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6 Signs You Don’t Know What Matters

Are you out of touch with your goals and values?

Creative Commons/Pixabay
Source: Creative Commons/Pixabay

If all life in the universe was gone, nothing of importance would be left.

Oil, gold, and diamonds? Suddenly worthless.

Pollution, global warming, and melting ice caps? The oceans do not care. Without life, it would no longer be a “problem.”

In fact, were the sun to die away, Earth would stand unconcerned.

Things do not care, only the living can. And that tells you something about where you will find what matters to us. You will not find it in things we care about, you will find it in the hearts of human beings.

Caring is part of life itself. And whether you are aware of it or not, there are things that you truly care about:

  • Things that are worth striving for
  • Things that are worth struggling for
  • Things that are much more important than any hardship life might throw at you

Yet, too often we lose contact to the things we truly care about, and find ourselves in a struggle to chase empty goals.

In my line of work, I’ve seen people struggle with all kinds of problems. And what crushes me the most is to see—again and again—how people put their lives on hold while they are fighting their inner battles.

People with anxiety organize their entire life around this anxiety, in an attempt to get rid of it. Yet while they avoid all situations where anxiety might show up, they also avoid all activities that make life rich and meaningful in the first place.

Ask a person struggling with panic what would be next if panic were suddenly removed from their life.

After a pause, you will hear hesitant statements of what the person holds dear:

  • I would like to travel,” says one person
  • I’d go back to school,” says another one
  • I would spend more time with my family,” says a third

Meanwhile, life has become an empty struggle with anxiety, seemingly out of necessity rather than choice. There’s only an effort to get away from the bad stuff, not an effort to get closer to what makes life precious to begin with.

In the list below you’ll find five signs that you have lost contact with what is truly important to you.

Sign #1: You Can’t Say What You Care About

The first sign that you’re not connected to what you value is that you are simply unable to say it. Not out of fear of saying something “wrong,” but because you are genuinely not aware of what matters to you.

This sign seems very obvious, but it’s an important start nonetheless. If you don’t know what you truly care about, then you’re not living a life in alignment with it.

Sign #2: Life Is About Avoidance

The second sign is a bit more tricky than the first.

Instead of making your life about striving towards what matters most to you, you make it about avoidance. Your life becomes organized to avoid uncomfortable emotions like fear, shame, anxiety, or guilt.

Any situation where uncomfortable emotions naturally show up has to be avoided. Meanwhile, you also avoid the people and activities that make life meaningful in the first place.

What you truly care about is getting put on hold.

Sign #3: Life Is About Approval

The third sign that you have lost contact with what matters most: Caring becomes about approval.

The things you say you truly care about, are not about what you value, but what you think other people want you to value. It’s less about what is important to you, and all about gaining the approval of others.

This is a clear sign that you’re not living your life, but someone else’s.

Sign #4: Values Are Preordained

The fourth sign is pretty similar to the third. Instead of you choosing your own goals and values, your values seem preordained. Someone else has defined a set of goals and values that you should live your life by.

This often happens when clients grow up in strict households, or in certain ideological groups.

Instead of examining these preordained values and choosing, you mindlessly adopt them. A sense of capacity to choose them or construct them is absent.

Sign #5: You Want Things

Instead of caring about what you are doing and the things to need to support that, you care about things. Period. End of story. Things like...

Money, not how it will be spent.

A house, not what will happen inside it.

A trophy spouse, not the love you will create.

Life will call your bluff if these things show up. What will happen next?

Sign #6: Values Are Rigid And Inflexible

The last sign that you are not connected to what is truly important to you: your values are rigid and inflexible.

At some point you have decided what is important to you in life. Yet instead of reflecting how far these values and goals are still important and relevant to you, you mindlessly hold tight onto them. Caring seems inflexible and repetitive, like an oft-told tale instead of an active exploration.

These six signs give you a good idea of whether or not you are in touch with what matters most to you.

If you find none of the signs apply to you, very good.

If, however, you recognize yourself in one (or more) of them, that’s good news as well. Because now you are aware of it and can see this as an opportunity to reflect on your goals and values, and make the necessary adjustments in your life.

It’s hardly possible to live your values without getting in contact with uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. Yet, these uncomfortable feelings are ultimately only important because they are connected to what matters.

Or, to put a finer point on it, perhaps we should say “who matters,” since you will not find values in the things we care about; you will find them in the hearts of human beings.

More from Steven C. Hayes Ph.D.
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