There is a short way and a long way (and probably many other ways) to discover your own values. The short way is covered in this article. This will allow you to get started quickly. The long way, which I will cover in another article, involves deep self reflection. It’s powerful and transformative but, it takes longer.
I regularly find myself taking my patients and clients on this journey. If it helps, picture the two of us doing this together over tea. I will be drinking a dirty chai. What are you be drinking?
With a coloured highlighter, mark the values that are important to you now. Similar to an organisation and its values, these are the values that guide your behaviour. You may not always live into them. That’s okay. You still consider them important. Keep in mind that all values are fundamentally awesome. There are no ‘bad’ values right? Nevertheless, don’t highlight everything. If it helps, skim read the list first to get a lay of the land and then go over it again as you highlight the values that are important to you.
Here are mine in yellow.
Step 3: Aspirational values
With a different colour, highlight the values that you want to aspire towards. These are values that you consider important but don’t really embody yet.
Here are mine in green.
Step 4: 7 people you admire.
Write down 7 people that you admire and why. With these reflections in mind, use a different colour to highlight any values that these incredible people demonstrate. You might notice an overlap between your current or aspirational values with these one’s. This is great! This shows consistency in what you consider to be important.
Here are mine in orange.
Step 5: Categorise
Now it’s time to categorise your values. Draw a table with 5 columns. Go through your list of highlighted values. Put the first value in the first column. Now move on to the next value. Do you think that this value is in the same group as the first value? If so, put it in the first column. If not, start another list in the second column. Keep going until all the values are categorised. For example, if your first value on the list is ‘acceptance’, put that in the first column. If your second value is ‘affection’, you may put it under ‘acceptance’ as they are linked. If however, your second value is ‘adventure’, you will put that in the second column as it is unrelated to ‘affection’. Aim for a maximum of 5 categories. You can technically have more but it’s probably not useful to have more than 5 values. This is arbitrary. You can have more or less depending on what is useful to you.
Here are mine. You may notice that I have added a few things to tailor these values to myself.
Step 6: Unify
Look at all the categories and see if there is a word that unifies the whole category. You might find that one of the values within the category will summarise the whole category. For example, ‘Happiness’ is in my first column and unifies the whole category as well.
Step 7: Add meaning
For each of these values, write a supporting statement to remind yourself why this value is important to you.
Happiness: Prioritise happiness for myself and everyone around me, in that order. Service: I am blessed with the opportunities and skills to make a difference in the world. I am obligated to act on this with a smile on my face. Growth: I will invest in myself as I will grow faster than any other asset. As I grow, I will try to bring as many people as possible with me. Family: I am nothing without the incredible people in my life. I will always give them my most valuable resource, my time. Entrepreneurship: Create work that I am proud of that helps other people.
Congratulations! If you have got this far and done the work, you should have a list of values that resonate with you.
Values are a useful compass to guide your behaviour in daily life. They are only useful if we act on them. A useful question that Andrew Mowat (Co-founder of Eduspark and super kind human being) taught me was to ask “what do my values say I should do?”. This is a great question to ask yourself. Once you answer it, act on it. Andrew soon confessed that he learnt this from Matt Church (Founder of Thought Leaders).
It is worth noting that values can often come into conflict with how you feel. For example, you may value kindness. You may feel hurt and angry with someone for something they have done or said. You can still act in a kind way, regardless of how you are feeling. What feels good may not always be in your best interest. When people are acting in accordance with their values, they often experience a sense of alignment, even if it makes them feel uncomfortable.
Between acting on your values or acting on your feelings,
What would give you better and more consistent results?
Real life story Jenny was referred to me with anxiety and depression. We discovered that one of her values is ‘overcome’. When we audited her life, we found that she was the best version of herself when she was overcoming adversity. In other words, her value of overcoming literally required anxiety or an unpleasant feeling. Otherwise, what is there to overcome? We needed a way to predictable stimulate her anxiety so that we could practise leaning into her value of overcoming. The answer? Public speaking! For weeks, she spoke on various topics during our consults. The first time she spoke, her face went red and she was restless. She was hardly able to string a sentence together. By the seventh time, she was smiling like someone without a mortgage! When asked why she was smiling, she replied “I am actually starting to enjoy this”. A few months later she spoke in front of a large family gathering to celebrate her father’s birthday. She was met with applause and hugs. This meant a lot to her because when she was offered a chance to speak at her Mum’s funeral, she declined the offer. She felt too anxious. The speech she gave at her father’s birthday was her redemption speech. She is currently working towards becoming a professional speaker to share her journey as a way of helping others avoid the mistakes that she made. What a difference it makes to use your values as a compass for what you should do instead of your feelings!
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