”Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
– Roy Disney
If I was to ask you what are your values, would you know what they are? And more importantly, would you know how to utilise them?
When it comes to Happiness, understanding your values is a fundamental building block. Your values influence your behaviours, your choices and your emotions. Your values influence your habits, your lifestyle and your social experiences. Your values are your motivators and give you purpose for getting up in the morning. When asked the above question, most responses I hear are pretty vague, people have to think them through or people just say things that they think are their values or that they want their values to be as they are seen as desirable traits to have. But are the values that you want to have really your values
This is a part series as it’s such a broad topic and I want to ensure it captures all the essential elements. Part one will focus on the explanation of values and the benefits of understanding your personal values. Part two will focus on how to elicit your values and utilize them for goal-setting and decision making.
So what are values? Values are such a broad topic and can’t really be summed up in a single sentence, but put simply, your values represent what is important to you. As mentioned above, they are the driving force behind why you get up in the morning, the choices you make and why you behave the way you do. Examples of values are success, honesty, belonging and health. Some people suggest that other activities such as reading, swimming or socialising are values, however these would be symptoms of your values. For example, if you feel reading is a value, it is probably more accurate to assume that your actual value is learning, or relaxing or something of a similar nature. Think about the actual reason as to what it that led you to read? Similar to swimming, is this truly your value or is it that you value health, wellbeing or success? Perhaps you socialise while swimming and your true value is friendship. These are the reasons that made you choose to go swimming. Understanding exactly what it is that you value is the perfect starting point for understanding your self and understanding your motivators.
Benefits of understanding your values
If you want to gain tremendous clarity around your life, your decisions, what matters most to you and ultimately live a happy and successful life, then understanding your values is fundamental. Ultimately, through understanding your values you will be able to prioritise effectively, make consistent decisions and take action in a way that leads you to success and happiness in the areas you pursue.
Why does this matter? For three primary reasons:
1) Time is the most limited resource
2) Our decisions are often inconsistent with our goals
3) You want to achieve awesome Happiness
Firstly, time is a limited resource. The fact that you’re reading this suggests to me that you are wanting to maximize your life, an outcome of maximizing your time. Understanding your values and prioritizing helps you achieve this. Secondly, the decisions you make are far more consistent when you understand your values. When you know what is most important to you, you can prioritise and make consistent decisions to progress you towards your goals. Thirdly, you are on a journey of Starting the Happiness in your own life and in the lives of others. If you want to achieve success and happiness, understanding your values is a sure-fire way of gaining tremendous focus and clarity of your goals, and through clear prioritization and consistent decisions, you will get there, faster.
When you are not in harmony with your values
There is something I left out of the benefits above, simply because I feel it deserves a section all to itself.
Happiness is and ought to be our ultimate end.
When you make choices that are in line with your values, you experience harmony, a feeling that leads to satisfaction and happiness. Re-read that quote above by Mahatma Gandhi, the preeminent leader of India who inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights and freedom across the world. This quote sums up how the heart, mind, body and soul work in unison. The heart is what represents your values, the things that are most important to you. When other parts of our being are not aligned to our values (eg we make a different choice or we take a different path) we experience dis-harmony which can lead to feelings of frustration, confusion, guilt, emptiness or unhappiness.
Lets look at an example. Some readers may value their health. If this is a strong value for you then how do you feel after going to a birthday afternoon tea and instead of opting for the healthier options, you realise that you have stuffed yourself with sweet slices, fluffy cupcakes, sugar-coated lollies and soft-drinks. I’m pretty sure you would be feeling a strong sense of guilt, perhaps angry with yourself about your choice. You immediately get a sense that something is ‘wrong’. You’re experiencing dis-harmony. This feeling would differ depending on how strong you value your health.
Taking another example. Let’s say you value fairness. How would you feel if you had one gift to giveaway between two people who needed it most. It would be an extremely tough choice for you because no matter your decision, one person will miss out. You will experience feelings of uneasiness as this goes against your values.
When you experience dis-harmony between your values and your behaviours, subconciously you will automatically take action to correct the situation and rectify your feelings. The person who ate themselves silly at the birthday afternoon tea might make the decision to hit the gym and sweat even harder during their next session or set themselves up on a new diet. This will realign their decisions and actions with their values. The person who gave the gift to one person may go out of their way to do something for the other person to ensure harmony between their values and actions.
