Yesterday, following a psychotherapy session with a client, who felt unmotivated, lost, overly emotional, frustrated, and depressed, I was again reminded of that one thing that underlies so many of my clients’ emotional, occupational, and relational struggles–their lack of personal values!
I bet you, if you were to ask the next 3 people you ran into, what their top 3 values were, you would be lucky if one of them managed to list theirs. Yet, our personal values have such a profound impact on who we are, what we do, the decisions we make, the goals we set, the people we choose to get into a relationship with, and how we choose to raise our children. Yet, we barely give our values the time of day (needless to say revisit them on a regular basis)!
Personal values are the guiding principles that we (consciously or unconsciously) live by and which direct our decision making and behaviours during times of uncertainty or emotional discontent.
“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same but you leave them all over everything you do.” – Elvis Presley
Unfortunately, most of us end up trying to navigate through the treacherous periods in our lives without even knowing what they are. A lack of personal values equals a lack of guidance in life. Without this guidance, you will approach life and difficult circumstances with a nonchalant or ad-lib attitude, just doing things based on your “gut feel” or making decisions by just “winging it” and hoping for the best.
Therefore, uncovering your personal values is like finding a compass when you’re lost at sea. It will not magically make your life that much easier, but it will help you navigate those challenging periods in your life with confidence, direction, and dexterity!
So, what are these personal values exactly?
What are personal values?
In general, personal values can be defined as those ideals that guide our behaviours and decisions. They act as guide posts to help us navigate life during very challenging periods, they help us make the right decisions, and they help us reach our long-term goals. In essence, they are what motivates us to purposeful action.
Even though we often associate these personal values with big universal ideals such as compassion, honesty, kindness, courage, etc., our personal values can also be much “smaller” in comparison but still carry tremendous weight in our lives. For example, one of my personal values is playfulness. Because I can be quite serious in my thinking and doing, being playful helps me to strike a healthy balance between being light-hearted and child-like, and being the orderly, work-driven, and proficient. Also, it allows me to be more honest with those close to me, as well as with myself, by highlighting what really matters to me. Another example is curiosity. I have always had a curious mind and love learning new things, meeting new people, and having new experiences. I feel curiosity has provided me with some remarkable experiences and has led me to some lifechanging discoveries.
So, even though playfulness and curiosity does not quite stack up to those grand universal values of bravery, kindness, fairness, etc., it does not make them less worthy or important. Therefore, it is important to remember that even if others do not agree with your values, or deem them important, they are valuable to you! That’s all that matters.
Why are they so important?
There are plenty of reasons why you should know your values, but I will discuss the ones I consider to have the biggest impact on clients’ emotional and psychological wellbeing.
You believe in yourself
One sure way to hack away at your self-confidence is when you are constantly turning to other people for answers on what you should want, or what you should do in life, or who you should be. This damaging habit is at the root of all insecurities, leaving you feeling uncertain, insecure, anxious, and vulnerable.
Clarifying your values will help you trust yourself by making decisions for you, and the more you do this, the more confident you will feel in your own decisions and way of living.
You stand up for yourself
It’s only once you are clear about your values that you can actually stand up for those what you truly want and don’t want. But it is extremely challenging to be assertive and stand up for your needs and wants when you have no idea what they are based on. Knowing your values will illuminate the reasons behind your needs and wants, making it easier for you to stand up for them.
You stop procrastinating
Our values not only drive our decisions but also our behaviour, which includes our motivation to do things. If you are unclear about your values and the “why” behind what you do, you will not be motivated to do it. As such, when you find yourself in a job just because it pays the bills, then you are going to need a lot of willpower to get it done. However, when you are clear about your values, you will pick careers that fit with your values. Alternatively, when you are not able to leave your “mundane” career, by knowing your values you can alter your approach and interpretation of what you do so that it is more aligned with your values.
You are less anxious
When you worry about whether you are making the right decisions or doing the right thing, you get anxious, and this anxiety tends to suck up all your attention. But, when you know your values, they will direct your decision making and behaviours, making it easier for you to decide or act. As such, your values will naturally pull your attention away from your anxieties and keep you focused on your values.
You have direction
Often when clients hit a wall of depression and feel entirely unmotivated, it’s because they have lost their sense of direction and purpose. Or their depression made them realise that they have been living “a lie” or a life for others and not themselves. By having clarity about what your values are, you will have direction in where you are going with your life, career, and relationships, and you will be able to identify that which will give you purpose.
“Why is it that we don’t worry about a compass until we’re lost in a wilderness of our own making?” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough
Hopefully this article has underscored the importance of knowing your values. So, regardless of what your long-term life goals are, or your current circumstances, make the conscious decision to reflect on what your values are.
If you have no idea where to start, I highly recommend starting with an objective tool, such as the free online Personal Values Assessment (PVA) Scale. I often use this scale with my clients just because of its scientific grounding. However, because the PVA only provides you with a certain set of values, it is still important to identify those that are unique to you and may not appear on an existing list.
In my next upcoming article, I will discuss 4 practical and effective ways in which you can identify your unique values.
Have any questions or comments? Or need guidance in finding your values? Please feel free to get in touch and drop me an email via email@example.com.