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Affinity Psychotherapy Services Therapy Blog

The difference between VALUES and GOALS

VALUES as defined in ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) means: DESIRED QUALITIES OF ACTION.

Values are Qualities I want to bring to my actions right now and on an ongoing basis. 

How do you want to treat yourself?

Your body?


The World around you?

Your house?

Anyone? Anything?

What are the QUALITIES you want to embody?

What sort of person do you want to be? father, son, mate, husband, wife, daughter, mother, co-worker, supervisor do you want to be?

What do you want to stand for in life? Model for yourself and others?

VALUES motivate you to do the hard work necessary.
Usually achieving something that meshes with your values exposes you to difficulties and challenges.

VALUES inspire and infuse your life with MEANING and PURPOSE.


GOALS are what you want to GET or HAVE, achieve...complete...

VALUES are how you want to BEHAVE every step of the way towards pursuing, achieving, not achieving your goal...

e.g. GOOD HEALTH is a GOAL (you can measure achievement or non achievement)

At times the GOAL may be unattainable (recovery from cancer, illness) but VALUE of self-care or self-nurture or TAKING CARE of SELF, you can follow that value while dealing with challenges to the GOAL.

THou Shalt Not Kill is not a VALUE, thats a COMMANDMENT.
THe value underneath that Commandment is CARE or LOVE for HUMAN LIFE.

You're probably not talking about VALUES if you cannot say it in one word. LOVING, JUSTICE, FAIRNESS, HONESTY,CREATIVITY, CONNECTION, OPENNESS, ADVENTUROUSNESS...etc

If its lots of words its probably rule, belief system, judgement of right and wrong...




It's important in life to distinguish GOALS from VALUES.

You might have a VALUE to 'protect the family.' One way to achieve that VALUE might be the GOAL of owning a home. If you own a home but you are away from your family and careless of their whereabouts  does home ownership achieve the VALUE of 'protecting the family?'

Similarly, you may have a GOAL of getting married but find that your deeper VALUE 'loving/connecting' is not achieved in your particular marriage.

Often this is why achieving GOALS isnt always fulfilling.

The GOAL isnt the VALUE.  The GOAL is an event, or an  'end state' that can be checked off on a TO DO list.

The VALUE is the QUALITY of behavior and interactions you want to experience,in yourself and in others.

Goals are specific, Values are generalizable. A goal can only be one thing. A Value can be expressed in multiple ways.

I recently had a client (name changed here to protect their identity) who was dealing with the frustrations of being newly single in his 50's.  Let's call him Bob. Bob is a relative success in many areas of his life but after a late in life divorce, found himself back on the dating scene.  Bob and I have been working together to help him remain pro-active and optimistic in the face of an admittedly challenging situation.  He still has a healthy sexual desire and yet because he is now mature and looking forward to potentially another 30 years of active living, wants to be careful not to make mistakes in his love life.

Of course we've worked on multiple areas including: Noticing negative thoughts, increased self acceptance and compassion toward self, staying mindful of the present moment and savoring the positive elements in his daily life. 

In additon,  however, Bob had a healthy dose of "I'm single, ready to mingle--let's get it on!' post-1960's free love attitude.  Well, not everyone shares that free-wheeling, anything goes, get-down-tonight, boogie down thought process.

Bob and I had to work together to both pursue his love and sex goals while acknowledging both that he might encounter real life frustrations to those goals and that he might additonally be seeking something a bit deeper than 'get down tonight.'

Bob did acknowledge his wish for something meaningful but still insisted that he could not be truly happy until he fulfilled his "perfectly natural desire for sex."

Naturally this led Bob to feel quite unhappy in the present moment. He had difficulty seeing the value of his present life without achieving his love and sex goals. Bob believed that ONLY when he was able to have sexual intimacy with a desired partner would he be able to experience true happiness.