The more clarity you have of your values the more rapidly you can identify why you are experiencing dis-harmony and realign yourself to feelings of happiness. Ultimately, understanding your values helps you make choices to experience congruency, success and happiness.
Do you ever get the feeling of dis-harmony? Do you recognise this feeling when it occurs? What do you do that ensures you actions and behaviours are in line with your values? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Now that you understand what are values and why they are important, do you actually know what your values are? In part two you will have the opportunity to elicit your values and look into how to best utilize them for goal-setting and decision-making.
In first Part of Understanding Your Values we learned what values are, what benefits you can achieve from gaining clarity of them and also what you experience when you make choices that are not aligned with your values. Now you will go through the exercise of actually eliciting your values. You will gain clarity of what is most important to you in life, and then you will explore how you can take action to make the most from this.
Eliciting Your Values
Ok, so let’s do it! Its time for you to build your values hierarchy. To do this properly, I suggest allowing yourself enough time where you do not have to be anywhere in the next couple of hours and also being in a quiet space with no distractions so you can do some self-reflection. Read over this whole post first so you understand the process and then when you’re ready, find your space and take action. Some people find it hard to do self-reflection and spend time evaluating their lives, but if you’re here and reading this then I think you’re already one-step ahead of the game and you’re taking the right steps! I’ll try make it as simple as possible for you.
1) Get some paper, a pen, put yourself in a comfy place away from distractions and get ready for step 2
2) In the middle of your sheet of paper, write ‘What is Important To Me In My Life?’ and circle it…. that’s right, we’re mind-mapping!
3) Answer that question!
Think deep. Think hard. Think of what makes you happy. Think of your life gone by and the experiences you have had. Think of what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. Think of what inspires you. Write write write absolutely everything that comes to your mind. If you’re thinking of long sentences, try encapsulate them in a single word. For example, if you’re thinking that you want to have a successful career and make it to the top of your Organisation, simply put ‘success’, or ‘career’, or ‘successful career’.
Remember, these are your values, not what everyone else thinks are your values or suggests your values should be. Make sure what you’re writing down makes sense for you and that you truly feel some passion as you are writing them down. Once you start coming to a bit of a halt and you feel you have exhausted all the areas that you feel are important to you, read this comprehensive list of values and see if there are others that light a spark or jump out at you that you can add to your list.
You will now have a comprehensive map of values that are true to you. Perhaps you wrote 10, perhaps you wrote 20, perhaps you wrote 100! Now is the harder part. You want to ensure that you elicit the values that are MOST important to you. Your goal is to now get your comprehensive list of values down to a concise list of YOUR TOP 10 VALUES.
Read over your map of values that you have created, one by one going through them. As you read each one, what do you feel or experience? If you’re not experiencing a sense of excitement or passion or you are unsure or a bit hesitant when reading over one, then it is probably lesser of a value to you. For those that you read over and you get a tingling feeling, a buzz, or it makes you feel positive in some way, then these would be your highest values. Ask yourself is this TRULY your value or is it simply a desirable trait? Think through when you have you displayed these values? Did it motivate you? Did it make you feel happy? Do you actually live this value? Write your list on the back of your mind map.
Elicit and decide on your Top 10 values of what is most important to you.
Now that you have your concise list of values that resemble what is important in your life, how does this make you feel? When you look at them does it ‘feel right’? Does it inspire and motivate you? Does it resemble you and where you want to go?
We’re taking it one-step further. Now that you have your list of values that are most important to you, you are now going to rank them. You want to understand what it is that matters MOST to you. Once again, take the time and go through the exercise of reading over your list and sensing which ones are the ones that give you the buzz or spark and rank your values 1 through 10. If you are finding it tough to determine which value is more important to you, try create a scenario or situation between the two values. For example, if you are struggling to determine which value is more important between Learning and Fitness, ask yourself the question “on most occasions, what would I rather be doing, reading a book or going to the gym?”.
Congratulations! You now have a concisely ranked list of the things that matter most in your life. How does it make you feel when you read over this list? Does it feel right and give you a sense of who you are?
“Show me your list of values and I can tell you who you are. – Brendan Baker“
I don’t know if that above sentence has been quoted before or not, but if not, I’ll coin it! As we have explored in Understanding Your Values – Part 1, your values define who are. Let’s have a look at the below list of values from someone.
