Your Values Will Light the Path Ahead
Inner Leadership for Turbulent Times – Part II
In the last post, I chose to start with heart, involving our physical hearts in a simple but powerful self regulation technique to generate a state of inner balance and ease, called psycho-physiological coherence. A state where we’re not only regulated, calm, centered and balanced, but in a positive state of being, one that will help us think more optimistically, holistically, creatively and effectively. When we’re not regulated and coherent, we’re effectively impaired to one degree or another.
Having found the sweet spot, that place where we’re present, coherent and connected to our hearts, what do we do with it? Aside from just be with it for a while, to entrain that state of being so it provides more benefits to our brains and bodies, and makes it easier to invoke later, we can answer the question – how can I use this time of self isolation to grow or transform myself and my life?
If we want to answer any question like, how should we live, what should we do, what should we work on, what should we change, quit or start, it’s always best to do so from your values. And, to remove the shoulds – let’s remove any judgment from the get-go – let’s go with ‘could’.
If you aren’t sure about your personal values, now could be a great time to explore, clarify and prioritize them so you can tap into your own source of wisdom and motivation, and lead yourself. Your values, and how you’re living them, will tell you what areas of self development you could work on that would bring you the most fulfillment.
What Are Values?
Your Personal or Core Values are what is most important to you in this world. They are the virtues, principles, people and things that matter to you the most. They are who you really are, they come from the heart, and they guide or inform you about how to live, how to choose your own way.
Values aren’t rules dictated to you or passed down by your family, peers or culture – those we can call inherited values. But your own personal values – you get to decide. Not just once, now and forever. But regularly. As you grow and evolve, you’ll see things in new ways and some values that were once low in priority can become more important and deserve to be honored or activated.
“Your core values are the deeply held beliefs that authentically describe your soul.”
~ John C. Maxwell
Do you get what I mean by values? Not yet?
If you’ve never done this work before, it’s perfectly normal or common to not know what values really are and what your own values are. Some people have a faint idea, some know their family values, some know what people in their fields of work value but most people don’t know for sure.
Values clarification work can take a while. Weeks or months of honest, earnest self discovery, reflection, as well as real life testing and tweaking. Now is the perfect time to begin.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
When I share this work with my clients, we begin with a blank canvas. No long list of values they can choose from because values aren’t items you pick out of a catalogue. We examine their past and we look for the highs and the lows. The things that have brought out the best in them and the things that have brought out the worst.
The highs or what brought out the best would indicate that something right and good was taking place – that somehow some of the person’s values were being honored (that’s the word we use when we activate our values – we honor them). And in the lows, it shows us when values were being violated or simply not honored or our needs weren’t met.
We also explore hypothetical scenarios and activate people’s vision of the future they wish to create or the impact they want to make on others and the world.
Scenarios like the Eulogy question: if you could be present at your own funeral/wake, and were able to hear what people thought of you – what kind of things would you really want to hear? Those things we want to hear really show us what kind of person we want to be or in other words, what we truly value.
Another scenario or provocation I sometimes offer (depends on the client) is to imagine your last week of life – having just enough health and energy to do what really matters…. What would you do?
If today was your last day, where would you be? What would you want to do? Who would you be with? What would you want them to know and feel? What’s the last thought you want to have? That one gives me chills.
Yeah, sometimes we gotta think about death to get us to think about how we want to live. Living on a treadmill on autopilot lulls us into some kind of complacency and if we do stop to think about what we really want or how we want to live, we think we’ll address it in the future at some point – I’ll do that when….but most of the time, we don’t.
“For those who seek to understand it, death is a highly creative force. The highest spiritual values of life can originate from the thought and study of death.”
~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
What Kind of Person Do You Really Want to Be?
Once we explore these kinds of scenarios – the highs, the lows, the deep, the heavy – we can look at specific areas of our lives that most people usually find important, and ask certain kinds of questions.
- Family: what kind of parent, child, sibling do you want to be? What matters? How do you show you care? What qualities do you want to bring to these relationships?
- Work: how are you using work to make a difference? How do you want to contribute? What would make it meaningful to you? How would you relate to others and want them to relate to you?
- Health: Why does health matter to you? (seriously) How do you take care of your health and well-being?
- Friends: What kind of friend do I want to be? What kinds of friends do I want to have? What does it even mean? How do I know that they know I value them?
- Learning/Growth: How do you want to grow? What do you want to learn and how would that make a difference?
Pick any area of life and ask yourself: What really matters to me and how can I honor that in my life – in the short term and the long term? What’s one small thing I can do today?
What we end up with, after all this exploration and reflection, is a long list of qualities, traits, principles, and ways of being, that show us what a meaningful life is for us. Things like:
- Mental & Emotional Well-being
- Meaning itself
Our task then is to prune the list down and prioritize the remaining ones, which is really hard. Why is it hard? Because it’s not just an exercise you do on paper. In real life, you can’t honor every value every day. Sometimes they conflict. And sometimes we can’t get to every value… if that’s so, we might question if it’s really a value or not. If it is, and you just can’t find the time or energy or pathway to honor it, something’s in the way. A big fat fear, a rule (from our family or network) or a limiting belief that must be challenged and released in order for you to honor who you really are. Life just won’t feel right or full till you do.
Honoring your values leads to fulfillment, to a full feeling.
Examples of Honoring Values for Growth
If you value connection – reach out to someone you care about and to someone you haven’t seen in years.
If you value learning – pick a new subject to study, one that you’ve never explored.
If you value integrity – be real and honest in an area of your life where it may be lacking.
If you value humor – look at the toughest situation you’re in through a comedic lens.
Stretch yourself to grow.
“Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty.”
~ Stephen Hawking
Tools To Further Explore Values
There are a variety of online assessments or tools that explore values (each coming from a different model or framework so they’re each different). Here are a few that I use with my clients:
- The VIA Character Strengths Survey – VIA stands for Values In Action
- Barrett’s Personal Values Assessment
- Taylor Protocols’ CVI or Core Values Index
- Get a free copy of my workbook: Discovering Your Life Purpose (email me to request it)
Once you’re somewhat clear about the values you believe reflect who you truly are, comes a potentially harder part for some people. We need to look at our lives and question if we’re really living up to our values or not, and if we’re not, what are we going to do about it?
“If you don’t stick to your values when they are being tested, they are not values: they are hobbies.”
~ Jon Stewart
Now couldn’t be a better time. A lot is at stake during this crisis but it’s also an opportunity, what’s going to matter to you? Who do you want to be during this time? And who do you want to be after? Is life going to go back to the way it was?
Your values will help you decide. They will shine a light on the path ahead and you will know it is your path, no one else’s.
Don’t wait. Do something about it today. Don’t make a mountain out of it either. If you think you can’t honor your values through your actions, just choose smaller or more modest and realistic actions. Once you do, you’ll get a feel for what it did for you. You’ll most likely have a peaceful feeling of relief and lightness in your chest area… right where the heart is. Go figure!
Please share your questions and comments below.