Identify your True Values
Values are the principles, morals, standards, and ideals that give your life meaning, importance, and worth. They act as the guiding compass that drives behaviours and determines goals. When we are unclear or unsure of what our values are, then it is not uncommon to feel lost, adrift, or that you are “going through the motions” of life. A rich and meaningful life is a purpose-driven life.
When you feel stressed, upset, or wondering why you are in whatever current predicament you find yourself in, it can feel difficult to muster up the motivation to press on. When we lose sight of why we are working so hard or devoting so much energy to university, work, or a relationship, it is helpful to rediscover your values. Once you increase awareness of what you truly value in life, you will be better equipped to motivate yourself and begin to live a purposeful and intentional life.
Read through the following list and ask yourself how important each of these areas are in your life. For now, ignore how much time you actually devote to these areas. Instead, just focus on how important these areas are to you; this tells you how much you value each component of your life.
- Romantic Relationships
- Friends & Social Life
- Education & Training
- Recreation & Fun
- Spirituality & Religion
- Citizenship & Community Life
- Self-Care (exercise, diet, relaxation)
How to Translate Values into Action
Once you feel that you have a clear sense of the underlying values that you wish to live by, the next step is to translate those values into committed action. While possessing knowledge of what your values are is essential, it will mean very little at the end of the day if there is no action taken to live by those values. Committed action means engaging in large patterns of effective action that are driven and guided by core values. In order for committed action to be effective, you must be willing to be flexible as circumstances shift and change. Flexibility allows you to adapt to the inevitable changes of life, while still being driven by your underlying values beneath the surface. No matter how many times your behaviours fall short, you can always take the time to reassess your actions and get them back in line with your values.
Knowing your true values, you can begin to set realistic goals based on those values. For example, if you value doing well in university, a concrete goal would be to study for three hours each day. Goals come and go as circumstances change and evolve, whereas values are a constant driving and motivating force for behaviours.
There are 4 steps to committed action:
(1) Choose a domain of your life that is a high priority for change.
(2) Choose what values you wish to pursue in this domain.
(3) Develop goals that are guided by those values.
(4) Take action mindfully.
Begin to look at the top areas of life that you value. How can you begin to identify specific actions that you can take to move toward your intention? For example, if you highly value education, yet you don’t attend classes or hand your assignments in on time, the actions that you might list could include going to every class, starting your assignments early in the semester and asking your tutors for help.
Another example might be someone who highly values romantic relationships, yet they experience persistent strain or discord in their relationships. Possible actions to list to move towards this value could be identifying ways in which they personally contribute to relationship problems, rather than blaming the other person or carving out special time from the weekly schedule to devote their full attention to their loved one.
The purpose of this exercise is not to identify “right” or “wrong” values. Arguably, there is no such thing. What is important is identifying what matters the most to you. Once you clearly identify your values you can begin to shape your behaviours to actively move yourself towards your desired values and build a purposeful life. Living life in accord with your values can give you something to look forward to when you’re doing something you don’t like, and it can make you stronger during times of stress.
The larger goal of translating values into committed action is to live a purposeful, intentional life that is guided by your deepest heartfelt values. When your life feels out of balance or without direction, it is quite possible that those feelings are the result of being out of touch with your values or not behaving in accordance with your values. Once you bring into conscious awareness that which is most valued and treasured in your heart, you can begin to take steps towards translating those values into committed action.