Defining Your Personal Values: Increasing Your Happiness Through Introspection

A lot of the work I’ve done over the years has been in strategy, and good strategy starts with values. From my own small business to large global organizations, from blossoming startups to academic institutions, I’ve seen how having (and not having) well defined values affects decisions and outcomes. If explicitly stating values is so important to the running of a well-oiled corporate machine, why aren’t they more important to the running of our own daily lives?

WE ALL KNOW THAT A GOOD COMPANY CULTURE MAKES FOR HAPPIER EMPLOYEES. BUT WHEN THE CULTURE GOES BEYOND THAT—TO CORE VALUES EVERYONE WORKS BY—THE RESULTS ARE REVOLUTIONARY. – JESSICA AMORTEGUI, FAST COMPANY

At this point you might be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I know my values – I’ve had them since birth!” But that’s exactly the problem. As we grow up, our parents’ ingrained their own personal values in us, making those values our own. While there are certainly values that are worth hanging on to, we are not our parents! Each and every person on this earth is an individual. We cannot be expected to walking directly in the footsteps of another and be just as happy or successful.

Image via Teen Vogue (Click for Full Article)

IT’S PERFECTLY OKAY TO HAVE DIFFERING BELIEFS FROM YOUR PARENTS, AND EVEN BELIEFS THAT STAND IN STARK CONTRAST TO THAT OF YOUR YOUNGER SELF. – CARLYE WISEL, TEEN VOGUE 

If we’re clinging to values that we do not truly believe in, that are guiding us to make decisions that do not make us happy, we may be living in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. For example, if your dad held prestige as one of his core values, you may find yourself travelling down a career path that will one day make you the CEO of a large Fortune 500 company. But what if you don’t value prestige, and would rather quit your job and become a yoga instructor because flexibility is more important to you? Or if your parents moved the family to a remote, rural farm community because being close to nature is one of their values, but you get your energy from living in the city? By examining and defining your personal values you can begin to life your own idea life, rather than someone else’s – even your former self’s. The other day while leading a group of professors through a personal values session, I came to the realization that it had been far too long since I had defined my own values. I preach about the benefits of visualization/meditation and knowing what you want out of life, yet how can I effectively do either of those things if I don’t know what my basic guiding principles are? I realized that I was still holding on to the first set of values that I created back in high school, the vision I crafted for myself before I had ever even knew how to send interoffice mail or how to reconcile accounts. Since I had very few experiences of my own, these thoughts were shaped by the guiding hand of parents, mentors, the media. While there are still nuggets remaining from that time to now that still define who I am, I’ve now had no many more experiences from which I’ve learned my likes and dislikes.

VALUES ARE THE BACKBONE OF LIFE. THEY ARE THE BEACONS ON OUR PATH—IN PERSONAL LIFE AND IN BUSINESS. WHEN YOU IDENTIFY YOUR VALUES AND GET CLEAR WITH THEM, SOMETHING MAGICAL HAPPENS: THEY COME OUT IN WAYS YOU HAVEN’T EVEN IMAGINED AND ILLUMINATE AND NURTURE YOUR ENTIRE LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT. – DEBRA SMOUSE, TINY BUDDAH

So I grabbed by thought journal, sat myself down at a quiet, shady picnic table, and got started. Here’s what I came up with:

Personal Values

Determining your values takes a lot of time and thought, and it is not a precise science. Values can change over time as you experience life. Understanding that this is a continual reflection process is crucial to remaining happy and on the right path. That doesn’t mean to willy nilly throw caution to the wind when making a decision just because you feel like it (for example quitting your job with no other options because you had a bad day, but stability is one of your values), but rather introspectively reassessing as your grow as a person (like deciding to have a child with the love of your life though independence had been a strong value of yours through your post-college adventures). For me personally, I like to use a variety of different methods, sorting and combining the end results until I feel the values resonate with both my heart and mind – meaning I can both think rationally through them and see myself holding those things true as well as feel in my gut that I’ve reached my values. Here’s how you can define your own unique set of personal values:

  1. Grab a pen, paper, and plenty of time. It is best to leave the laptop and cell phone behind for this one. Being as distraction free as possible helps you to get into deep through, exploring your mind and heart without the notifications, influences, and ticking clock to push you off course. Go somewhere that brings you peace and true comfort, both inside and out. Make sure you have a couple of hours (one at minimum) to really dig in.
  2. Choose an exercise. Or two. As I said above, different parts of different exercises really resonate with me. There is no one right way to find your values! Stick with one, or pick a couple, but no matter what you do, do not stop until you feel 110% comfortable with the values you have determined. If you’re looking for a place to start, I like this one to get the juices flowing about what values can look like and this one to really piece apart your thoughts. I also highly suggest utilizing sticky notes to help organize your thoughts and see patterns.
  3. Take action with your measuring stick. Now that you have your values, it’s time to let those suckers fly! Each and every decision you make should align with your values. On the job hunt? Run your options through your values to make sure it will bring you satisfaction. Looking for a new home? Use your values to help determine the size, cost, and neighborhood. Each and every step you take down your own personal path can, and should, tie back to your values. If you’re contemplating making a decision that goes against something on your list, it’s time to either reevaluate your values or decision.

And with that, I wish you happy reflecting and leave you with one of my favorite quotes.

YOUR BELIEFS BECOME YOUR THOUGHTS, YOUR THOUGHTS BECOME YOUR WORDS, YOUR WORDS BECOME YOUR ACTIONS, YOUR ACTIONS BECOME YOUR HABITS, YOUR HABITS BECOME YOUR VALUES, YOUR VALUES BECOME YOUR DESTINY. – MAHATMA GANDHI

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