While acknowledging that Bob might be happier when he found a desirable sexual partner that it would bring him pleasure, I worked with him to deal with the frustration of not achieving sexual goals and while EMPHASIZING WORKING TOWARDS those goals actively, I helped Bob to recognize that he could also LIVE the VALUES (the behaviors that Bob valued in Sex experiences) on an ongoing basis.



Bob and I worked together to identify what he stood for in SEX and LOVE. We identified the elements that defined what VALUES he was living when he was a lover or partner. We came up with a list of VALUES that, once identified, allowed Bob to feel enriched and fulfilled on a daily basis. Certainly we continued to pursue the actual GOAL of Sex/Love but also found ways for Bob to fulfill those deeper VALUES on the way to the GOAL.



One way to do this is to ask, if your lover(s) were to talk about you as a lover what would be the qualities you would want them to say you had?  There's no defined limit on the qualities that YOU may wish to have in your behavior but lets look at a few that MIGHT come up:  


VALUED ways of behaving: 


anticipation of needs

Playful teasing  

Gentle but firm

Animal passion









a. really listening to someone's emotions and needs. (not multi-tasking)

b. giving a phone call to people to say thinking of them

c. Teasing, making people laugh

d. Promoting and uplifing people, believing in their best

e. Helping others in need.

f. offering others physical comfort, soothing

g. asking people what I can do for them.

h. staying aware of my own emotions and sensations (i.e. sober)


Anticipation of needs

a. Asking others what they are seeking.

b. Noticing when someone needs something that they dont have

c. Asking if I can help


Playful teasing

a. Playful attitude

b. Humorously challenging people's perceived limitations.

c. Not giving people what they want immediately, teasing.

d. role playing

e. improvisation

f. finding humor in others (in a non-demeaning manner)


Gentle but firm

a. showing commitment despite frustration or irritation.

b. showing love to friends and relations (while setting behavioral limits)


Animal passion

a. When alone, sensually stimulating self

b. Jumping into role playing/improvising with full commitment to character

c. Passionately cleaning my home while playing intense music

d. Dancing, alone or with others

e. Singing

f. writing a story about something you feel strongly about.

g. Spontaneously telling people when you find them beautiful, attractive, intelligent, etc.

h. Diplomatically telling people what you want from them.



a. Telling people how I feel (not everyone or everywhere)

b. Letting others know how they affect me..(positive and negative)

c. Letting others know my positive feelings for them

d. Admitting my emotions to myself and allowing them to exist (not running, avoiding, squashing)



a. Calling others on the phone.(Family, Friends)

b. inviting others out to coffee, dinner,movies,comedy, bowling, etc

c. Going to a meetup

d. Dancing with someone

e. Telling others how I see them, what they mean to me.



a. Letting others know how special they are, how much I believe in them, how much they mean to me.

b. Taking the time to listen to others concerns and see things from their perspective.

c. Caressing, massaging myself in a way that shows care, concern, appreciation

d. petting an animal

e. hugging and kissing those that I love and are close to me.

f. Giving myself a warm bath, a cup of tea, clean clothes, etc



a. noticing how I move through the world and interact with it.

b. Dancing

c. Singing

d. Engaging in the five senses: noticing 3 things I see, hear, taste, touch, smell

e. Savoring living like savoring a fine wine. Enjoying the sensations.



a. wear clothes that feel sexy to me

b. Take good care of hygiene

c. sleep enough

d. touch self with sensual touch

e. take myself out to a nice dinner

f. Light a candle

g. play sensual music

h. dancing alone or with others

i. allow myself to feel sexually towards others in front of me, smiling, glancing, etc.

Recognizing deeper VALUES beneath your GOALS allows you to find multiple ways to achieve those values on a daily basis, while still pursuing your GOALS. Thus, happiness is not exclusively tied to GOALS. Happiness comes from fulfilling VALUES,even in small ways on a daily basis.

Hope this helps you!



Ross Grossman, MA, LMFT