you’ve spent a lot of time reading about all of the countries you want to visit, the best attractions to see, where to stay, what to eat, and how to get from one place to another. You’ve spent a lot of money at a top-notch travel agency to book your tour.

Finally the big day arrives. You show up to the airport to get on your plane and being your amazing adventure. As you walk down the jetway, you begin to notice that the other passengers are a motley group of people–some with dirty hair, some who smell, some who have missing teeth, some who smoke, and so on. These are going to be your traveling partners on your fabulous around-the-world tour. Now you have a choice to make: Are you going to turn around, go home, and miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime? Or are you going to get on the plane with these traveling partners and see the world?

Let’s say you choose to get on the plane, but you tell yourself that you’re going to ignore your traveling partners and keep to yourself. That works somewhat when you’re on the plane and can pretend to read or sleep so you don’t have to interact with your traveling partners. But then you get to the first destination and the whole group goes to see a famous statue. You’ve been waiting your whole life to see this statue. As your traveling partners rush ahead to take a good look, you hang back so you don’t have to interact with them. As a result, you only get a brief glance at part of the statue.

You have a choice to make here too: Are you going to keep hanging back and avoiding your traveling partners–and keep missing out on fully experiencing everything this trip has to offer? Or are you going to keep up with the group, say hello or in some way acknowledge your traveling partners, and get to see all the sites at their best? This is your choice for the entire trip.

SOURCE: Stoddard, J. A., & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of ACT metaphors: A practitioner’s guide to experiential exercises and metaphors in acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Waiting for the Wrong Train
Imagine you’re going on a journey. The destination is somewhere really special, a place you really want to visit—somewhere you’ve wanted to go for as long as you can remember. When you get to the train station, you see two trains, both of them with signs for your chosen destination. One is a bit odd looking and strange. Some of the seats look hard and uncomfortable, and overall it looks kind of dirty. The train on the next platform is quite different. It looks familiar, safe, and reliable. The sign says it has air-conditioning, a cinema, and a fancy dining car with free, all-you-can-eat French cuisine. You think, Wow! I just have to take this train. I couldn’t possibly make my journey on that other one—no way!

So you wait to board the wonderful train, and in the meanwhile the odd-looking train goes on its way. You keep waiting for the safe, comfortable train to board, and in the meanwhile, another odd train leaves the station, and then another, and another. All the while, you’re waiting for a chance to board this great, reliable train so you can take your journey. But here’s the thing: What if the safe train won’t ever leave the station? What if you’re waiting for the wrong train?

How does waiting for the good old predictable train work in terms of actually moving toward your values and goals?

If you can’t ever have discomfort, where does that leave you now?

You know where you want to go in life. What are you prepared to have or experience to get there?

SOURCE: Stoddard, J. A., & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of ACT metaphors: A practitioner’s guide to experiential exercises and metaphors in acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

The Rope Bridge
So, here you are: You’ve been able to acknowledge that there’s something you long for—greater connection and intimacy with your partner—and as you get in touch with that, a lot of fear comes up for you. There are a lot of thoughts about whether you should put yourself out there: What if he rejects me? What if things get worse?

This would be a little like you standing up on a high cliff overlooking a narrow, deep canyon. You can see something you really want on the other side of the canyon. You can see a place where you could really live, where you would be connected with and loved by your partner. And you can see that there’s a way to get to the other side of the canyon. It’s an old rope bridge right in front of you. As you look at it, you aren’t sure the bridge is totally safe. Maybe there are a few planks missing. Maybe it looks a bit worn. But you also aren’t sure that it definitely isn’t safe. And there on the other side is the place where you really want to be.

If this really were the situation, what choices would you have?

SOURCE: Stoddard, J. A., & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of ACT metaphors: A practitioner’s guide to experiential exercises and metaphors in acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Walking the Path
The work that we’re doing here is like walking across a wild hillside. This work is brand new, so there’s no path to walk on. Every step may be effortful, and deliberate effort is needed to keep taking steps. Then you look over to your right and see a well-worn path. It looks like it would be so much easier to walk on that path than to keep persisting on this unmarked route across the tall, overgrown grass.

The thing is, you know exactly where that well-worn path goes because you’ve walked it so many times before. Where does that path lead in your life?

So, here we are. We’re walking together across new territory, and sometimes it’s not so easy. Then you see that old, familiar path… What have you learned from our work together that could be useful to you in those moments when you notice that you’re being pulled onto that old familiar path? What will it take for this new path to eventually become well-worn and easier to walk on?

Let’s spend a moment noticing and contacting the direction this new path is traveling. Where does this new path lead? What are some of the things we could see along this new path?

SOURCE: Stoddard, J. A., & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of ACT metaphors: A practitioner’s guide to experiential exercises and metaphors in acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

The Bicycle Factory
Imagine a small factory that makes hand-built bicycles. There are various work stations on the production line. Some people are welding frames together, others are painting them, others are assembling wheels and components, others are putting the pieces together, and there’s even a person who comes around with a snack tray at break times. There’s also a manager in this factory. What kinds of jobs would the manager do?

Now, importantly, the manager doesn’t actually make the bikes, but she does have an overview of the whole place. In fact, the manager’s office sits above the factory floor so that she can monitor everything by looking out over the whole production line. The manager has this overview so she can see trouble brewing and intervene. She works persistently at ongoing management of the whole process, and her continuous attention keeps things running well.

Now imagine that in this factory everything is going extremely well. Orders are up, bikes are being made and shipped, quality is good, everyone is getting paid, and the workers are contented. There’s even a great choice of snacks on the snack tray. And imagine if the manager were to look at all of this and say, “Things are going so well. I’m going to take six months off and go to the Bahamas.” What do you think things will look like by the time she comes back?

So, this treatment we’ve been doing isn’t like some other treatments you may have had. For example, if you have an infection, you might go to the doctor and get a prescription for an antibiotic. You’re expected to take the medication, but once the infection is gone, you don’t need to keep doing anything. This treatment isn’t like that. In here, you’ve been learning how to live life with your difficulties, and the continuous, flexible attention you’ve been devoting to that is like the manager’s careful attention to the factory.

Now, when the manager has her factory functioning nicely, she can perhaps afford to work only part-time, just keeping an eye on things for a while each day and spending the rest of her time relaxing. But she still needs to give the factory some attention regularly and not let things slide. How does this strike you?

SOURCE: Stoddard, J. A., & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of ACT metaphors: A practitioner’s guide to experiential exercises and metaphors in acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Values vs. Goals (video)
The Choice Point (video)
Assorted Metaphors (drawings)

A value is like a lighthouse in the distance. It guides you through the storm.

Who’s living a vital life? Who’s living a non-vital life?

Who’s living a vital life? Who’s living a non-vital life?

Who’s living a vital life? Who’s living a non-vital life?

Despite the hardships you encounter, are you moving in a valued direction?

Despite the hardships you carry, are you moving in a valued direction?

SOURCE: Ciarrochi, J. (2013). ACT images related to values and commitment. Retrieved from http://www.acceptandchange.com/visual-metaphors/.