Just from this list you can get a picture for what this kind of person may be like. Their strongest motivators are to have a successful career and enhance their wealth which is where they would spend the majority of their time and energy. When it comes to going to the gym or going out and socialising, this person still values these, however if presented with an opportunity of creating wealth or going out with friends, they may choose the former. This of course isn’t to say that on every single occasion they would choose this, as this is still within the Top 10 most important areas of life for this person, however if they were to ignore their top values on more occasions than not, they would experience dis-harmony which we explored in Part 1.
Lets now take another example. What if we simply flip that list of values on its head? We would end up with the following order of values.
What does this list of values tell you about this person? They still value the same things… however they value these things differently. This person would absolutely love spending time and having fun with family and friends with open and honest relationships. They still value having wealth and a successful career, however if their career would be at the detriment of relationships, what do you think they would do?
How well are you currently living your values? When you read through them, do you feel you are satisfying what is most important to you? I suggest you to compare your values with your Wheel of Life to see if the things that matter most are currently being satisfied. Understanding your values and combining this with your Wheel of Life gives you a good picture of what is most important to you and whether you feel as those these areas are being completely fulfilled.
Understanding Your Values and Taking Action
Now that you have your list of values, representing what is most important to you in life, let’s explore a little deeper into how you can utilise this.
1) Making decisions
As outlined in Part 1, understanding your values helps you to prioritise your time as well as make consistent decisions. Now that you know what is most important to you in your life, you will be more consciously aware of what it is that makes you happy and where you want to get to. As you are now more consciously aware, your decisions will be more consistent and in-line with your values. What does this mean? Ultimately, you will be able to make decisions on a more regular basis that lead you to being more happy and your consistent decisions will also help you achieve success in the areas that you pursue, and importantly, get you there faster.
2) Achieving Harmony
We explored in Part 1 the concept of harmony and what happens when your actions or behaviours are not in harmony with your values. Now that you are more consciously aware of what is important to you, you can make choices and take action in a way that is aligned to your values. You will understand more clearly now when you have feelings of guilt, frustration, anger, disappointment and what has brought these feelings on. More importantly, you will be more conscious to be able to bring yourself back into a state of harmony and behave in ways that are aligned to your values. Achieving harmony is essential for Happiness and reaching peak performance in life.
3) Planning Your Life
Now that you have a clear understanding of what is most important to you, you can start to explore ideas of where you want to be heading in life. Your values are your driving force for what gets you up in the morning. Everyday when you wake up, you want to be completely motivated and driven and return to your bed at night knowing that you gave the day 110%, don’t you?. Now that your values are clearly defined, start to think through where you are now and where you want to be and how consciously making decisions can get you there. This is something that I will take you through in another post.
Going through this exercise is often a wake-up call for many. One of the most common things I hear when people go through this exercise is that they realise that what they are currently doing is not aligned to their values. For example, a lady who I recently suggested go through this process came to realise that her strongest value was the term challenging. This enveloped many things for her, including her passion for learning, development and giving everything 100%. What she came to realise was that her day-job was so out of line with what was most important to her in life… she had been in her role for three years and with her company for five years and she was not being challenged at all. What did she do? She went in the direction of completely throwing herself in the deep-end, quitting her job and becoming an entrepreneur in her field of specialty. How has she gone? Absolutely fantastic! She thrives on the challenge of running her own business. This is what gets her up in the morning! She can now consciously make decisions that are aligned to the things that are most important to her.
Re-assessing Your Values
Every now and then its important we stop and reassess our values. Ask yourself whether they are still your values? This is an important part of the process to ensure we are continually living with passion and making the decisions needed to get us to where we want to go. Sometimes a life event forces us to reevaluate our values, such as the birth of a son or daughter, or a death in the family or a close friend, or an unexpected event. When these things happen your values may change. Perhaps that successful career that you were enjoying becomes less important once you have a child as you value time with your family as a higher priority. Or perhaps you value friendships more after a close friend passes away. Keep your values close by so you can continually keep front of mind what is important to you. Remember, show me your list of values and I can show you who you are. You are your values.
This list of values is to complement my guide on finding your core values. Your core values are the fundamental building block behind who you are as a person. I suggest only using this list of values once you have exhausted all of your own thoughts to see whether any of the values in this list light a spark or prompt you for further insights into whats important to you.
This is a long list of values but it is certainly not exhaustive. So perhaps there are additional values that you have already thought of or that you are prompted to think of which I encourage you to use!
Being the best
Making a difference
How do you utilise your values? Has understanding your values given you clearer direction in life? How has understanding your values made decision-making and prioritising easier? Would love to hear your thoughts!