We accomplished our first step during my last post when we took an unwavering look at this formula: “When _______ happens, then I’ll feel better/be happier/consider myself successful.
We realized that this isn’t the best way to live our lives, because it keeps us waiting for the next thing to happen rather than living a rich, meaningful life right now. We decided to begin our journey by answering the questions, “What am I doing? And why?”
In order to answer those questions, we need to look at our goals and values.
In our American culture, it’s easy to get caught up in goals-based living as represented by the when-then formula above. Goals are useful. They help us stay on track and move forward in a positive direction. But goals alone don’t answer the questions, “What am I doing? And why?” We must examine the relationship between our goals and our values.
Goals and Values
A goal is something we accomplish or achieve. I had a goal to save money for a road bicycle. Two weeks ago, I achieved my goal and acquired my new bicycle. (Hooray!)
A value is a principle that leads and guides us through life. Two of my values are being healthy and enjoying nature. Riding my new bicycle is one way I can manifest my values of being healthy and enjoying nature.
Goals are future-oriented and finite. We strive toward a goal, and when we accomplish it, we’re done with it. A value is something that exists indefinitely unless we change it or eliminate it. We can choose to act on a value at any time—including this very moment.
I like the idea of values being like a compass, as Russ Harris writes in ACT Made Simple:
Values are like a compass. A compass gives you direction and keeps you on track when you’re traveling. And our values do the same for the journey of life. We use them to choose the direction in which we want to move and to keep us on track as we go. So when you act on a value, it’s like heading west. No matter how far west you travel, you never get there; there’s always further to go. But goals are like the things you try to achieve on your journey: they’re like the sights you want to see or the mountains you want to climb while you keep on traveling west. (p.192)
What are my values?
Pertinent questions that may be entering your mind right now are, “What are my values? How do I define them for myself?”
One way is to ask yourself, “What do I stand for in life? What is important to me?” Allow these questions to percolate for awhile before answering them.
Another way, which I find to be a bit easier, is to mimic an old commercial and ask yourself, “What do I want on my tombstone?”
At times, my clients will tell me about the stressors in their lives—the deadlines to be met, the pressure to be perfect, or the closet that needs to be organized. With gentle humor, I sometimes ask, “Is that what you want on your tombstone? ‘Here lies Mary. Her closets were organized?’”
Let’s broaden the exercise from your tombstone. Imagine that you are able to attend your own funeral. What do you want the speakers at your funeral to say about you? Do you hear them saying, “She really wanted that raise at work, and she got it!” Or would you rather they say, “She was a hard worker and she treated others with respect. You always knew that she really cared about you.”
If imagining your funeral is uncomfortable for you, then visualize people speaking about your life at your 90th birthday party. What will they say that illustrates what you stand for in life? Will they easily be able to say why you live your life the way you do?
To help you with this process, I created a worksheet that lists many values. Follow the instructions to name and clarify your values.
Take action. No, really—I mean now!
Utilize one or all of these methods to make a list of at least 10 of your values. You may generate a list that has more than 10, which is perfectly okay. Now put a check mark by the values that are most important for you. I hope that seeing your values in writing begins to create some clarity.
We’re not done yet! Once we have identified our values, we have to ask ourselves one final question.
Am I living my values?
Now that we are aware of our values, the next step is to see how closely we’re living by our values. Remember that we want our values to guide us in the actions that we take. In part, values act like an anchor in a storm: No matter how much life tosses us around on waves of adversity, our values hold us steady, and steadiness is a key component of resilience.
To determine how closely you are living your values, apply a little bit of honest thought to the values that you listed. Using the worksheet, review your list of values. In one column, put a number between 1 and 10 that indicates how important this value is to you where 1 is not important at all and 10 is extremely important. In the second column, place a number between 1 and 10 that indicates how well you are living that value right now where 1 is not at all and 10 is living that value fully.
For example, being kind is a value that is extremely important to me, so I entered 10 in the first column. How well am I living that value daily? When I ponder this for a bit, I conclude that I am kind to people I work with and interact with in public. But, I can be more irritable with my partner than I care to be. So, I put a 6 in the second column.
Creativity is also one of my values, but it’s not extremely important to me, so I entered a 7 in the first column. After a bit of consideration, I decide that I am fairly happy with the way I incorporate creativity into my life, so I also entered a 7 in the second column.
In the first instance, I notice a fairly wide gap between how important my value of kindness is to me versus how I am integrating kindness into my actions. This is a flag for me: my value and my actions are misaligned.
However, I seem to be living my value of creativity in line with how important it is to me. No flags here; it is gratifying to note the congruence between my value and my actions.
So, you have a bit of work to do! Use the worksheet or whatever method is effective for you to name your values and determine how well you are living each one. Then, share in the comments below what you are learning so far as we take this important step down our path to living a richer, more meaningful life. I’ll start us off by sharing what I’ve learned.
Coming up next on Bounce: What do I do if my values and actions are misaligned? What gets in the way of fully living my values?