As we interpret the events of our lives, we invent stories to explain them. As we do, we build a world view consistent with our experiences, good or bad. For example, “Bad things happen to good people”, “I am smart”, “You have to be a backstabbing creep to get ahead”. These invented interpretations define the values we live by. As a result, our mental model of how the world works, resembles our experiences of the past, not our intentions for the future. Over time, our expectations of the future can become quite limited by the scope of our personal history. These expectations can kill any hopes we have about the future. However, we can influence our expectations and beliefs. We can reveal and overcome our self-limiting mindset. Let’s do this values exercise and become the architect of our lives, instead of the prisoner of our experience!
Values Work On Us If We Let Them
We experience intense uneasiness when we’re asked to take action that is inconsistent with our values. As a rule, we won’t do it, except under duress, under threat, “with a gun to our head”. This can be an intensely limiting thing. It prevents growth and exploration, and it kills our spirit slowly, even as we breathe and age, year by year.
We Can Win Every Time
There’s an alternative: we can choose a future. We can intentionally select the values we want to live by, and the life we want to live. This leverages the truth identified in the first paragraph above. It puts us in control of the story we’re subject to, and it enables us to build our own bridge into the future.
The most wonderful news is: we can redesign and rebuild this bridge as we choose!
How Do I Know Which Values Are For Me?
When I did this exercise, I found some values just inspire me. The thought of them causes a stirring in me. I get an energetic rush from deep in my nervous system and core, up my torso and chest, and into my head. I get the tingles. When I think of them I feel inspired and empowered and alive. Those are the values you find on my short list of values. I think you’ll have a similar experience when you review a long list of values and consider each, one by one.
Aside from feeling inspired, we may interpret our physical response to certain values in a number of different ways: enlivened, excited, energized, anxiety-filled, overwhelmed, or even fearful. Physiologically, all these feelings are the same. We just interpret them differently in different situations. Our brain instantaneously applies a different meaning to the feelings, dependent on context. As a result, due to conditioning, a specific person may have developed a single interpretation of that physical emotional response, at all times. In their case, this is an opportunity to broaden horizons. For now, the important thing in the exercise below is to find the values that provoke the strongest reaction.
Prepare To Do The Values Exercise
As you prepare to do the values exercise below, find a comfortable place to sit, in a quiet, relaxing space. Breathe deeply and slowly. Maybe grab a cup of tea or coffee or water, or a glass of beer or wine. Don’t be in a hurry. Relax. Take a deep breath. Even download a smart phone app, and do a two-minute breathing exercise, if you don’t do something like this already. You want to be in your creative, open, relaxed space when you do this.
5 Step Values Exercise: Use Values To Your Advantage
1. Values You Now Live By
- Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Write a list of 5-7 values you now live by.
- Write examples in your life that show these values in action.
2. Values You Want To Live By
- Reset your timer for 10 minutes.
- Write 5-7 values you want to live by. Here are some lists of values you can use to stimulate your thinking. To do this, you can:
- Read down the list, and circle the ones that touch you.
- Read down the list of circled ones, and cross off the redundant ones, leaving a set of unique ideas that speak most powerfully to you.
- Review the remaining circled items, and cross off those that are implied or required by the more important ones on the list.
- Write a list of actions you can take, that would express each of those values to live by.
3. Activities Or Interests You’d Like To Pursue
- Set your timer for 10 more minutes.
- Write activities or interests you’d like to pursue that you’re not currently pursuing.
- Write down the values they show or represent to you.
4. Choose And Declare Your Big 5!
Choose and declare a last set of 5 values for yourself (don’t worry, you can change them any time, as you learn more or reconsider in coming days and weeks). Put a line in the sand and live!
5. Share Your Big 5
Share what you’ve learned:
- with 5 people who care about you.
- with 5 people you care about.
- in the comments box below.
One Person’s Results From Doing This Exercise
Here is how my results played out.
1. Values I Lived By
I saw I lived by the values of duty, service, family, money, and security. I went to work every day and loyally provided for my family. My single-minded focus on money and security and providing for others left me not taking care of myself and feeling like a victim, serving everyone else in my life. I was boring and uninteresting because all I cared about was doing my job and fulfilling the mission implied by these 5 values. I didn’t have others’ consent that topics I cared about were valuable, so I ignored my own interests. My relationships were in tatters. My wife resented me. Members of my staff and my boss didn’t like me. I was unhappy, unfulfilled, miserable, deeply in debt, and not doing a great job meeting goals that would be consistent with these values.
2. Values I Wanted To Live By
The values that inspired me were fantastic relationships, health, fitness, service, and objectivity. To live by these values, I:
- nurtured my relationships with others in a way I never had.
- spent time with others in non-work situations.
- cared for my health and well-being.
- saw things from others’ points of view, became coachable, and took personal development classes that weren’t directly related to my professional role or relationships.
- spent time with friends and people I enjoy, and spent less time with people and doing things I don’t enjoy.
- shared authentically and spontaneously about my health and fitness, in a way I never would have before because I didn’t have a clear conversation ongoing with others about these things.
- enjoy the conversations and friendships I now have that blossomed when I shared.
Retrospectively, I see how I could have lived my life by these values back in step 1. I also see that I could have had more fun and been more fun to be around. I could have been more inspired by my situation and my roles, instead of a victim in them.
3. Activities Or Interests
My list of interests included the following:
- being open to guidance and advice from others.
- sharing what was important to me, in a safe, supportive, non-adversarial environment.
- resolving chronic conditions that affected me since childhood.
- athletic activities like triathlon, cycling, running, and obstacle course races.
- travel, camping, and bicycle tours.
- public speaking.
In that list of interests, I saw a sense of adventure. I saw a commitment for to, fitness, and making things last for the long-term. I saw a willingness, even a need, to serve, which requires the ability to see things from others’ points of view.
4. Revised List
Over time, I’ve refined the list. As I’ve done so, I’ve found the values that inspire me most are adventure, health, sustainability, service, and objectivity. (Go here to learn how I interpret each of these values.)
To live by these values, I:
- take on challenges and risks where uncertainty is present. I find them exciting and enlivening, instead of a frightening obligation. I do things I want to do, and I do them just for fun.
- care for my health and well-being in a way I never would have before, in a way few people do.
- spend more time with friends and people I enjoy, and I spend less time doing things I don’t enjoy.
- take a long view that I’m now discussing, where I formerly cared about the future and the long-term, but rarely discussed it. I had no explicit reason nor outlet to do so.
- enjoy the conversations and friendships I now have, that blossomed when I shared what I really care about.
- see things from others’ points of view, and I’ve become coachable, instead of remaining rigidly focused on an interpretation of my situation and my obligations, that derives from the 5 limiting values I named in step 1.
- have a blast! I see possibility and opportunity I never imagined.
- have plans to live in to the future now, instead of having a dream and no idea how to make it happen.
I shared with parents and siblings, coworkers, members of my running team, and triathletes I’ve met out on the course! I’ve joined professional organizations and shared with members there. This web site, and this very article, arose out of my intention to share. My interests are now highly visible all over my life. It’s impossible for people not to know what I’m up to and what I care about. My life hasn’t fallen apart: it gets better every day. We have fun!
Consider And Act
- What values do your daily activities show?
- What do you value?
- Do you have rituals — daily, weekly, or annually — that show what you value?
- What things/people/activities in your life are consistent with your core values? Do they excite and inspire you?
- Do you feel something is missing in your life? Possibly you have core values not being served.
- Share advice, information, or referrals in the contact box or comments section below. I appreciate your contribution. It will help others, and I will use it to improve!
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Also published on Medium.