Over the years I’ve written blogs about goals setting and intention setting within the context of my process. This first step allows you to look deep within and see how your inner desires are or are not showing up in your life. Values are qualities, characteristics, principles or expectations of behaviour that are truly important to you and guide you through life. Take a minute here to ponder: Do I know what my values are?
I recently adapted my assessment process to be more clear on helping people identify their core values first before setting any goals for their time and space.
I decided to do more research on value setting and was introduced to clinical psychologist, university lecturer and media commentator Dr. Oren Amitay, who teaches all of his students and patients about the importance of values versus goals.
Dr. Amitay shared with me the importance of perspective. Our view on anything consists of our values and control (the decisions we make, where we invest our energy, what we think about, our relations to others). Often we have a negative association with control, including me, but it’s actually a good thing if you approach it in a healthy way. If you are able to control yourself properly you can deal with any situation.
What’s missing in many approaches to change is that people do not include value setting and ways to take accountability . Being able to take control of your life starts with accountability. It can be done in a very compassionate way where you accept how you feel and at the same time own up to your actions and ways of being that are not working for you. Values then are an integral part of how you operate and more importantly, what drives you. If you aren’t clear on your values or not living them in your day to day life, then you come into situations where your environment is either out of control or there is too much control. This is key because for all species the main goal is to master or control our environment, both externally and internally.
What is the Difference Between Values and Goals
As I continued my research I found this really cute and informative video on the difference between values vs goals. In this video Dr. Russ Harris explains that values are more about the journey and being in a state where you are present and experiencing life in front of you. Whereas having a goal-oriented mindset means you are always looking into the future and missing the present moment.
Values are essentially how you see the world, what you see as important, and what you believe in. It’s the basis on how you approach life. When we are not connected to our values we may be unhappy, don’t feel like ourselves, and even behave in unethical ways. They also help you with decision making. If something doesn’t align with your values, ie. how a business is operating, then you know that your answer is no if they offer you a job. This is why it’s so important to be clear on your values and see how you can live closer to them and your life purpose.
Prior to Oren’s work with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), he never thought much of values. It provided a systematic and practical approach to frame one’s life. Once we know our core values we can feel secure about who we are as a person, what defines us and what’s important to us..
Goals are more intimidating. For one they are often far away in the future.Two, people tend to fail because they create goals that are impossible to accomplish.
Instead it is helpful to ask yourself:
What would you need to do?
How would you have to live in order to really feel alive?
In our conversation, Dr. Amitay points out that when you live in line with your values you can “sleep much better at night”. We all know good things start with a good night’s sleep! What this looks like is making decisions that correspond with your values. If being present and appreciating nature is important to you and take a moment to breathe, look out the window and appreciate the sky. This is small but it means so much because you are aware of the moment that you are living your values. Individuals who practice these moments of connecting with values in both small and big ways in their lives are people who are more motivated, focused, confident, comfortable with themselves, reliable, socially connected and happy.
How to Figure Out What Your Core Values Are
Over the years I’ve adapted my process many times to best help people figure out what’s most important to them and how they can live more closely to their values. When doing my assessment with clients they go through the following exercise to narrow down their key values and which ones they would like to work on. From there we set goals around their time, spaces and habits that are realistic and attainable.
Core Value Exercise
Pick 10 values that are most important to you? (see page 15 for list)
Group your values into 3-5 main groups
Identify the main theme in each group
Describe in one or two sentences what that looks like and why it’s important to you? Or tell a friend
Which values do you feel most connected to? Which ones do you feel you need to integrate more into your life? Reflect upon how your core values have guided your life’s decisions in the past?
How do your values show up in your spaces and how you spend your time?
For example, if you want to live a better life, what would help with that? Is there something specific you can do that small but feel good because it means so much. Yes!
When to Set Personal Goals
To be clear, it’s not that goal setting is a bad thing or that you should stay away from it, rather we need to build our goals from a place of knowing ourselves and the journey of changing and evolving. Living with intention is one way to stay connected to your values and the present moment while also staying connected to your goals.
Goals are helpful because they:
keep you anchored to what direction you want to move in
give you practical steps on how to live closer to your values
encourage you to stay accountable, especially if take realistic bite-sized steps
It’s important to balance being connected to the process and looking towards the outcome. Joshua N Hook talks about how goals can put you in a position of only focusing on the outcome; then it creates a high and low emotional response. For example, if you had a goal of running 10 km three times a week and you reach that goal, then you may feel a high from achieving your goal. That extreme high will then fade and the need for another high will come. Souse goals as checkpoints along the way instead of getting too wrapped up in looking to the future.
How Living Through Your Values Can Help You Manage Your Life Better
If you are always saying yes when really you want to say no, it’s likely you are spending your time doing things that aren’t connected to your values. This inauthentic living takes a lot of psychic energy; it is very draining and leaves you with very little to be on top of your health and creating what you really want
What is most helpful and foundational for this is sleep! The draining worries, anxieties and fears that come with not living true to yourself will literally cause you sleepless nights. living out your values in your day to day life, on the other hand, allows you to rest easy because you feel good about yourself. This puts you in a better mental state that is positive, focused and helps you maintain healthy habits, ie. working out. From there everything flows like a waterfall, things click into place almost effortlessly and you have more energy to continue the hard work on yourself.
The culture of staying up late and not getting enough sleep has become the norm. I highly recommend taking a week to watch this video around sleep and what you can do to improve it aside from living out your values.
When you are clear on your values and you know what you want to do you spend less energy on things that are not working for you. For example, let’s say you have a few relationships that are not working. It’s important for you to be healthy and you prefer to spend your social time being active, connecting with nature and learning. Whereas your friends and partner always want to go drinking and watch movies. There is a disconnect between how you are spending your time and what your values are. Meaning, you are feeling off, out of balance and not nourished by your social encounters because you are not doing what’s important to you.
Dr. Oren Amity notes that being connected to your values is only part of the process for life management. It’s different for each person, your value compass is a great gauge to see if you are off track, anxious or imbalanced. It’s like having a small pebble in your shoe; the persistent discomfort notifies you that something is wrong. At this point, you can stop, assess and redirect.
However, he notes that more than one thing can be true. It’s also about perspective and being honest with yourself. If you are being true to your values how would your perspective change?
For example, if someone works at a job that pays a significant amount of money but they feel shame for making so much money and a fear that they are only doing it for the money. They can take the time to pause and check to see what’s off and make them feel this way. Let’s say that for them being able to support their family is very important and this job provides that. Here, it’s good to weigh things out, look at the whole picture and be honest. Yes, this job is not the ideal work environment but it is pretty close to their values. So the imbalance is minor and might not be enough to change jobs at this time.
Many of us have been taught to always think of others first. However, it is very important to be realistic about our human condition and remember that all species are self serving and self-interested. All of us frame things in a way that asks:, how does this benefit me? If you are able to improve yourself first, then you are able to help others and be a contributing member of society. We are social animals and being able to do that feeds our soul. And why starting the work with ourselves and our values, not with goal setting, is key to living the life you want.