If I suddenly dropped you in the middle of a foreign place, what would be the first thing you would do? I assume you would scan your environment in order to determine how you should behave (how cautious should you be) and then seek signs in order to establish direction.
You meet friendly locals, but none of them know where you come from, so they can only offer their best suggestions for what you should do.
Following their advice should lead you to safety but won’t get you back home.
Unless you discover the signs that can lead you home, you will remain trapped in this foreign place. Although over time, you may learn to adjust, it never feels quite right because you never chose to live there. Their beliefs, behavior and lifestyle are just too different from yours, and so you will always be searching for a way home.
A value is a core principle that is also attached to a feeling and a standard of behavior that is personally important to you. Ideally, the best values are the ones you totally believe in, feel deeply and act on frequently. Unfortunately, many people do not live by their highest values. This is either because of unawareness, short term pain avoidance or lack of discipline in implementation.
“Surprisingly, the biggest reason why people do not live by their highest values is simply because they do not know what they are.”
Since it is survival and not happiness that is our primary instinctual priority, our own core values are not automatically available to us. In fact, what most people think are their values (if they think about them at all), is usually the result of what has been conditioned into them by external influences.
Through our attempts to avoid pain and seek pleasure and in order to find stability and progress, we absorb and follow the values of those with the most influence over us. Primarily, they will be the values of your parents, but also that of other role-models, friends, community standards and the greater social status quo.
It is highly likely that your adopted values have served their primary purpose which is to keep you safe from harm.
However, pain avoidance based living will not increase your happiness or strengthen your mental health.
Values act as the director in life.
How you are being directed is going to determine the quality of the experiences you have on set. The set is your life! Valued direction will guide you like a compass to take certain paths and avoid others. Knowing this, is it not crucial that you receive the right direction?
What if the director is indecisive, easily confused or makes conflicting choices? What if he or she frequently feels overwhelmed by choice or bored because of a perceived lack of options? What if your director cannot actually read or even find a compass?
There are four stages when it comes to values driven living:
First you must extract your own core values. Your intention is to find what you need to raise your standards of behavior. Then you align them in their proper sequence so they are easy to pursue. Following this you express them by behaving in accordance with the chosen values and finally you adjust any of the previous three areas accordingly based on the feedback you receive.
Extracting core values is actually quite a simple process. All that is required is to ask yourself two simple questions. The first is “What do I want in life?” For example, you may say a big house, more money, deeper friendships, family, a new car, a better job and so on.
At this point it is important to realize that these are not values but goals. Goals are the potential tangible results of a value being met. None of the above are core principles attached to feelings and a standard of behavior. To extract the actual value, a second question is asked.
The second question is “What would having this lead me to feel?” Therefore, if I asked you what would having a big house lead you to feel and you said “secure,” security is a value. In addition you might reveal that a large house would allow you to have a large group of your friends over. When I ask what emotion would that lead you to feel you may say “fun”, or “love.” Fun and love are values.
If you wanted money and I asked why, you may respond, “So, I can be free to do what I want.” Freedom is a value.
A different person may want more money for a different reason. They may say they want money so that if anything happens to their family, they would have enough to care for their loved ones, in that case security would be the value. Someone else may say I want the money so I can “take it easy and just relax.” In that case, comfort would be the value.
You may want money to feel all three of those values, but one in particular will be guiding your decisions more than the others.
It is also important to realize that unlike a goal, values cannot be achieved. You cannot achieve love. You are either being more or less loving at any moment. You cannot achieve security. You are either feeling more or less secure at any moment. This is the same with fun, freedom, and comfort. Several people may want the same thing, but they may all want it for different emotional reasons.
Once your values have been extracted, the next step is alignment. Alignment relates to ranking your values in the correct order to avoid inner conflict. For example, if “freedom” is your highest value, but “security” is your second highest, you are likely to become indecisive.
Here, you will need to examine what you truly want and either move one of those values further down the list or possibly remove one altogether. In most cases in an example like this, the value that is moved or dropped is “security.”
The first reason why this is likely is because “freedom” is actually ranking higher. The second reason is “security” is usually defined in a way that is pain avoidance based, and if you truly want to live your best life, you should have an overall focus on seeking pleasure.
Thirdly, depending on the perspective you take (focusing on what you do want as opposed to what you do not, e.g. “less fat” or “more trim”, “less stressed” or “more relaxed” – See Positive Focus Principle), by focusing on becoming truly free, this may allow you to feel even more secure. If you become less attached to what you think you need to make you secure and instead aim for greater freedom, you may find an even deeper sense of security within that freedom.
