Life is a balance of being (letting life happen) and doing (making life happen) and our values are qualities that are intrinsic to both being and doing. It is our values that help us to create the kind of future we would like to experience and they determine how we show up in life.
“Values” as a word often gets thrown around, but many of us rarely stop to ask what this means to us and how it might impact our lives. Values are the things that we believe matter most in life. In our youth, our parents or parental type figures (like teachers) may have passed along values to us, but as adults we need to determine the things that matter on our own, based off of our own personal experiences.
When I was younger I was often asked what I wanted to do as a career, but nobody ever asked me what I stood for. My upbringing and cultural conditioning dictated that I had to find a job and find one soon, so without really considering the qualities I valued, I fell into a job that despite being considered prestigious and “cool”, was very much the opposite to what I now stand for.
It took me many years to understand the dissatisfaction I felt, both in my career and also within myself. I didn’t realise that my values were an integral part of developing my sense of self, and I was not living my life in line with my values. It was not easy to walk away from something I had by then been doing for 11 years, comfortable in the security of the one thing I knew how to do well, but looking at the physical and emotional toll it took on me, I am so grateful I was able to leave and reassess the kind of life I wanted to be living – and what were the things that ultimately mattered most to me.
We are presented with an infinite number of choices every day. Without knowing our values, how do we know the right choices to direct our energy towards? How can we make the right decisions for our own personal wellbeing?
With that said, here are 6 reasons why I believe understanding what your values are matters:
- Becoming familiar with our values helps us to make meaningful decisions about our lives, decisions that resonate with the kind of person we want to be. They help to better inform our choices and make those choices deliberate ones.
- Values help us to find our purpose in life and be clear about what we want. You can’t expect to know what you want out of life if you don’t know what is important in life. Who are you and what is the impact you want to have on the world? The career you choose is often an expression of your life purpose, but you are more than what you do.
- They are the tools by which we stay driven and motivated and they ultimately improve our overall wellbeing.
- Our values influence our thoughts, which create our words, which become our actions. Values drive our behaviour, with our decisions reflecting our values. They can help ensure we behave in a way that is in line with who we want to be at our core. Our actions often mirror what we value and when they don’t is when things no longer feel right in our life.
- Without knowing our values or living our lives in line with them, we often find ourselves faced with dissonance and dissatisfaction. Knowing our values helps us understand the things we do not value – the things we need to distance ourselves from and the things that create conflict in our life.
- Knowing our values also helps us understand when we come into conflict with others and how to deal with conflict management. More often than not, it is not personal – it is just a matter of differing value sets. Learn to set agreements with others about the things you value rather than expectations, in order to respect the things that matter to you.
If you have never really considered what your values are, here are some questions to ask yourself to help determine some of them:
- Who do you consider to be a hero? What do you admire about them? What qualities of theirs do you aspire towards?
- Picture a moment when you were your happiest. What values were you honouring in that moment?
- If you think about your life as a story, what would you put in the next chapter if you wanted that chapter to be meaningful?
- If you have, or would like to have children, what qualities would you want to instil in them?
- What are things you strongly dislike in others? (Turn them around to find the things you value).
Write down as many of the answers that come to mind and then circle the ones you consider to be most important. Try to narrow your list down to about 10 primary values. Make sure that these values make you feel good about yourself. With these values in mind, consider writing up a values statement of how you choose to live your life and behave in the world. Let that statement be a reminder to you to keep you on track and in a state of resonance and fulfillment.
Here is my value statement with my top 10 values: I choose to live my life with kindness and compassion, always looking to inspire and be inspired. I value making my family and important relationships priorities in my life, while pursuing the things I love creatively, open to any opportunities that lie ahead. I will find moments to be alone and focus on my personal self-care so that I can give more of myself to those I love. I choose to be fearlessly authentic, embracing who I am and the life I want to live.
Without knowing what matters to us, it can be so much easier to get distracted in life by things that don’t serve our greater good or take us anywhere good. Honoring ourselves is often a path full of difficult choices, but it is worth the challenge. Don’t go along, just to get along. Take a stand to live the life you dream of. Take responsibility for your own experience.
Because it can be so easy for us to lose sight of what is important to us, I thought I would leave you with this fantastic excerpt from a Physchology Today article: “I'd argue that it is harder than ever for people, and especially young people, to know what they value. Modern technology has created a fire hose of information in the expansion of communication media. The gush of words and images we have unleashed on ourselves risks psychologically overwhelming us.
Amidst the noise, we look in the mirror and find a person who is too fat, too old, or, irony of ironies, too critical and judgmental. We are unable to put to rest our own insecurities, many generated by media constantly pulling us into self-defeating behaviors. We are unable to sit with the pain and distress that is a normal part of the human experience; instead, we are offered ever more ways to escape it. We are unable to reach through the mental entanglement of human judgment, losing flexible contact with others. Compassion, connection, community, and peace of mind disappear into the chatter.
We've always struggled with these matters. But never have we had such a toxic brew in which people are comparing themselves with others, judging others and themselves, and trying hard to avoid discomfort.
The same cognitive processes that feed comparison, judgment, and avoidance on the one hand can also enable us to create connection, community, and cooperation on the other. They can be used for good or for ill. We need to do better at creating modern minds for this modern world, so that we can more directly connect our behavior to what we deeply value.”