(I just recorded an episode of Finding Your Way mirroring this topic, but wanted to share it as an article as well. You can listen to it below.)
We live in a world where we are constantly being told what we should look like, who we should idolize, what we should buy and how we should act. Generations of people are being subconsciously programmed into thinking and acting out values generated by others for their benefits and agendas rather than ones we have discovered for ourselves that are truly ours.
I did a short video a few weeks ago about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, and how one of the great things that I liked about it is that it starts with a mindfulness component, but then encourages taking ACTION based on our VALUES.
For most of us, if we’re asked what our values are, we quickly spout off things we think we’re supposed to say, or values and ideals that are promoted by groups or associations we belong to. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t also hold those values ourselves as well, but it is a short-circuited way of expressing them, rather than a deeply authentic way borne out of self-inquiry and discovery.
So how do we define what our values really are? Well, it can start with asking ourselves some key questions about experiences in our lives and what is important to us – how we really think and feel about things from our own unique perspectives and individual consciousness.
Some helpful discovery steps and questions may include:
– Think of some of the best experiences in your life. What were the feelings associated with them? What were you doing during those times? What were other people doing? What was the purpose or intent of the event? What was the outcome?
(For me, examples include spending summers at my grandparents’ cabin on the lake as a kid. The serenity of the environment combined with the adventure and excitement of being able to explore the area was almost intoxicating. That was combined with the connection to family and a time to reset for the coming school year ahead.
Another example is the birth of my children. The incredible miracles of the gift of life, the bonding with family, and being tasked with protecting and teaching these tiny humans and helping to guide them while also learning from them.)
– Now think of some times in your life around difficult experiences that produced strong emotions in you. Was someone hurt or wronged in some way? How did this affect you? Were you motivated to take action? What did you do to help the situation? What was the outcome you were hoping to achieve? When looking for values here, don’t focus on the negative aspect, but instead the positive side, such as saying “I support the freedom of speech for all people” rather than “I don’t support censorship,” or whatever. Turn it into something that you can build on rather than take away from, or move forward with rather than retreating from.
(A big one for me is supporting independent thought outside of the groupthink that controls so many political and religious affiliations where people must toe the line or conform. This has come from personal experiences of standing up to controlling organizations and speaking my truth and advocating for others to be able to do the same.)
– Now take a look at what some of your basic everyday needs are, things that offer happiness and fulfillment in your life. They may have already been touched upon in the earlier inquiries, but there could also be some further exploration here. What are things that you look forward to every day, week or month? What are some things you avoid or really dislike? In an ideal setting for you, what would you do each day? How would each of these things provide a sense of accomplishment, love, fulfillment, excitement, creativity or other higher-level emotion? Is there anything that you would miss after a while?
(A few things for me include having quiet space to recharge and meditate, helping others achieve some goal in their lives, spending time with loved ones – especially my children, getting some exercise through sports or recreation, having time to express creativity through various outlets, having meaningful conversations with people, working on future goals, having a great meal, and more.)
As you continue writing down things that you really value, see if there are some similar ones that can be grouped together and further refined. You may also look for values that are in different areas of life, such as social, financial, family, health, spiritual, etc.
This can take some time, and you’ll likely find that your values have changed over the years, and will likely continue to change in the future as you learn and experience more in life.
The goal here is to have a set of values that you know for yourself are an impetus in your life. These are often the underlying basis for many of your decisions, from small to large, everyday. As you look over your values you may spot things that you can do that are more in alignment with them, and other things you do that are not in alignment that could be discarded. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that everything you do has to be some major activity, just that you know most of your actions are contributing to moving you forward in your life and expressing your values, which continue to produce elevated emotions and feelings of fulfillment.
And remember, these are what are truly important to YOU, so be honest with yourself. It’s not for other people. When you are living more in alignment with your true values then you continue to show up in the lives of others more authentically and you attract others who have similar values, thus continuing to contribute to your overall shared experiences of living. Taking positive action in accordance with your values will help you continue toward a life of meaning and fulfillment.