When presented with the concept of accepting the experience of anxiety, many people respond by asking "Why would I want to accept these uncomfortable feelings?" This is the question that is addressed by the commitment part of acceptance and commitment therapy. The focus here is on clarifying the value of making room for anxiety in your life. How will this allow you to move on? What will the acceptance of anxiety allow you to do with your life?
For the people who successfully change their response to anxiety, the most important changes are not just that they wash their hands less, or that they no longer avoid driving or going to parties, but that they are more engaged with life, enjoy time with friends more, are more successful in their careers, and feel that they are better parents and spouses. ACT emphasizes the importance of clarifying your values to strengthen your commitment to acting in ways that are consistent with those values.
In this context, "values" refers to those qualities and experiences which add value to your life. What warrants the investment of your limited time, energy, and resources? Being clear about your values is especially important when two valued areas of your life are in conflict with one another. For example, suppose you experience a lot of anxiety when traveling. Perhaps you value the comfort that you experience when you are at home. If you are presented with the opportunity to take a trip with your family, it will be important to know which you value more: feeling comfortable at all times, or sharing fun times with your family. Clarity about your values in this situation will help when it comes to making a commitment to change.
While a value can point you in a particular direction, and values may even suggest specific goals, values and goals are not the same thing. People who pursue the same goal can do so because of different values. Consider several politicians running for the same office. They all share the common goal of getting elected, but does this mean they have the same values? One of them might have selected this goal based on the values of public service and making the world a better place. Does it follow that anyone pursuing the goal of election to public office shares these values?
This distinction between values and goals is important because sometimes we may do things in the service of a goal that actually move us away from a valued direction. Consider the single person who says that she values being married. Being married is a goal, not a value. A goal (like "married") is something you can get or not get, a value is something that you already have, that you can choose to listen to or not to listen to. The values behind the goal of getting married might include shared experiences, intimacy, and love. If the goal of marriage provides the direction rather than the values behind it, it is possible to end up married, but without shared experiences, intimacy, or love.
Another problem with focusing on goals and losing sight of the values behind them has to do with what happens after we successfully obtain a goal. Many people experience a loss of life direction after reaching a major goal, accompanied by feelings of depression and disorientation. If the goal is the only thing driving our progress, once we have achieved the goal, progress stops. Unlike goals, values are directions, not destinations. Being mindful of the values that prompted you to set a goal can give you a sense of continuing progress and clarity about what comes next.
In addition to helping you to accept your anxious thoughts and feelings, ACT and the LLAMP approach help you to focus on why it is important for you to do so. Exercises like those presented in The Worry Trap can help you to clarify your values and to identify specific goals consistent with those values. Finally, this approach can help you to take action moving toward those goals, using all of the other tools you have learned to overcome barriers like anxious thoughts and feelings (this is "proceeding", the P of the LLAMP approach. As a place to start, complete this brief exercise from The Worry Trap: