As a coach, I often work with clients to help them uncover what their values are, and then support them in their journey on how to align with those values to live a more fulfilling life. Note: fulfilling doesn’t always mean easy, as making the choice to lead a life that flows with your values, can often mean making big changes.
Living in a way that reflects one’s values is not just about what you do, it is also about how you do things.
— Deborah Day
Sometimes, people are clear about what their values are, though that doesn’t always mean they live by them. Others find they haven’t really asked themselves the questions that might lead to an understanding of their values. Ask yourself:
What do you enjoy doing freely in your life (rather than what you have to do)?
What do you do that you feel passionate about, or that brings you the greatest fulfilment?
What activities, people, experiences do you really care about, or feel really engaged or connected with?
What really upsets you? What situations bring about a sense of frustration, anger or injustice? Flip those around to see what values might be behind those feelings?
How do you conduct yourself in life? What really motivates you?
What part of you shrinks or diminishes when you’re not expressing a certain value?
Exploring the answers to these questions can give you some clues at your values, and whilst you can also refer to a whole list of ‘value words’, to narrow down what you think your values might be, exploring who you are first can be a more authentic approach to determining your core nature, the essence of you. Write down all the values that come to mind. Be aware though that values can be quite intangible. They’re not what we do or what we have. So, for example money is not a value, but money can be a resource that could support you in having fun, being creative, having peace of mind and so on. Travel is not a value but it may help you honour your value of adventure or personal growth.
“It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.”
― Sigmund Freud
So, assuming you can get a list of say 20-30 values together, how do you start to focus on the ones that really matter? Start to categorise or group the values and see if there’s a word that encapsulates each theme or collection of values. Now ask yourself:
What values are absolutely essential?
Which are vital to supporting the authentic me?
Which values, when fully expressed, allow me to feel fulfilled and nourished?
How does this value show up in my life?
Look at your list and narrow it down to say four or five. Now rank those in priority order, which isn’t always easy – take your time, reflect on your list, tweak the order as necessary. Play with the idea of one ranking higher than another. Test out your ranking:
Another way to look at your list is to give each value a score out of 10 on how fulfilled your life is regarding honouring that value. So, if a value such as health, ranked say a 6/10, start to ask yourself what it would take to get that score up to a 9 or 10?
Clarifying your values can then support you making choices that fit you, that feel right. You can begin to ask yourself questions like:
Will this action move me closer or further away from my values?
What values are present in making this decision?
What changes do I need to make in my life to have my values honoured?
What project or goal could I set myself that helps me align with those values? What are the key action steps in achieving that?
"Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values." - Ayn Rand
As I suggested at the beginning of this piece, the path of fulfilment isn’t always an easy one. Too often we make what we feel is an easier choice in the moment, like not upsetting someone, or not having the time to do something another way. Living your values may mean discarding old beliefs or embarking on great change. The warrior’s path is not straightforward, and it takes courage and commitment to honour who you truly are and find the flow and fulfilment you seek.
“Be a living example of your values. Speak them, wear them, make decisions completely aligned with them.” Anon.