Valuing Your Values
4 reasons why you should know what is important to you.
Posted June 15, 2016
“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.” -Ayn Rand
Do you know what’s really important to you? What you value most in life?
I’d say that most people I meet haven’t spent much time on this question. They tell me they’re too busy coping with the busyness of life to stop and think about something as intangible as their personal values. Or they spout common phrases like “traditional family values” or “strong work ethic” without really considering what those phrases mean. (As Lewis Black notes, “Everybody's family has different values.”)
Becoming crystal clear on what is really important to you is the key to leading a happy, fulfilling life. Why? Here a few reasons:
Values make decisions easy. Indecision and confusion is often the result of not knowing the relative importance of things you want. For example, say you’re trying to decide whether to take that new position where you’ll need to work 60 hour weeks. If your highest value is spending time with your family, that’s clearly not your best option. If you value career achievement above all else, it may be a wise move.
Values help us through crisis. When the stuff hits the fan, many people panic and shift into survival mode. But when your values are clear, they act as a guide and steadying hand. For instance, think of couples during divorce. Those who keep their values at the forefront—whether it’s being good parents to their kids or being kind to one another—have a much smoother process. Those who forget who and what they are often end up in bitter battles, realizing only later that what they fought for really didn’t matter.
Values keep us on track. When we’re clear on our values, we’re more likely to act in ways that serve our highest good. I may feel tempted by a triple scoop of Jamaican Almond Fudge on top of an 8 oz. double chocolate brownie. But if I’m consciously clear that I value my health, I’ll probably pass. I may want to flip off the guy who just swerved in front of me in traffic, but if I value being a good example to the toddler in the back seat, I’ll keep my hand gesture to myself.
Values show us how to feel pono. Pono is the Hawaiian concept of feeling right with yourself and the world. It’s that feeling of being aligned with who you really are, calm, centered and at peace with everyone and everything around you. You feel pono when you live from your true values. You don’t feel pono when you don’t. If you’re not feeling pono and you’re clear on your values, it’s easy to find out where you’ve gotten off-track. Too many people only feel pono on very rare occasions. For the most part they feel uncomfortable in their own skin and don’t know why. Most likely, it’s because they are acting in conflict with values they don’t even know they have!
In my Master Practitioners Trainings for NLP (neuro linguistic programming), we spend a good amount of time talking about values. We study how and when values are developed and review various systems like Claire Graves’ hierarchy of values. We cover how values create underlying beliefs and how to work with values that contradict one another.
But unless you’re a therapist or practitioner, you really don’t need to know all of that. You simply need to know what your true values are — and to distinguish them from values you may have adopted that no longer serve you.
In NLP, we use a simple exercise called “value elicitation.” It takes about 30 minutes, but it can make a huge difference to how you feel about and operate in your life.
First, write down everything you desire, like success or security or love. When you feel like your list is pretty complete, make another list of what you don’t want (illness, fear, poverty). Make sure that there is a positive quality on your desires list for every negative quality on your “don’t want” list. For example, if you don’t want illness, health should be on your desires list.
Next, looking only at your desires list, ask yourself, “If you could have only one of these qualities, which would it be?” Mark that one as #1. Next, if you could have only two of these qualities, which other one would you choose? Mark this as #2. Continue until you have six or seven really important values.
Note: Make sure that the values you name and rank are your values, not the ones you think you should have!
Now looking at your most important values, think about each of the main categories of your life: health and fitness, relationships, career, personal growth and spirituality.
How are your values reflected in this area right now?
Are your values aligned with who you are being in that area?
Do your actions support your values in that area?
Do your goals in that area line up with your values?
If you find conflict—which most people do!—the next step is to figure out what needs changing.
Check out the conflicting value: Is it really important to you? Is it really yours or someone else’s? If the value still feels true, check out who you are being and what you are doing in that area of life. What is out of kilter? How could you align more closely with your values? What could you change, add or eliminate?
When we’re out of synch with what we truly value or what is important to us, we don’t feel good about ourselves and we struggle to create a life that is fulfilling. But when we know our values and consciously live according to them, our path becomes clearer—and a lot more fun!
“Authentic values are those by which a life can be lived, which can form a people that produces great deeds and thoughts.” -Allan Bloom
To your TOTAL empowerment!
Byline: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, the world's leading integrative personal development company for over 30 years. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students towards excellent health and personal empowerment using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, and Mental Emotional Release® (MER®) therapy.