Values and Living Life Fully

It strikes me as incredibly odd that I haven’t written about values yet on Anybody who has worked with me in a coaching situation knows that I always talk about values during the first session. Regardless of the issues to work on (motivation, procrastination, fear, etc.) — they can all be better understood and worked through once values have been articulated and clarified.

Values, as I understand them, are the feelings and attitudes you hold about the world that take precedence over everything else. They describe the ideals that you hold yourself to while giving yourself a target at which to aim your daily actions. The values you hold will be the words people use to describe you long after you’re gone. Most importantly, when you’re living in accordance with your values you're operating at the highest level of wellbeing.

Your values (and if you don’t like that word, feel free to use another one) are a part of your consciousness whether you’re aware of them or not. They guide everyone’s actions and thoughts but not everyone realizes it. In my experience, happiness usually closely follows living in a way that is true to your values. In fact, people seem to define their own personal happiness in a way that sheds light on what they value. If happiness is directly related to aligning the way you live with your values it makes sense to spend some time figuring out what those values are. They’re a part of you whether you’re aware of it or not so you might as well use them to your advantage.

Secondly, if you can connect your values to your character and skill strengths, you’ve just opened a path to an incredible sense of power in your life and work. Strengths are something I’ll address in a later article, but I’m sure you can already think of some examples of strengths in your own life. Taking those strengths and using them to manifest your values is like using a magnifying glass to focus the sunlight into a point of fire.

The weird thing, however, is that the more time I spend thinking about values the less clear I am about where they come from, how you form your particular set, and how to make them a larger part of your life. Values can be tricky.

Values are developed through the socialization process that we all experience as we grow up. We form our values in a delicate interplay of peer influence, parental involvement, school, church, advertising, and observation of how we perceive the world to work. The problem, however, is that the values held dear by these entities are not always in our best interest. I’m sure you can think of some people in your life who very clearly have had their values shaped by reality television, extremist religion, or unhealthy parental involvement. Those are certainly all possible conduits for value development, but not necessarily positive ones.

I’m very interested in working with teenagers who are still at that delicate stage of figuring out which values they’re going to adopt into their life and which ones they’re going to avoid or ignore. Or, for that matter, is it possible to change the values of someone who is older than what is generally considered to be the “formative years”?

But, I digress.

Assuming you aren’t at the stage in your life where you’re still figuring out who you are, how can you figure out what your values are? The simplest tack, unfortunately, is nearly useless. Simply asking yourself what your values are is too broad a strategy to be particularly helpful, I’m afraid. That question quickly devolves into, “What should I value according to everyone else?”

I’ve had the most success with myself and with my clients by taking a backdoor entrance to the question. Instead of flat out asking what values someone holds, I’ll ask a couple of the following questions:

  1. Who do you deeply admire? Why do you admire them?

  2. Think about a time you felt completely at peace/invigorated/happy. What were you doing?

  3. When you think about your future, what do you see? What is the Ideal You like?

The answers that are uncovered will generally set you on the path of figuring out what values someone holds.

Once you’ve figured out your values, what next? How do you strengthen your values? How do you let them guide your life? Can you change your values?

I’ve only just begun to open this can of worms and I can guarantee that I’ll write more about this in the near future. In fact, my own opinions and knowledge of my own values and values in general is always changing and evolving. I’ll definitely be sharing any new insights and further thoughts about values in the very near future.