Authenticity has become a bit of a buzzword in recent times, hijacked as a marketing tactic, but this doesn’t diminish its power as a concept that embodies living our values. But before we can live our values, we need to be able to clearly, unequivocally articulate them, even, especially, to ourselves.
A couple of years ago, I read Victor Frankl’s remarkable memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning. I wrote about my reaction to Frankl’s words here, where I described how moved I was by Frankl’s belief that the survivors of such horrendous experiences as the holocaust were those who had a strong sense of connection to their values. If living a values-based life could surmount the most terrible of circumstances, imagine what this could do in our everyday life, the impact we could make?
But what even are values? I’ve described them previously as a tool for guiding, inspiring and motivating us, and as an expression of our deepest desires for ourselves. They’re a representation of who we are and what we stand for. They’re a checklist of sorts for us to stay aligned to who we are and how we want to be, our authenticity, if you will. They’re a measurement tool, a barometer of sorts. You’re making decisions you feel good about? On the day-to-day you’re largely happy and fulfilled? Boom! Congrats, you’re living by your values! On the flip side, if your life feels out of whack, unbalanced, just not right, then this could be a clear indicator that your day-do-day life and your values are a big mismatch.
Defining values as a concept is one thing, but how do you define your values? How do we get crystal clear on our values so we can bring them to the forefront of our minds, to use them to guide our decisions and live a life that’s aligned to our values? While it’s not rocket science, or aviation, which was one of my previous roles, it’s not an easy set and forget job- sorry to disappoint!
There are a number of tools and approaches to value clarity and while it forms a huge part of my work as a leadership and life coach it’s an exercise that doesn’t necessarily need specialist support- although a little perspective always helps! For the purpose of this blog post, let’s keep things super-simple. Grab yourself a journal, and let’s get our values on!
Think about the different areas of your life; Career & Finance, Relationships, Personal Growth & Development, Family, Health & Fitness, Spirituality. Take note of when you felt happiest or the most content and at peace in each area. Beyond happiness, when did you feel undeniably proud of yourself? Pride sometimes gets a bad rap- thanks, seven deadly sins- but pride is linked to a sense of accomplishment, which fills our cup and is a marker of how we see ourselves. Sometimes clients like to approach this by time-lining their life, noting down the highlights of each year for each area. Once you have a list of moments that reflect yourself feeling your best it’s time to translate experiences into values.
If you do a quick Google search on values, you’ll see lists upon lists of values such as:
Thinking about your life experiences, go over the list with a highlighter, and pick the values you gravitate towards the most. Take your time! From here, choose ten values that are most reflective of who you are, not who you wish or aspire to be. Here’s the kicker, though- some of the values you choose might not be the ones your mum or your partner would approve of. If you find yourself selecting a value because of how it would ‘look’ extrinsically or to please someone else- guess what? That’s not the value for you.
Top 10 done and dusted? Now we need to think about the behaviours that turn a value into a lived experience and a vision for your life. The very first part of this is actually writing out your values and sticking them where you can see them, all the time. Some clients have created gorgeous wall art for themselves using graphic design software such as Canva and then put them on their desk at work and in their wardrobes to see as they get dressed. Some turn their values into affirmation statements and some have them as notes in their phones. Bottom line- they need to be where you can see them as a reminder of who you are and what you stand for to guide your day.
Next- what are the existing gaps between your aspirations and your life, now? For example, although you absolutely loved your uni days of volunteering in third world countries, disappearing for three months might not work with your current commitments of work and kids’ sporting requirements. However, can you find room in your schedule to donate your time, money or experience in another way? Better still, bring your children along to experience the value of contribution first hand? Against each of your values, make note of how you can behave, the decisions you can make, to live a life that’s based on your values. This doesn’t necessarily mean tearing up your life as you know it, but the mindfulness that comes with awareness may show you that you’re already living in a way that’s aligned to your values (yay, you!), and some simple tweaks to your routines and your behaviours could bring your values to the fore. Win/win!