With an ever increasing number of choices to be made, how do we know which choices to make?? We live in a society of information and opportunities. With so much coming at us every minute of every day, how do we choose what to pay attention to and what to let pass by? I’ve discovered for myself that being crystal clear about my values helps me apply a filter to the world. Here’s how and why you need to define your values.
Why You Need to Define Your Values
You’re probably thinking, like I did, “of course I know my values! This is ridiculous!” But have you ever sat down to really think about what your values are? Have you put pen to paper to define them?
I hadn’t. After I did, I realized three important things:
- Living by your values allows you to define what is meaningful to you.
- Your values should determine your priorities.
- Knowing what you value helps when you are faced with decisions-both big and small.
When we don’t live by our values we feel a little off. If we value being at our children’s sports events but work 70 hour weeks and can’t ever make it to little Joey’s soccer game, that causes internal stress. However, when you live according to your values you feel at peace with the world.
How to Define Your Values
First, schedule a little alone time. You’re going to be doing some serious thinking. Remove yourself from the house if you feel like you’ll get distracted and put a load of laundry in. (This is the main reason I can’t work out at home.)
Now grab a pad of paper or if you’re a digital person, your notes app. Write down the answers to these questions, and be as specific as you possibly can:
- When you were happiest, or felt most fulfilled? Why?
- What do you consider your biggest successes? Why?
- Have you had any failures-or what you consider to be a failure? Why?
- This is a tricky one. Failure may hurt because perhaps you feel you failed in an area of your life that is important to you. Pay attention to this.
The answers to these questions should give you insight into what you consider important and meaningful to your life. Make no mistake, society has plenty of ideas about what should be important to us and what we should do with our time. But this is your life, and to live your truth, you have to know what is actually important to you.
Identify your top ten values. This list of common values may help. Or perhaps something has popped into your mind that is not on this list. That’s certainly fine.
Honesty is the Only Policy
Be honest with yourself.
For instance, when I look at the list below and see the word fun I think “I should want to have fun, right? I want to be seen as a fun person, don’t I?” But when forced to face reality, fun is not one of my top ten priorities. Now, it’s not that I stay in my house and work all day. I do fun stuff. Well, stuff I think is fun. I belong to a book group. Four times a year a group of couples we are friends with take a trip together. But if I must be brutally honest with myself (and you do have to be to define your values) I will never put fun ahead of some of my most important values such as personal growth, supporting my children, and conservation. So there you have it. Be honest.
Dial It Down
Now perhaps your list is 30 words long. That is way too much. Really your list should be no longer than 10. 8 is better. I think it’s pretty hard to have 20 priorities in your life. There are only 24 hours in a day, after all.
Next, do something radical. Take “value my family” and “value my friends” off the list. Of course you value your family and friends. I’m assuming there are no sociopaths among my readers 😉 I think those are givens. Let’s get to the deep down stuff.
When I went through this process I saw definite trends. I was able to combine some of my words together as I had more than 10 to start. For instance, one of my values is personal growth/education/learning.
After you have settled on a list of 8-10 values, write them down. In your journal. In your planner. Or type up a list. I have my list on my desk where I can see it every day. The act of writing these values down will not only help you remember them but it’s also a reality check. If it feels a little funny when you write it, perhaps it might not be something you actually value.
Test out your values. Perhaps you chose teamwork as a value but you discover that you are happiest when working alone. This is not to say you aren’t capable of being a good team member. Instead, perhaps solitude is a more important value instead.
Share your values with someone you trust. Often we see ourselves very differently from how others see us. This person can perhaps point out something you don’t see or aren’t facing. For instance, if I told my husband flexibility is one of my top values he would
laugh nicely point out that I seem to be happiest when there is structure in my life.
Your values change over time. This is why you need to define your values again and again-especially after a major life event like marriage, the birth of a child, or entering the empty nest.
Refer to your values list often. Use it to determine what your goals are, how you want to spend your time. I think you’ll find, as I have, that your life will have much more focus and peace after you define your values.
“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” Roy E. Disney
Other Articles You Might Enjoy
Books to Continue Your Journey
The Values Factor: The Secret to Creating an Inspired and Fulfilling Life by Dr. John F. Demartini
Discovering Your Authentic Core Values: A Step by Step Guide by Marc Alan Schelske