Values-based living: A holistic approach to mental health and resilience

Values-based living involves a pattern of regularly reflecting on your sense of ultimate purpose and your highest-held values and ideals. Then you can evaluate your recent thoughts, words, decisions, plans, and behaviors in light of those highest values.

This process of fostering values-based living among Service Members and their family members is sort of a moral version of land navigation. In traditional land-navigation exercises, Service Members orient themselves according to maps, and then use woodsmen and a compass to align themselves to a proper course as they traverse through wilderness areas. The “woodsmen” on the team are sent out on an azimuth—a compass heading—to the very edge of the compass-person’s line of sight. Once a woodsman is in place, the compass-person and the rest of the team can walk until they rendezvous with the woodsman. In this way, they can be sure to stay on the correct line, sending out the woodsmen again and again.

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In life, you can think of the maps as your worldview, which includes your ultimate sense of purpose and meaning. It might include your hopes and dreams for you and your family, especially in terms of how you most want to flourish. At one time or another, you’ve probably asked yourself the classic question: “What would I like to be said at my funeral one day, long into the future? Who do I hope to be, at the end of my life?” These are the ultimate destinations drawn on your worldview map.

Land nav map and compassThe compass is your conscience and your ability to reflect on your life. It can keep you on the right heading to become the person you ultimately want to be. And the woodsmen are your shorter-term goals, as well as the friends and partners who can guide you along the way. You have a much, much higher potential to become who you want to be…

  • if your map tells you where you ultimately want to go;
  • if your conscience and patterns of reflection keep you aligned with your destinations as you make decisions along the way;
  • and if your short-term goals, good friends, and partners guide you along the way.

Strong evidence for how important values-based living is to total well-being has accumulated over the past 25 years. People who regularly revisit and realign with their highest values tend to maintain the positive changes they make in their lives for longer. This includes changes related to reduced substance use, healthier relationships, and stronger work and study habits.

How can I craft a values-based life?

The questions below might help you get started with values-based living.

  • What is the foundation of your life? What people, values, beliefs, and roles have you built your life on (or would like to build your life on)?
  • What is your purpose? What do you want said about you when your life is done?
  • What are your most important short-term and long-term goals right now? Are they guiding you in a direction that could bring you closer to your ultimate destination?
  • What kinds of relationships and social support could most help you stay aligned with your ultimate destination? Do the relationships you have now help you in the right direction? What would it take to build up your team of “woodsmen”—your supportive relationships?

Find time in your daily routine to reflect on these values. Each morning reflect on how you can apply them in your day-to-day tasks. At the end of the day, review how you lived them as a personal-values after-action review (AAR). You also can use tools such as HPRC’s Gratitude Calendar, Spiritual Fitness Checklist, and Productive Thinking 101 worksheet to help you live out your values.

Finally, you can use HPRC’s spiritual fitness metrics—Pursuing Meaning, Purpose, and Value (PMPV) and Service and Sacrifice for the Greater Good (SSGG)—to evaluate where you’re at now and where you want to improve.

Published on: February 1, 2021

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Alexander, D. W., Abulhawa, Z., & Kazman, J. (2020). The SOCOM Spiritual Fitness Scale: Measuring “Vertical” and “Horizontal” Spirituality in the Human Performance Domain. Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling, 74(4), 269-279.

Alexander, D., Abulhawa, Z., & J., K. (2020). Applications of the SOCOM Spiritual Fitness Scale: Program development and tailored coaching for optimized performance. Journal of Special Operations Medicine, 20(3), 109–112.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction. (2011). CJCSI 3405.01: Chairman's Total Force Fitness Framework. Retrieved 15 October 2020 from

Jonas, W. B., O'Connor, F. G., Deuster, P., Peck, J., Shake, C., & Frost, S. S. (2010). Why Total Force Fitness? Military Medicine, 175(8S), 6–13. doi:10.7205/milmed-d-10-00280