Recovery Workshop: Lesson Four

Prioritizing Your Values

The value of values does not lie solely in the emotional stimulation that you can extract from them, but also in their ability to guide you — especially in times of emotional imbalance or conflict. Think about this scenario: you are faced with an opportunity to have a 'one-night stand'. Historically, you have allowed yourself to remain unprepared for such situations so that you can rationalize your decision-making/responsibility. "I don't know why I did that." "I wasn't thinking straight." In order to play such ignorance effectively, you have to intentionally remain ignorant. You have to choose to bury your head in the sand once more, voluntarily give up taking responsibility for controlling that moment in your life, and then allow yourself to react. With a strong foundation of values in place, that would be enough. Reacting to life's events — whether they are anticipated or not — can be effective when you have developed depth and confidence in who you are and what you are striving to accomplish. But that takes skill and experience to develop. And since you currently lack these skills, your emotions are instead experienced as compulsions, which by their very nature can decimate effective decision-making.

For you, making decisions based on emotion is not an effective response to a compulsive crisis. By the time that you find yourself in the situation requiring a decision to be made, the intensity of your emotions has often skewed rational thought and judgment to the point where you are perceiving things irrationally. Perceiving things solely in the here-and-now. And your decisions often reflect that need for immediate gratification. And so, while you may be able to generate enough emotional intensity (guilt/shame/fear) to stop yourself from acting on any particular urge...emotion-based decisions will forever leave you vulnerable. Why? Because emotions are unstable. Even wonderful emotions. Even an absence of emotions (e.g. boredom). And because emotions have the capacity to skew your perceptions, they have the capacity to numb reason.

So one of your goals in recovery is to throw away the ignorance card. This is to recognize that to be a healthy adult, you can no longer make decisions based on your emotions. Instead, emotion-based decision-making must give way to values-based decision-making. And while the nuts and bolts of this process will be offered later in the workshop, it is important for you to begin laying the foundation for such a process. That is done through establishing an awareness of not simply your values, but how those values are prioritized in your life. For now, you will take a snap-shot of your prioritized values so that you may begin strengthening those towards the top of the list. But next month, you will be using this list in much more practical ways. Ways that involve some of the more complex experiences that human beings must manage: those of value conflicts. Times when there are two or more constructive options to a given situation; or when there are no constructive options, but several destructive options from which your choice must be made. Currently, you have learned to manage these conflicts based on what 'feels right' at that given moment. But again, your feelings are not capable of objectivity. Your values — and especially your prioritized values — are.

Lesson 4 Exercises:

A. In the previous exercise, you identified a list of the majority of your practical and universal values. Now, prioritize this list. This should take you about fifteen minutes at the most. If it is taking you longer than that, you are thinking too deeply. The deep thought was in constructing your vision and extracting the values...this is the 'easy part'. Simply identify an initial order of prioritization that 'feels right' to you.

Take a snapshot of where these values lay in terms of helping you to achieve your vision. DO NOT worry if a particular value is a few items above or below another (for instance, don't worry about choosing between 'Strengthening My Role as a Father to My Son' and 'Strengthening My Role as a Father to My Daughter'). You should be looking for a general sense of prioritization — not an exact representation. Remember that values change. Priorities change. And so, to try to imagine all possible situations for which prioritization may apply would paralyze you. So don't. Think only in the current moment — and in relation to what you believe would be the most direct path to building that vision in your day-to-day life.

B. When you have completed this priority list, post it into your Recovery Thread.

Note: The first ten to fifteen values on this list will form the crux of your initial value development and monitoring. Make sure that you pay particular attention to the top twenty or so values. They must be areas of your life/identity that you truly value.

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