Believe it or not:
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.
We make up or adopt “rules to live by”, like “Bad things happen to good people”, “I am smart”, “You have to be a backstabbing creep to get ahead”. These invented and recalled interpretations define the values we live by. Our resulting mental model of how the world works, resembles our experiences and actions of the past, not our intentions for the future.
“What is impressed in the subconscious is expressed.”
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.
“You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling, than feeling yourself into action.”
–Jerome Bruner, Harvard psychologist
We can see and overcome elements of our self-limiting mindset.
Be taking new actions, we can influence our thoughts. By influencing our thoughts, we can seed new actions that are consistent with where we want to be in our lives and lifestyles.
In doing so, we can seed our psyche to be comfortable with, and have the courage to take, new actions.
Taking new actions, we can impact our values. Impacting our values, we can find the reasons and courage to take new actions.
It can become a self-reinforcing, positive feedback loop, if we are intentional about it.
We can literally shape our thinking and our behavior, and get entirely unexpected results (compared to where we were months or years ago).
Let’s do this values exercise and become the author and architect of our lives, instead of the prisoner of our experience!
Why Is This Important?
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 Use Values To 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 relaxing beverage. Don’t be in a hurry. Relax. Take a deep breath. Even download a smart phone app, and do a two-minute breathing exercise beforehand, or do a similar relaxation exercise. You want to be in your creative, open, relaxed space when you do this.
Do The Exercise
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. Go here to see examples of how I did that with my own list, narrowing it from the final dozen to 5.
- 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 (this is the beginning of a “Bucket List”).
- 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.
For more information
- William James: By Notman Studios (photographer) – MS Am 1092 (1185), Series II, 23, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Public Domain, Link
- Jerome Bruner: By Unknown – The Chanticleer 1936, Public Domain, Link
- Man on bridge: iStock/BrianAJackson
- Laptop: Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels
- Apple Live a great story: iStock/marekuliasz
Also published on Medium.