Living by your personal values sounds easy—at least in theory. Your values are the things that are important to you in life, so it should be simple to live by them. Right?
Roy E. Disney of Walt Disney Co., said: "When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier."
Have you ever been in any of these situations:
Someone said or did something that you strongly disagreed with, but you didn’t speak up about it and felt ashamed afterwards.
You set goals for yourself and then failed to meet them.
Your life or career haven’t worked out the way you wanted them to.
What you want often clashes with what you've got to do or what’s “practical.”
You’re so busy pleasing other people that you’re not even sure what your own true values are.
When you live by your values, you feel better about yourself and are more focused on doing the things that are important to you.
What are personal Values? And why do they matter?
Personal values are the things that are important to us, the characteristics and behaviours that motivate us and guide our decisions. Everyone has their own personal values, and they can be quite different. Some people are competitive, while others value cooperation. Some people value adventure, while others prefer security.
For example, you may value honesty. You believe in being honest wherever possible and you think it’s important to say what you really think. When you don’t speak your mind, you probably feel disappointed in yourself. Or maybe you value kindness. You jump at the chance to help other people, and you’re generous in giving your time and resources to worthy causes or to friends and family.
Values matter because you’re likely to feel better if you’re living according to your values and to feel worse if you don’t. This applies both to day-to-day decisions and to larger life choices.
If you value adventure, for example, you’ll probably feel stifled if you let yourself be pressured by parents or others into making “safe” choices like a stable office job and a settled home life. For you, a career that involves travel, starting your own business, or other opportunities for risk and adventure may be more appropriate. On the other hand, if you value security, the opposite applies. What some people would view as a “dream” opportunity to travel the world and be your own boss may leave you feeling insecure and craving a more settled existence.
Everybody is different, and what makes one person happy may leave another person feeling anxious or disengaged. Defining your personal values and then living by them can help you to feel more fulfilled and to make choices that make you happy, even if they don’t make sense to other people.
How do I define my Values?
What makes you feel good? That’s a good place to start when figuring out what your values are.
Sadly chocolate isn’t a value. What we’re talking about here are characteristics or ways of behaving in the world. As we saw above, someone who values honesty will feel good when they tell the truth. Conversely, that same person will feel bad about themselves when they don’t tell the truth. So negative emotions can also be a good guide to your values. When have you felt disappointed in yourself or like you were a fraud? What behaviour led up to that?
Here are some questions to get you started:
What's important to you in life?
If you could have any career, without worrying about money or other practical constraints, what would you do?
When you’re reading news stories, what sort of story or behaviour tends to inspire you?
What type of story or behaviour makes you angry?
What do you want to change about the world or about yourself?
What are you most proud of?
When were you the happiest?
Click here to download the Values worksheet I use with my clients to define their values, and how we can live by them.
How do I make decisions according to my Values?
Living your values is about the big, long-term goals, and the small, day-to-day decisions. In the moment, do you choose to align with your values?
If you value compassion, for example, do you regularly display compassion towards others, or do you sometimes slip into judgment and blame? If you value health, do you always take care of your body, or do you sometimes end up eating burgers instead of bulgur?
It’s not always easy to make your actions align with your values. Anything from force of habit to the lure of immediate gratification can be powerful enough to make us forget those good intentions and act in ways that don’t reflect our values. But if you use your values as your guide, the actions may be tough to carry out but the decision will be easy to make.
When faced with a choice, try using a question like this: “Is that something a _________________(insert value here) would do?”
Let’s take an easy example: it’s Sunday night you are snuggled up on the couch watching a movie, and one of your values is health. Do you:
Bring out a bowls of chips, lollies and caramel covered popcorn
Create a platter of sweet juicy fruit, a morsel of cheese and some cheeky cashews
What would a healthy person do?
Consider using a couple of these techniques to support consciously living your values:
Include reading your list of values in your morning ritual
Visualise the day ahead and plan out how you can implement your values
Print out your values and keep them in your diary
Make them the background on your mobile phone or computer
Set up reminders to pop up on your phone
Sometimes we make choices that aren't aligned with our values, when you recognise when this has happened, pause for a moment and ask yourself what you could have done differently. Next time this situation comes up, choose your values.