“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”- Roy Disney
In today’s busy world, personal decision-making quality suffers as we tend to be fairly inconsistent in how we invest our time and energy. Most of us are easily distracted from making the choices that bring real meaning to our life and fall into the trap of living by different priorities everyday. Our important life choices often get lost in unessential trivialities as we don’t choose our priorities consciously. If you had tough time making a decision about something in some situation, it is most probably because you weren’t clear about what you value most within that situation.
Our personal values serve us as effective decision-making guidelines that help us to remain congruent, consistent and balanced in our efforts to reaching our goals. But, how do you know what your values are? Growing insightful of what compulsions drive you and what instincts dominate your actions, you can decide upon what your highest and most important values are.
Our personal values are central to who we are – and who we want to become. They are the foundation of how we think, act and feel. They stand for our most meaningful ideals that inspire us to persevere when going gets tough. Values format our attitudes, drive behaviour, guide decision-making, lead direction and build perception. Our interpretation of our own life experiences may be one of the strongest source of our values. We also personify and adopt values from people we love and admire, from our culture, religion, political and social environments.
Types of values
Our core life values are two types; ends and means. Ends are what you truly value most–the end values you are pursuing, in other words, the emotional states you desire like love, security and happiness. Means are simply ways for you to trigger these emotional states you desire. For instance, family and money are merely a means to achieve your end values like love, security, comfort and happiness.
When we are not clear on the difference between means and ends values, we tend to keep ourselves busy pursuing means values instead of achieving what we truly desire –ends values. This is the reason, many people set goals without knowing what they truly value in life and fall into the trap of pursuing means as if they were the ends that they were after.
We also are constantly motivated towards certain pleasurable emotional states and have a tendency to value some emotions more than others like success, love, freedom, passion, health and comfort. These are our moving-toward values because these are the states we always desire to achieve and will do more to achieve than others. Thus, we all have a hierarchy of moving-toward values that control the way we make our decisions in each moment. For instance, some people choose passion over comfort and freedom over security.
Similarly, the relative levels of pain we associate with certain emotions will affect all of our decisions. We try to avoid experiencing emotions like anger, loneliness, humiliation, rejection, failure or guilt. These are our moving-away values, while you want to avoid feeling all of these emotions, some are more painful than others. Thus we all have a hierarchy of moving-away values as well. For instance, if you put humiliation at the top of your list of emotions you would do the most to avoid, then you consistently avoid entering any situations where you might be judged harshly.
Once you know what your moving-toward and moving-away-from values are, you can clearly understand why you head in the direction that you do on a constant basis. Also, by seeing the hierarchy of your values, you can see why sometimes you have the difficulty making certain decisions or why there may be conflicts. For instance, If your number-one value is security and number two is adventure, then often you will come across challenges when cycling between two incompatible values. A simple change in your values-hierarchy can help you solve this difficulty.
Why personal core values are so important?
By making your values as a personal compass and then committing to live by them, you can point yourself in the right direction to make right decision in any given situation. They represent our unique, individual essence and act as the primary driving force behind our actions and behaviours that provides us with a set of ‘rules’ to live by. They also help us wisely manage our personal resources such as time and money and play an important role in our mental well-being.
Most people though are unclear of what’s most important in their lives. They waffle on any issue and never take a stand for right things in their lives and thus decision-making becomes a form of internal conflict for them. This is not true for people who have clearly defined values. If we are not clear about what’s most important in our lives and what we truly stand for, then we cannot lay a foundation for a sense of self-esteem and have the capacity to make effective decisions. To discover your values is to connect to those goals or areas that are most important to you.
Knowing your values changes your behaviour
Your core values influence what you focus on, how you perceive reality, how you evaluate things and the behaviours you choose or choose not to indulge in. Not using your internal compass results in frustration, disappointment, lack of fulfilment and leads to unhelpful habitual patterns. Many people try to distract themselves from those empty feelings by filling the gap with the behaviour that produces a quick fix change of state. This behaviour becomes a pattern and people often focus on changing the behaviour without dealing with the cause. Anytime you have difficulty making important decisions like personal growth or security? Adventure or comfort?, long-term progress or instant-gratification? it’s the result of being unclear about your values.
Understanding our personal values increases our awareness of the way we think, feel and act and helps us to learn about the issues that can have negative effect on our productivity. Also helps to overcome and change our unhelpful behavioural patterns.
So, How to live in sync with your core values ?
If our goals and decisions are not aligned with our core values, we will find ourselves lost, disorganised, and ungrounded in most aspects of our lives. Not syncing them leads to dissatisfaction, resentment, bitterness and frustration in some instances. To avoid this, you must make a real effort to align them with your personal and professional goals. Here are some steps to identify your values and sync them with your values.
Determine your most important values
Although your personal core values may not exactly match anyone else’s, understanding what they are helps you become more focused and effective decision-maker. Identify what’s important to you. Reflect back on a moment where you felt happy, fulfilled and proud of yourself. Take few moments to remember when you felt incredibly regretful. Identify a time when you felt frustrated, unfulfilled, empty or annoyed. Make a list of activities where you experienced flow.
