More Than a Resolution: Connect with Your Values

In 2021, try connecting your resolutions to your values.

Posted Jan 01, 2021

The transition to a new year is an opportune time to recalibrate and “get back on track.” Although an arbitrary date, I certainly use the new year as a time to recommit to my exercise, healthy eating, and other goals.

But 2020 was—to use a professional diagnosis—a sh*t show. Forming any new habit this next year may be more difficult after all the trauma and loss of 2020 and ongoing stressors in the new year. Also, the typical resolutions may seem a bit shallow. If you are yearning for a deeper sense of purpose and personal growth after this difficult year, I encourage you to do a deeper dive today.

Resolutions are just another word for goals. Goals are great—especially when they are SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timed). Goals are even better when they are tied to something you value—such as your health, improving relationships, or serving your community.

Let your values drive your resolutions
Source: Shad0wfall/Pixabay

What is the difference between goals and values? There are lots of great analogies to illustrate this. Many resources talk about values as a compass—always steering you in a particular direction. In contrast, goals are specific destinations you might visit along your journey—such as a national park or mountain you climb as you continue heading West. With values, there is no destination—you never accomplish, check-off, or finish a value.

It is surprisingly easy to spend most of your time engaging in activities that are not consistent with your values. Personally, I spend way too much time watching Netflix and drinking red wine at the end of the day. Scrolling through social media is also a big detour from acting on my values. Although this feels good in the moment, I don’t need to do this every night as soon as the kids go to bed. I’m sure there is something else I could do with the last one to two hours of my day that would be more fulfilling.

People feel more fulfilled and more energized in life when they engage in values-driven activities. The first step is clarifying what your values are. It is important to be real with yourself and figure out what you truly value, not what you think you should value.

The Happiness Trap (Harris, 2011) offers questions you can ask yourself to help clarify your values. These are questions like:

  • What really matters to you?
  • How do you want to spend your time?
  • What type of person do you want to be?

Another helpful exercise for clarifying your values is to write your own obituary. What do you want to be remembered for? How do you want people to remember you? What types of words do you want people to use to describe you?

There are also some very helpful checklists and worksheets to help you connect with your values (see here).

For example, here are some common domains of life that people value:

  • Personal growth
  • Leisure
  • Health
  • Parenting
  • Career or Work
  • Community and service
  • Family relationships
  • Intimate relationships
  • Social relationships
  • Spirituality

Values can also be ways of being in your life—not specific to a domain—such as:

Once you’ve done some soul searching and identified your core values, identify some actions you can take this year that are consistent with your values.

Using myself as an example, I value being present in the moment, especially around my children. However, over 2020, I spent increasingly more and more time on social media. It started out as a way to keep up with the ever-changing news about COVID-19 and then events related to racial injustice. It then continued because we moved to a new town and I joined some online parent groups. But now I find myself checking social media many times a day when I have a spare second and too often when my children are around.

I’m taking control back in 2021. I will set a SMART goal that is consistent with my value of being present in the moment. Here it is: I will devote only 15 minutes to checking social media on Saturdays and Sundays and only when my children aren’t in the room. In order to keep to my time limit, I will set a timer before I start. I expect I will habitually reach for my phone a lot in these first few weeks. Each time I mindlessly start to check, I will use that as a reminder of my value to be present in the moment and will put the phone down.

Wish me luck… and best of luck to you in your values-driven resolutions!


Harris, R. (2011). The happiness trap. ReadHowYouWant. com.