On Well-Being

Are you living your values? Use the 'Bull's-Eye' exercise to check these 4 areas of your life

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Photo illustration by Sara Wadford/Shutterstock

In my coaching work, I often work with lawyers who are experiencing discontent at work, various levels of burnout and extreme stress. What these lawyers have in common is a lack of clarity around their personal values. When I ask what they are doing to fill their need for play, relaxation or simple enjoyment of life, I can often sense panic. Similarly, when I ask about the relationships that are important to them and what they are doing on a regular basis to nurture them, I see the shadow of guilt and sadness.

Getting clarity around what you truly value and how you want to show up in the world—and regularly checking in to see if your actions align with those values—is one of the cornerstones of well-being. It can be easy to get so caught up in work, rushing from one seemingly important task to another, that you lose sight of your values.

For example, one lawyer-client I worked with was struggling to figure out a way to disconnect from work. He equated being available 24/7 with being a good lawyer. He was regularly responding to emails and text messages in the middle of the night.

The lack of adequate sleep, combined with a poor diet and a lack of exercise, was causing a vicious cycle. He felt as though he was working all the time but wasn’t productive. His home life was also suffering because he wasn’t ever fully present for his young daughter or his spouse.

One exercise that I have found useful and have often shared for getting clarity around what is really important in life is the “Bull’s-Eye” values-clarification exercise, designed by Swedish psychotherapist Tobias Lundgren.

The exercise involves two parts. The first is to write down what is important to you in the four key domains of your life. Next is to evaluate how close you are to your values using the bull’s-eye diagram.

The four areas to explore are: (1) work and career, (2) relationships, both personal and professional, (3) personal growth and health, and (4) leisure. It is possible that there are some overlapping areas. For example, you might enjoy cooking as a hobby, which could fall into both the personal growth and leisure categories. It is important to understand your personal values as opposed to other people’s values or what you think your values should be. There is no single right answer, and your answers will likely evolve over time.

Work and career. Here are some questions to consider. What are the contributions you would like to make at work? How do you want to be toward your co-workers, clients, opposing counsel and the court? Aside from billable hours, what is important to you (for example, mentorship, pro bono work, building relationships with potential clients or being known as an expert in your field)? What professional and personal qualities do you want to develop? What skills would you like to learn or deepen? How do you want to feel in your work from day to day?

Relationships. This category refers to all the relationships in your life, including your partner, child, parents, friends, co-workers and other connections. How do you want to show up in your relationships? What qualities do you value in yourself? What personal qualities are important to you? How would you like to nurture these relationships?

Personal growth and health. This refers to your development as a person. It can include life skills, religion, spirituality, creativity, meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, exercise and nutrition. It can also include addressing unhealthy habits such as smoking, or examining your drug and alcohol consumption. What is important to you in terms of maintaining your emotional and spiritual well-being? What does self-care look like? What is necessary to maintain your physical, emotional and psychological well-being? How do you nurture the need for spiritual connection?

Leisure. This refers to understanding what you value in terms of free time. What do you do to nurture the need for play? How are you prioritizing downtime? What are the activities you enjoy? What are your hobbies? What do you do for fun?

Target practice

The next part of the exercise is to examine how closely your actions align with your values. Imagine a round board such as a dartboard with concentric circles and a bull’s-eye in the middle. Divide the board into four quadrants. Each quadrant has one of the values listed above. Put an “x” in each of the four quadrants. The closer your current habits and actions align with your values, the closer you would put the “x” to the bull’s-eye.

As you consider these four domains of your life, it’s possible you recognize areas that aren’t getting enough attention—that aren’t close enough to the bull’s-eye. Often, this realization can be followed by guilt. As lawyers, we are used to being overachievers, and the idea that you are “failing” at something can lead to discomfort or even the desire to avoid it.

My advice is to practice being gentle with yourself. Most of us are overtaxed, juggling more than what can possibly be accomplished in a day, and working under intense pressure. It’s also possible that you may consciously choose to focus more of your time and energy in one domain. This exercise is a tool to increase your awareness so that you can actively pay attention to the areas of your life that are in balance as well as areas that have been neglected. If there are areas that you would like to prioritize, start by setting some achievable goals. This isn’t a test to see how successful you are at life but rather a tool you can use on a regular basis to pause, to reassess and make course adjustments as you go. Ultimately, it’s a tool for increasing self-awareness and learning to be a better person.

This story was originally published in the August/September 2021 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Hitting the Mark: Use the ‘Bull’s-Eye’ exercise to clarify values and enhance well-being.”

Jeena Cho is a coach and a consultant who works with law firms on stress management, well-being and mindfulness. She co-wrote The Anxious Lawyer.

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