Which values are most important to you? What are your passions? What values do you truly desire to cultivate and live each day? what makes you of value to those around you? What qualities do you identify in yourself that you believe others may find of value? What do your values need to be in order to achieve the goals you desire ? Brainstorm these questions and make a list of your important values.
Self-assess your values to gain clarity on your life’s purpose and kind of goals you would want to achieve.
Establish your value-hierarchy
Prioritise your top values. This step is usually most challenging and also most important, because, when you’re faced with a decision, you may have to choose between solutions that will satisfy different values. That is why it is important to establish values hierarchy to know which value is more important to you. To do this, make a list of your top ten values. Look at the first two values on the list and ask yourself, “If I could satisfy one of these, which one would I choose?” Work your way through the list, comparing each value with each of the other values until you’ve got your list in the correct order.
What values are of priority and occupy the top of your list ? What benefits does this order of values provide you with? In what order do your values need to be in order to attain your goals? What other values would you need to add to increase the quality of your life? What values should you eliminate from your list to improve yourself ? What benefit do you get by having a value in a particular position on your value- hierarchy?
These self-reflecting questions can help you create new list of life priorities that you can commit to. Taking control of your value hierarchies helps you to transform your unhelpful habits, makes you more focused and goal-oriented.
Align your goals with your values
If your values are not aligned with your goals, then you will continuously sabotage yourself and frequently fail to reach your objectives. Your values must be aligned with your personal circumstances, with your goals, and ultimately with your purpose. When you come across conflicts with your goals and values- hierarchy, then changing the position of your values in your hierarchy can help you to align with your goals. See which values you might get rid of and which values you might add in order to create the quality of your life you want. For instance, how would your capacity to deal with fear, frustration and rejection be affected by deciding to place courage high up on your moving-toward value list?
Which of your values are aligned with the goals you would like to achieve the most ? What are the underlying reasons for achieving those goals? Which of the values are compatible with other important areas of your life? Answering these questions can help you connect to your goals to your ends-values and not means-values.
Identify potential conflicts.
It is important to realise that each of us has value conflicts within ourselves. For instance, Do I be honest and say what I think, even if it will hurt someone’s feelings? Seems like a conflict between honesty and compassion. When people have a major values conflict, inspite of taking huge steps forward, they will say or do things that sabotage their very personal, emotional or physical success they are pursuing. For instance, If you select success as your top moving-toward value, and rejection as your top-moving-away-from value, such a hierarchy leads to self-sabotage as your brain has already decided that feelings of rejection are the ultimate levels of pain, it will therefore make the decision that the pleasure of success is not worth the price and as a result, you end up sabotaging yourself before you truly succeed in order to avoid the pain of rejection.
Organise your values-hierarchy to ensure that there are no conflicts. You can do this by exploring your moving-away-from values: What feelings do you seek to avoid most? What don’t you want to ever experience? What next will you seek to avoid most? Think about all the emotions that you rather would not want to experience again, whether that’s anger, criticism, judgment, fear, stress or guilt to avoid your potential conflicts with your moving-toward values.
Connect your personal and work values
Are you practicing your personal values in your work? Are your personal values consistent with your organization’s values? If not, identify the disconnect and create an action plan to find congruence. Ignoring the issue can create tension and resentment. If your personal values are not in alignment with your organization’s or workplace’s values, either choose to work in an environment with greater alignment or see the disconnect as an opportunity to further develop into your own leadership and help the workplace evolve by communicating about where you see the potential to progress.
Reaffirm your values
Values guide our decisions. Whilst our values in life are constant, our priorities are always changing; therefore how we prioritise our values are susceptible to change. Also It’s helpful to remember that our values often change as we transition through various stages of life. For instance, while pursuing your academic goals, you might consider knowledge as your priority value. But after choosing a career, your values may shift to independence and security.
Some strong emotional impulses or adversities can also alter our choices, decisions and actions. However, there are some personal core values that we would never want to compromise like integrity, honesty, health, empathy, love, selflessness and so on that remain constant. Such attributes are truly core and won’t change. Reaffirm some of your personal core values and check your top priority values to make sure they fit with your life and your vision. Do the values you’ve chosen make you feel good about yourself? Do these values represent things you would support, even if your choice weren’t popular? By reaffirming, you can be certain to keep a sense of integrity in your decisions and will be able to approach them with confidence and clarity.
It’s not always easy to make value-based choices, but it will make your life much easier in the long run as you can use them as a guide to make the best choice in any situation. When many options seem reasonable, it can be comforting and helpful to rely on your core values and use them as a strong guiding force to point you in the right direction.
So, Are you living your life in accordance with your values? How do your values make you feel? Do you feel they are consistent and in alignment with your work or organisational goals? When making your most significant decisions, what are the values you base them on? Which values are vital to your work environment? What is your values-hierarchy? Are there any conflicts in your values-hierarchy? What are some of the feelings and emotions that you mostly want to avoid? What are your moving-towards values, freedom or success or security or adventure?
These are the essential questions that you must ask yourself to live in sync with your values. Identifying and taking the time to understand your values is an important and challenging exercise. Follow the above strategies to identify your core values, establish values-hierarchy, and rethink on the position of some of your values in the order list to remove the potential conflicts.
“Focus on making choices to lead your life that aligns with your core values in the most purposeful way possible.” —Roy T. Bennett