We all have values. You know, those standards we try to live according to. They are the areas we give importance to. There are tons of them: independence, health, creativity, self-acceptance, God's will, growth, knowledge, strength, stability, adventure, kindness, world peace, reliability and so on. Have you thought about what your values are? Here are a few things to consider.
Where to Start?
It can be hard to think off the top of your head what it is that you value. Luckily, thanks to the internet, there are lists and lists of values already laid out. The Personal Value Care Sort exercise (W.R. Miller, J. C’de Baca, D.B. Matthews, P.L. Wilbourne, University of New Mexico, 2001) is great for helping sort through your values by putting them in one of the following three categories: very important to me, important to me or not important to me. What l like about this exercise is that it demonstrates how not all values are ranked the same in terms of importance. This knowledge can help in times when values compete. More on that in a bit. I always find it interesting that everyone's columns are filled differently. After completing the exercise, was there anything that surprised you? Were there some values of importance to you that you have been neglecting? Was there a time in your life when you were more aligned? If yes, what was different?
Our emotions are important sources of information. They are trying to communicate something to us. Next time, when you’re feeling guilty, unsettled or angry, stop and think if there is a value that’s been breached. This can help to identify what it is that’s of importance to you. Do you feel unsettled when running late? It could mean you value punctuality or reliability. Angry when someone keeps doing things for you that you think is reasonable to do for yourself? Maybe you value independence.
Sometimes They Compete and/or Contradict.
Humans hold many different values, and sometimes, two values that are both important, compete. For example, one may value health (sleep) as well as reliability. For many, sleep is often sacrificed in order to get an assignment or presentation done on time. Some may find ways to honour both (working ahead, delegating, etc). While others may take the hit grade wise in order to stay rested.
It is also possible to hold contradictory values, which can lead to cognitive dissonance (mental discomfort by holding two contradictory values). This is where DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) does a great job in advocating that two opposing things can be equally true. Just because your values are contradictory does not mean they (or you) are wrong. It is completely possible to value being social while also valuing solitude. When cognitive dissonance is present, try practicing radical acceptance, reminding yourself that "you are doing the best you can” and "it is what it is".
What’s Getting in the Way of Living According to Your Values?
Sometimes acting according to one’s values is hard! There are many influences and factors that play into why one does or doesn’t do this. Having a sense of awareness to the barriers present is an important step as it then allows you the opportunity to come up with a different approach or plan.
It can be helpful to think about how someone who is living according to value “X” would act, behave, think, carry themselves, engage, etc. Then, attempt to do the same. “Act as if” or “mimic” these behaviours until it becomes more natural or normal. If you value self-acceptance, people are likely showing themselves compassion and kindness (in words and actions). Start doing the same. It can also be helpful to have your values written down or typed out for you to see throughout the day.
Sometimes They Aren't the Same as Other’s.
Relationships can be difficult when the players within it hold different values. Of course, us humans, like snowflakes, are made up of differing values and beliefs. This doesn't mean we can't be in relationship with someone who doesn't value what we value, however, it does mean we will need to learn how to navigate these differences. Usually, we can learn a lot from these differences. Other times, the differences are too great and can be deal breakers within the relationship (such as if one person values monogamy whereas another person is wanting an open relationship). Having a third party, such as a therapist, can be helpful when trying to navigate these differences.
They Can Act as Anchors Admits Change/Uncertainty.
Life can feel pretty uncertain at times. There are many seasons of change that occur, some that leave us feeling untethered. The neat thing about values is that they go with you wherever you go. Yes, values can change over the course of time or experiences, however they are pretty constant pieces of ourselves. You typically don’t wake up one morning, all of a sudden, hating the value of fairness or creativity. Learn to trust this part of you and do your best to act according to them, especially in times of uncertainty.
We Feel Better When We Live According to Them.
Think about the times you acted in a way that was consistent with your values. Now recall a time when you didn’t. How did you feel? Likely, there’s a difference. If honesty is of high importance to you, it makes sense that you would feel unsettled after we told a lie. Keep this in mind, especially when it's tough to do so. Play the tape/situation forward and imagine how you'd react/feel by following or not following your values.