Understanding my values
Kia mārama ki aku tikanga
"Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei"
Seek the treasure you value most dearly: if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain.
What are values?
Values help provide life with purpose and meaning. It's important you are able to live life in a way that aligns with your values and beliefs. Living your life according to clear values evokes consistent and sustainable behaviour, instead of actions or reactions fuelled by temporary emotions. To do this, you must first understand what values are.
Values can be thought of as a guide for future behaviour. It can be useful to think of them as a compass, which continually points you in the right direction. However, much like a compass guiding us east, we never reach the end-point. Values allow us to walk in the right direction with each step, without identifying the destination; neither are they check-points along the way.
How to find your values
Our values are forged as we develop, they are formed in relationships and community, and they are often shared with the people that matter to us. That said, our values remain unique to each of us. They help to shape our goals, which then influence our actions. Therefore, our values can be found by reflecting on our lives.
The good thing about values is that we can alter them, move closer towards them, or change them completely. By changing what you focus on, your actions will also change.
If you’re not sure about what your values are, think about how you normally act in a given situation. Does this align with how you want to react?
Now imagine your best self in that situation, how would you react differently?
For example, in particularly difficult situations would you value acting with compassion, assertiveness, or understanding?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What does a well-lived life look like for you?
- What do you want your life to stand for?
- What matters to you?
- What kind of person do you want to be?
- Consider the consequences of living with your current values- how does this make you feel? Does this align with the type of person you want to be?
When deciding which values are important, make sure you find them attractive and life-giving to you and, if appropriate, to your whānau - rather than choosing what you feel you “should” value. If our values are rewarding then we become drawn towards actions that align with them, so consider how your values makes you feel. Do they inspire actions and behaviours that make you proud?
The best values are also intrinsically appealing. An intrinsic value is rewarding in and of itself, and does not rely on outside consequences. For example, if we only value being compassionate because of how it makes others feel, then when others don't acknowledge or thank us for our efforts we may no longer feel rewarded. However, if you act compassionately purely because that aligns with your core values, then you gain satisfaction from the behaviour itself.
Focus less on making others feel happy, as this is temporary and out of our control. Instead focus more on things that you know matter, and that leave you satisfied with the choices you've made.
If you feel you have too much going on in your life or that what you are doing is not fulfilling, try the STOP, KEEP, START activity. Take a piece of paper and draw three columns.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I going to stop doing?
- What am I going to keep doing?
- What am I going to start doing?
When deciding on your values, it's important to note the difference between values and domains. A domain is an area in life where your values are displayed/used. For example, health is not a value - it is a domain. However, the way we choose to think and act in regard to our health is a value – for example through self-discipline, commitment, or even just remembering to have fun!
Other types of domains include friends, work, the environment, relationships, spirituality, and recreational activities.
Values tend to be consistent across domains. It may be useful to think of one of these domains and list the values you associate with it, to help you identify your core values.
Write down 5 that you find particularly important, and feel free to add your own!
The connection between values and wairua is when we discover that a culture, or faith group, has developed shared values over many years. Sometimes these values benefit others more than they benefit ourselves, such as generosity when they are ultimately concerned with greater good.
How to maintain your values
Sometimes you might struggle to live by your values. For example, your regular practice of connecting to nature may be affected if you can no longer go mountain biking because of an injury. This can become frustrating or upsetting. But if we begin to think about the function that activity served i.e. taking time to be at peace through feeling connected to nature or exercising to preserve your health, then you can do other activities that achieve this - like walking in the park or going for a run.
Another way to maintain your values is to make sure they're directed towards positive outcomes. This will help you be more motivated to engage in actions that align with your values. If you find you're doing the opposite, and your actions are focused on avoiding negative outcomes, it becomes harder to remain motivated.
For example, you might be trying to lose weight. If your behaviour is based on unpleasant feelings like shame, then you might only feel motivated while those negative feelings are present. And if you continually expose yourself to negative stimuli that make you motivated, this won't inspire positive emotions - and can lead to burn out. Instead, you should focus on how these goals satisfy your internal values - such as losing weight so you can live a longer, healthier life, and spend more quality time with your loved ones.
Another trap some people fall into is focusing so much on their big goals, and becoming consumed by what they want to achieve - at the expense of enjoying the life they have. Living consistently with our values every day is what gives life meaning. Try to keep your values at the centre, so you're able to live by your core values now and enjoy life's simple pleasures.
The last challenge is reacting to temporary feelings instead of values. It's important to remember our thoughts and feelings are largely out of our control. They come and go in waves, and seemingly random ones sometimes. But we can control how we choose respond to them. If we act driven by anger or frustration, that may not be consistent with values-based actions. Instead, we should make sure our behaviour is based on our core values - as they are more consistent than our rapidly changing emotions, and can provide us with better guidance in difficult times.
See Lifting mood for more advice on managing your emotions, and tools for setting goals and action planning.
Mindfulness can also help us to choose our actions, even when we are emotional.