It’s our experience that when we know our core values, life becomes far easier to navigate. If we think about how we live in the simplest terms, it takes the form of a decision tree. Each day we make countless choices ranging from the important to the mundane (that we wouldn’t even categorize as choices). Most of the time, our decision trees are highly effective. We weigh outcomes and consequences, consider resources and costs, and make our choices like the professional decision-makers that we are.
Regardless of whether we realize it, many of the decisions we make are based on our values. But what are values? This term gets tossed out a lot, but many people struggle to define it. Our values are the core weighted system that guides our decision-making and behaviors. In other words, our values are the puppet masters pulling the strings behind decisions that we make. We are most comfortable and happy when we can stick to the values that matter to us. The reverse is also true; we are most unhappy and uncomfortable when our life is out of alignment with our values. This discomfort can take many forms, from anxiety to anger, and can feel confusing if we’re not cognizant of the source of tension.
The advantage of knowing our values can really be distilled to two things. When we are aware of our values, they offer us a stable foundation that we can rely upon when big decisions need to be made or when times are tough. Our values can also help us live authentically. Living and leading from our values gives us the courage to change situations that have frustrated us and inspire us to stay true to who we are or who we want to be as a leader.
If you’re now sold on the value (see what we did there) of getting to know your values, but aren’t sure how to do that, here are a couple pathways that you can explore:
- Pay attention. Spend some time this week paying attention to the key choices you’re making. Observe with curiosity the decisions you make and then ask, why are you making them? A simple question like this will help you name the value behind each choice. Keep a note of the values that you identify and how often it appears over your week. This will give you a good feel for the values that drive your decisions. If you struggle with naming values out of thin air, here’s a link to a list of values that may help you with the labeling process.
- Reflect. When you can, look back over the decisions you’ve made and provide descriptive labels that characterize those decisions. Consider which decisions were comfortable and easy. Which choices left you feeling satisfied or fulfilled? These choices were most likely guided by deeply held values. What about choices that left you feeling uncomfortable? Did any of your decisions leave you uneasy? These experiences may highlight times when you were both in alignment with your values and times when you weren’t able to be.
Value-based living is an ideal state, but not always one we consciously experience. Knowing our values, even when we haven’t been living in alignment with them, helps us to know and remain honest with ourselves. This awareness is critical when life’s big decisions come calling because our best decisions will be grounded in what we value most.
Action Step: This week, dedicate time to clarifying your values by paying attention or reflecting.