Beyond Comfort:

Notes from a Psychologist on sabbatical.

Giving yourself the time to find your direction.

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 12:58 -- Thibault

I am currently realizing a dream of having my first ever 6-month sabbatical. People laugh when I tell them that it was my dream, prior to even working, that one day, I would have a sabbatical. It took me 8 years of saving and preparing so that I could reach this point. I say first ever because I plan on having these every two and half years, if God willing.

What is a sabbatical if not a vacation? For me a sabbatical is having the time needed so that I can devote my time on projects that don’t necessarily bring in immediate money. Have you ever asked yourself the question: If you didn’t have to make money, what would you do with your time? I think some would say that they would rest, but then how long would it take before it got too boring? Others would say that they would identify goals to work on. But then what happens after you have attained them, other goals? Going after goals can become very quickly the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick and the results are often feelings of emptiness.

What about connecting with the 4 energies: Identifying your values.

What are values?

Values are not goals. Values are qualities and actions that you take in the present moment that give life meaning. They are often described in verbs and adverbs rather than nouns. Values occur when you are doing rather than thinking. So we act with values each time we act with purpose. Valuing put simply happens in the present moment. When we are connected with our values, we tend to talk about life having meaning and purpose. There is an inherent sense of vitality. So the questions become:

  • What kind of person do I want to be?
  • How do I want to live my life?
  • If I were on a desert island, what would I say with conviction as to what is truly important to me?

Values are not goals:

There are no end points to values. They are more likened to directions we take while goals have an end point. Love and intimacy are values and they may be expressed in a marriage vow. However, once the marriage occurs, we don’t throw way the values of love and intimacy.

Values are not feelings:

Do not confuse feelings with values. Often when we do this exercise of identifying our deepest values, feelings do come up, but values are not feelings. Clients will sometimes tell me that I want to be calm, relaxed, free of stress. These are states of mind and not values. To get to the underlying value, I often ask these questions to help them get at their hidden values:

  • What would you do differently if you didn’t have all these awful feelings or you were in fact feeling calm and confident?
  •  How would you live your life differently?

Instead of chasing feelings in order to start living your life, we get to the point directly by asking to focus on the actions that are longed.

Interested, let's get to work:

Adapted from an exercise by Michael Yapko (1997) in his book Breaking the Patterns of Depression. Dr. Yapko asked to do a form of visualization. Imagine yourself in the distant future. You’re sitting in a beautiful wooden rocking chair on the porch of your house. Imagine yourself now that you are very old, physically tired but mentally alert. Now imagine yourself that a young child is very interested in the stories of your life and what you have done.

How would you describe your life?

  • What would be your greatest joys and accomplishments?
  • When were the times when you felt the most connected, alive, aligned, and flexible?

Next, ask yourself.

  • What were some potential regrets you could have?
  • When did you feel the most avoidant and rigid?
  • What excuses or reasons would you offer for having done these things?

Dr. Yapko finishes the exercise by stating: “Now think twice before you decide it’s too late to do the things you would not regret having done. That rocking chair is still years away.”

After doing this exercise, you will be ready for the next one where I will ask you to be more precise. Included in this blog is a worksheet. There are four categories and you are asked to reflect on each of those categories and connect with your values.

For example, in terms of health, what is it that you value about taking care of your health? What does it mean to you to be mentally and physically healthy? Connect with the values first, then we will talk about the committed actions that are connected with those values.

In terms of work, some people will say that work is slavery others will say that work is health. What is important to you about work, education, and learning? What kind of worker do you aspire to be? What is important for you to work?

You get the idea. Now don’t get stomped and push the exercise away if you don’t come up with answers right away. This is a contemplation exercise and it can bring you to a certain wall where you say to yourself, “I don’t know.” If that is the case, just ask the question gently and allow anything to bubble up. If you connect with the value, there is often a sense of sweetness. There can also be a sense of regret in terms of: “My god, what am I doing with my life!” This is a good sign that you have connected with the value. Don’t be too harsh with yourself; allow the exercise to do its work. When you have done all 4 categories, I want you to evaluate on a scale of 0–10 (0 = not all important ; 10 = being the most important) the importance you ascribe to each of these values. I am not asking you to evaluate these categories against each other. You could be 10 on all 4 categories, it is not important. So how important the health values or relationship values you identified? Put the number in the square labeled 1.

After doing that, you can now evaluate your actions in the last two weeks. How have your actions been in line with your values? Rate them on a scale of 0–10 (0 not at all connected; 10 being fully connected). Put the number in the square labelled 2.

To give you an example, I could value very much my spiritual health by valuing the importance of connecting with something bigger than me. The value based on the wonder that much of life remains unknown and the deep longing for life to be meaningful. And let's say that my way of connecting with these values is through meditation. Well, I can value my spirituality greatly, but I can also say that I haven’t meditated in weeks because I have been too busy. You get where I am going with this? Now it is your turn to work.


If you have any questions, you can contact me, but please be brief and to the point. 



Submitted by André Marc (not verified) on

Hi Thibo, nice to read your blog, makes me wonder on certain things or actually intellectualizing certain feelings. Meditation is actually something i'm thinking on looking at. Perhaps it would help me slow down my brain speed, wich has a tendency to overheat with all the zillion thoughts I may experience in too short a time to reflect correctly on each of them, to actually assign importance to them according to my values as you explained in the blog. So looking forward on more reading and thinking.

Amitiées mon chum,

André Marc

Submitted by Thibault on

Salut mon André! Je vais te repondre en anglais etant donné que j'ecris en anglais. 

The title speaks to what you write. "To give us the time to find our direction".  So when you are speeding through life, you don't have time to ask yourself these questions. Tell me if I am wrong but when you get lost in the forest, there is a tendency to go in circles. The first thing you are told to do if you are lost is to stop and look around. That psychological stoping is terrifying. So you write of wanting to meditate and maybe that will help. It's a bit like you are driving at 250 km/h and want to pull the parking break to stop immediately. If you are heading for a wall, that would be prudent, but if not, there may be ways that are more gradual. 

How about this, how about you learn to slow down gently. Give yourself the time to step back and see why you are doing what it is your doing. There are many moments in the day that you can do this, for very short amount of time. I'll get into this in the next little while. 

Be warned,  this is not an intellectual exercise. If you are ernest, which I know you are, things will bubble up. Just allow them to come up. I think it happens without you knowing it and if I reflected it to you as you talk about your life in all its four spheres,  you would say "C'est sur, à 100%". So when you get into that, you might very well have touched upon a value. 

On continue!


Submitted by André Marc (not verified) on

I agree and understand. Now I have to face it. Be back in a while with corresponding thoughts.

Many thanks.


Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.