Today, I would like to introduce you to an exercise that I use in my work as an online psychologist that encourages us to look at our lives and examine the different “life areas” that are important to us.
The exercise comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a therapy method that belongs to the so-called third wave of behavioural therapy and deals a lot with acceptance and mindfulness, but also with very hands-on action and change.
The aim of ACT (pronounced like the word to “act”) is to increase psychological flexibility in order to act according to our values in a constantly changing (inner and outer) world and to lead a meaningful life – meaningful to us personally.
Who is this ACT exercise suitable for?
For you and for me.
For today, next week and next year.
This ACT “Life Areas” exercise is one of those activities that you really should do every so often – once you understand the exercise, you’ll recognise why.
I particularly like using this exercise in situations where clients are not quite sure about their next steps, which “piece of the puzzle” they want to tackle next, or in instances where some areas of their life have been falling by the wayside because of stress in one particular area of their life.
Let’s walk through the steps of the exercise together.
ACT Exercise – Life Areas Part 1
Below is a list of areas of life that are relevant to most people. As a first step, think about how important each area is to you.
- Intimate relationships
- Friends / Social life
- Job / Career
- Education / Learning
- Environment / Nature
- Spirituality / Religion
- Leisure / Recreation
- Art and Culture
Write down or print out the list and for each area of life assign a number from 0 to 10 for – 0 being irrelevant/not applicable and 10 being extremely important. The first step is to assess how important each of these areas is to you, regardless of how active you are (or are not) in them.
Are you a person for whom career is very important? How important are your intimate relationships to you? Are you perhaps someone who places a lot of value on leisure and recreation?
Naturally, individual scores may be given more than once! And there is no right or wrong here. It’s simply a matter of assessing how important the various areas of life are to you, personally, right at this moment in time.
ACT Exercise – Life Areas Part 2
Once you have ranked all the areas in terms of relevance, the next step is to consider how much energy you’ve put into each area recently. I recommend to pick a time for this, like the last week or maybe the last month.
Again, write a number from 0 (did nothing at all in the area) to 10 (very committed, did a lot).
ACT Exercise – Life Areas – Evaluation
After all that, what have you noticed? Which areas of your life have a particularly large discrepancy between how important they are to you and how much time and energy you actually spend on them?
What conclusions could you draw from this? What small step could you take in the next week to do something more in the areas that are important to you and that are currently getting far too little attention?
As I said, there are no right or wrong answers in this exercise. The idea is simply to identify what’s true in our life right now and really think about how you might like it to be instead. That’s why it’s useful to do this exercise every so often – for example, when life circumstances change or when you find yourself losing sight of the big picture again.
As always, I look forward to your comments and feedback, here or on Facebook.