Your personal values are fundamental to all aspects of your life because they determine what you accomplish and how you accomplish it. Those who do not live by their values too often feel dissatisfied with what they have achieved, as well as their performance along the way. However, following your values ensures that you move ahead with certainty and integrity. Resolve today to be certain of your values and to slavishly adhere to them. Your life will be more consistent, fulfilling and meaningful.
What are values and why live by them?
Your values are your core, fundamental beliefs that help you decide what is important and what is not. They are the driving force behind your attitudes, behaviors, and actions. Living your life in accord with your values will also likely enable you to live life more freely and without self-doubt. You will no longer be second-guessing yourself because your decisions will have the weight of your values behind them. And it’s also an excellent exercise in consciousness and continuity, areas that if practiced with regularity will very likely change the rest of your life for the better.
There is no perfect set of values. One person’s array is perhaps much different from another’s and neither is inherently better. The important thing is to have values that work for you. Your values have to be clear, distinct and actionable. As such, your first task is to decide what things will have greater weight in your life. Is time with your family more important, or is your career? Is time alone with a good book more important, or is mindless gossiping with friends? That’s not to say that you can’t do both, but often you have to choose which will occupy the greater part of your time.
Note that while goals are more meaningful when driven by values, they are not the same as values. A goal is typically something that you want to acquire, complete or accomplish. Values, on the other hand, refer more to why you chose or did not choose a particular goal. Once you’ve identified your values, you don’t need to do anything to “achieve” them. They will be yours and they will help shape your relationships, career, and more.
As to how to identify your values and decide if you are living by them, look to your emotional intelligence, for example, self-awareness and reality testing:
1). Self-awareness is one of the fundamental attributes of emotional intelligence. You can use self-awareness to discover your core values and their importance in your life. In order to get some idea of your level of self-awareness, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my top five values?
- On a scale of 1 to 10 how is each value currently present in my life?
- Where do I have the greatest disparity between my ideal value and its current presence in my life?
- What am I going to do about these disparities?
- What kind of choices do I make in order to honor all my values?
2) Scrupulously honest reality testing is another fundamental skill of emotional intelligence which will allow you to assess what is true in your reality and what is not. By testing your reality you can effectively evaluate where you are, what you have, what is missing and which values are not honored. In order to check your reality, test yourself with the following questions:
- What am I deceiving myself about in my reality?
- What am I tolerating in my reality that I shouldn’t be?
- What change in my reality am I procrastinating about?
- What am I grateful for?
- What do I need to change?
If you are going to lead a values-driven life, then you must constantly have in mind how you are living your life and why. You must use self-awareness to maintain alignment between your thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions. Often, this requires effort, but if you are going to lead the fulfilled, sincere and righteous life you dream of, that effort will allow you to accomplish it.
Choosing our values and choosing to live by them
Part of living by our values means not deviating from them because of day-to-day challenges. Yes, faced with perplexing and/or continuing problems, it can be tempting to take short-cuts and do things “the easy way.” However, adhering to your values and doing things “right” will almost always lead to greater satisfaction and achievement. If nothing else, knowing you are a person of integrity should be its own reward.
Modern life with all its pressures, demands and calls for action tends to push us away from sticking to our values. However, by understanding how important it is to live as an upright person with firm, well-thought out values, those values become not only targets to aspire to, but also foundations on which meaningful lives are built.
Here are some ways that we can close any gaps between behavior how we are actually living:
1. Resist the temptation to choose values that you, or someone else, thinks are appropriate for you. Instead, choose your values only after thought and reflection, taking into account what is right for you. Many people’s values derive from their parents, peers, or society. If you want to align with your values, however, those values must be your own. This is the time for honest reflection and acceptance. Your emotional intelligence practice will help you be aware of your values, look at them objectively, and accept them without being overly judgmental.
2. Interrogate yourself when performing any activity. How does each activity make you feel and why? Consider whether each thing you do aligns with your values. When do you feel most happy and fulfilled? When do you feel stressed or like you are drifting off course?
3. Now, prioritize the actions that align with your values, noting that what is most important to you may not be most urgent. Having recognized which behaviors and actions fill you up, it is critical to follow this up by creating a plan of action that incorporates these or similar activities. This will help you become the person you are meant to be.
4. If you’re having trouble identifying your values, look at where you spend your money. People tend to spend their money on things that they care about.
5. Think about how important you consider different aspects of your life. Examine:
– Social relationships
– Intimate relationships
– Spirituality and religion
6. While values are fundamental, you can still change them. It’s wise not to hold onto any value too dearly in case you impair what would have been your natural development.
7. The media often suggests that we should value physical attractiveness, power, winning, status, and wealth. Plenty of people attain all these things and remain unhappy because they are not doing what would feel meaningful to them. The result may be narcissists who seek attention and admiration but languish in life versus people who thrive because they focus on authentic, meaningful, personal and professional development.
Act in alignment with your values so you can avoid having regrets. When your actions match your values, you can live a life that feels more meaningful. Decision-making is likely to become easier and more natural, and you will feel more authentic. And there is a bonus factor: When others see you living by your values, it becomes a powerful leadership quality and inspires confidence, respect, and trust.
Once you feel the benefits of living in alignment with your true values, you may wonder why you ever lived any other way. It requires effort and determination, but it’s easy to start and doing so is its own reward. Use your emotional intelligence to ensure you are not only on the path of personal development but on the right path.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
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