Values Expression and Adjustment
Once you have found and aligned your values, the next step is expression. Your aim is to make them real by utilizing them in your daily life. Your values are there to guide and flavor your mentally healthy lifestyle. In terms of guiding your life, the question to ask is “What tasks will I choose to do today that will best compliment my values?”
In relation to flavoring your life, ask “What value/s will I express in order to enhance my experience of this task?”
The first question is best asked at the beginning of each day and the second question is to be kept in mind, answered and acted upon frequently throughout the day.
The final step is adjustment.
As you progress, you may need to change your values, re-align the order and sequence or learn how to express them more effectively in order to find the right life balance. This is not a process that is to be done once and never repeated or adjusted.
Developing Mental Health Guidelines: Extracting and Aligning Your Values
What do you want in life? Spend 5-10 minutes writing down your answers to this question. For example, is it more money, better or more friends, increased health, new experiences and so on. Write down everything and anything you can think of that you would want.
To assist you, also consider what you want in relation to categories of life. Consider what you want in relation to health, finances, personal growth, spirituality, hobbies, career, relationships, fun and experiences.
Once you have a large list, ask yourself in relation to each item “What would having this lead me to feel?” This question will get to the value. You may have to ask it more than once per item to get you to the deeper value.
Examine your values list and circle between 5-10 values that you know would lead to greater confidence, happiness and fulfillment.
Then rank them in order of preference and create a final list of no more than 3-5 values. Be careful not to place conflicting values near each other on the hierarchy. You can rank them intuitively or if uncertain, ask yourself this question: When I think of how I must live my life (in order to be authentic and healthy), am I guided more by _____or_____?
E.g. When I think of how I must live my life (in order to be authentic and healthy), am I guided more by Courage or Freedom?
Answer: Courage. Then ask the same question with Courage and another of your top 10 values.
When I think of how I must live my life (in order to be authentic and healthy), am I guided more by Courage or Health?
Answer: Health. Then you would continue comparing Courage with the other values. After finishing with Courage, you would compare another value like Freedom with each of the other values. If you select the values you think will be highest to compare with the others each time, you should be able to finish this process quite quickly.
Assuming that there are only three values to compare, I will complete this example. Although, this last comparison is not mathematically necessary. When I think of how I must live my life (in order to be authentic and healthy), am I guided more by Health or Freedom?
Answer: Health. So in this example:
If at any point you feel you begin to contradict yourself during this process, rank the contradictions intuitively.
MY FINAL VALUES RANKINGS
3. Expression: Now your goal is to live your values.
The first question in order to do this is the daily question, “What tasks will I choose to do today that will best compliment my values?” The second question to be asked frequently is “What value/s will I express in order to enhance my experience of this task?”
In the beginning, write down your answers to these questions each time they are asked and the results based on their implementation.
4. Adjustment: You can be too expressive or not expressive enough.
For one week minimum, monitor the effects of your value based actions (based on how you feel, how others respond and how successful you are in relation to tasks) and evaluate how you feel overall at the end of each day in order to see if your values feel like they are in the right order. Simply journal about your experience.
Make adjustments as necessary. Experiment with changing the order of your values and intensity and frequency of expression until you get the balance right.
Living by Your Values
Living by your values will develop your ability to understand yourself, leading to more confident and enjoyable living. In some ways values add to the “behavior is king” principle in conjunction with knowing what is most important to you.
You can “act now” and set goals based on what your values are even if you do not feel or believe that you can. Being authentic is a major key to healthy and happy living and knowing and acting on your values allows you to do this.
Valuable Living: Undertake simple values clarification in order to know how to consistently live your best life. Discovering and living by your values will give you the greatest sense of freedom and meaningful direction. They are the best signposts for knowing what to do and how to act when facing difficult and uncertain choices.
1. Complete the values process as described in this article and organize your top 3-5 values and answer the questions on how you will implement them.
2. Place your values in a highly visible place, so you can reflect on them often. Mine are written on a large piece of cardboard posted on the back of my home office door. Also consider adding empowering images, quotes, poems, etc. that are reflective of your values.
3. To engrain your values, for at least 2-3 weeks, spend a few minutes each day reading them and describe how you will act in accordance with your values across a few different expected situations during the day. Be kind to yourself as well.
You will never be perfect at this, values are sign-posts to keep turning to whenever we get off track and if after a period of time they don’t seem to be feeling right for you, review your values and change them.
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