Every one of us has values. But sometimes it can be difficult to explicitly recognize what they are. Being able to express your own values and, then, using them as a lighthouse to guide your decisions, will make you feel more fulfilled and happier in general! Conversely, life can feel a little empty, and you can feel a little lost, without that lighthouse to guide you.
You may not realize how common it is that people are unaware of their own values. If this applies to you as well, before you can start taking steps to live a more fulfilled life, you’ll have to uncover your values first. There are several ways to do this. A simple, but expensive, option would be hiring a professional life coach. Most life coaches start with this – exercises to determine your values. There are also other, less-expensive ways to do this. Try the following steps, which you can do on your own and for free!
Uncover Your Values
Your feelings are the clue to uncovering your values. If a certain activity makes you feel energized, motivated and happy, then it contains something that you value. So this exercise is all about looking at your activities (current and past) and identifying which ones make you feel energized, and, just as importantly, which ones leave you feeling tired and depressed. It also encourages you to try new things so you can uncover some new energizing activities.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Keep track of your activities – In a journal or on your phone, keep a log of everything you do during a typical week. This includes meals, activities (including TV and Facebook time, exercise, driving etc)
- Note your energy level – Next to each activity, note your energy level during and after the activity as well as how you felt afterwards. Your values are foundational; they are what drives your emotional reaction to each of the activities you listed as well as your energy level.
- Look for patterns – Before long, you’ll start seeing patterns. Look for commonalities when you feel happy and your energy is high and, conversely, look for commonalities at the times when you feel unhappy and your energy is low.
For example, every time you do something social, like a walk with a friend or a dinner out, you wrote that you felt great and had a lot of energy afterwards. That would indicate that one of your intrinsic values is community and feeling connected to other people. Another example would be if you noticed high energy during and after helping other people. A case in point is our next door neighbor; he volunteers at a soup kitchen and that helps him feel great about himself. It is obvious that indicate that one of his core values is helping others in the community.
- Make two lists – one with all of the things that you know give you energy (we’ll call this the High Energy list), and one of the things that leave you sapped of energy (a Low Energy list).
- Think about your past – You can complement this list by looking at significant events and experiences in your past. Have you ever noticed a time in your life when you felt really energized and motivated? Or perhaps the opposite? A friend of mine once told me about a time she volunteered at a foster care camp one summer. She spent a week being a counselor to six-year-old girls, and after coming back from that camp she had so much ambition. She started looking for internships that would help her after she graduated, and she even started a donation business for kids in the foster care system. She applied to be a counselor at this camp just because her friend did; however, through that camp, she discovered a passion for helping children. Now she knows what she values, and she lives a happier life because of it. So, try to think back and remember different events in your life that have caused you to feel a similar way. Perhaps you’ve also felt good about yourself when you volunteered years ago … If you have kids, perhaps you could start volunteering at their school.
- Try some new things – If you’re having a hard time figuring out your values and you High Energy list in particular is looking a little flimsy, try breaking your routine by doing completely different things for a couple of weeks. Here are some ideas of what you can do:
- Get together with that old friend, the one that made you feel alive and you had so much fun with.
- Workout and try different physical exercises, or pick up that sport that you’ve always wanted to. Also try exercising alone or with another person, inside and out in nature – you may find that going for a walk on a nearby trail with a friend gives you energy, but walking on the treadmill in your basement or at the gym leaves you feeling tired and depressed.
- Volunteer in your community, or look into how to get involved with charities that give you warmth.
- Donate some money (whatever you can afford) to a charity and issue that you care about.
- Book that adventure or trip you’ve been dreaming about for a long time.
- Write in a journal. Besides writing itself, journaling may help you brainstorm new things to try and will help you sort out what you’re feeling about this exercise.
- Sketch or paint.
- Sign up for a class in something you’ve never tried before like improv comedy or writing poetry.
- Read a book or join a book club.
- Start a blog about something you feel passionate about.
When you’re trying something new, notice how you feel while doing it as well as how you feel afterwards. And make sure to add to each of your lists.
- Translate lists into values – Take another look at both of your lists and look for commonalities. If many of the items on your High Energy list are active, then living an active life is one of your values. If several involve helping others by either donating time or money, then helping others is one of your values. It’s also important to look at the Low Energy list. If watching TV is on it, but going to a movie with a friend is on your High Energy list, that could tell you that being at home and alone leaves you with low energy, but being out with a friend, even if you were watching the same thing, feels completely different.
Whatever you uncover, it’s important to write it down - write two or three sentences about your values and make sure to include what leaves you with low energy as well. It might look something like this:
“I value 4 things: 1) My family and friends. Spending time with them gives me energy and makes me feel happy. 2) Adventure – trying new things and learning something new makes me feel great. 3) Giving my time and money to people who are less fortunate than myself, whether it’s a local charity or the Refugee fund I give money too. 4) Taking care of myself – a long bath and a good book. What makes me feel depressed and with low energy is when I am at home by myself watching TV since there is no self-care element here.”
Put this somewhere you will see it or stumble on it on a regular basis. By doing this, you’ll remember those values and you’ll be more likely to actively make decisions based upon the things you care about.
When You Know Your Values, You Can Choose to Live By Them
Now that you know what your values are, the next step is to live in accordance to them. This is the secret to living a more fulfilled life! Set your mind to do more of the items on the high energy list and less of the things on the low energy list. It is surprising how life opens doors when we follow our heart.
For example, if you value having an active lifestyle and your family, you could plan a family bike ride. If, additionally, you value a connection to nature, then take them to ride in a natural park. If you find yourself valuing helping people, try undertaking small charitable actions like holding a door open for an elderly person or leaving your restaurant leftovers by a person sleeping in the streets.
The thing is, if you do something every day, however small or easy it may seem, you will get in the habit of living by your values, and the happier and more fulfilled you’ll be.
And as in the simple examples above, living by your values can help the world around you as well, especially if giving back to the local and/or global community is one of your values. I started this company because this is one of my fundamental values. I wanted to give back to the global community as well as helping people like myself to get involved and make a difference in these communities as well. And I do it because, by giving, I receive so much.
And now that you’re off to the races, it is important to mention that making every decision in full accordance with your values is extremely hard. Only a handful of us can really live for years with all their garbage fitting in a jar, however much you care about the environment. This is where self-love comes to the rescue: it’s not about being hypercritical of yourself for every lapse you may have. So, forgive yourself when that happens.
While you may not remember every decision you make, you’ll probably remember those decisions that you made based upon your personal morals. In other words, it’s about increasing the number of decisions you make based on your values. You’ll start to feel prouder and prouder of yourself in doing so. It’ll give greater meaning to your life.
And know that the ultimate feeling of fulfilment comes when you were so close to giving in, but you came through in being true to yourself nonetheless. Cherish these experiences; they will fuel you next time you’re at the point of making a difficult decision on which you may compromise your values.
Finally, by living by your values, you won’t just be benefitting yourself, but you will be benefiting your family and others around you as well. Those close to you will notice that you are happier, and you could even inspire them to consider what they value as well. That’s being the change you want to see.
In conclusion, in not living by your values, you can easily feel disconnected, even empty. But by doing the work of determining your personal values and making decisions in such a way that you live by them, you will begin to feel more fulfilled and happier. It’s not always easy to explore your inner self and then be fully honest with that person. So remember to be gentle with yourself. And as you continue in this adventure of your life, your entire life, living by your values will change your present and your future for the better. So don’t wait. At the other side of your next decision is that more fulfilled, future you.
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