by Brisbane City Psychologist David Norman
Sometimes we might feel as if there is a gap in our lives – between where we are and where we would like to be. Sometimes we feel that we’ve come to a crossroad and we’re not sure which way to go. Sometimes we ask questions about the meaning of life. A powerful way that could help with these difficulties is by clarifying our values.
Values represent the important things in your life. For instance, you might value being honest, or value adventure, or loyalty, or learning, and so on. More than just what you do in your life, values can describe how you do those things. For instance, although I can work, I might choose to work with a sense of honesty, or adventure, or learning. Values are like directions – you can keep going in the direction of your values all your life. Whether you go 1cm or 1000km, if you are going in the direction that aligns with your values, you are succeeding!
If our values capture the most important way to live our lives, how many of us have a good idea of what our own values are? If we can have a better sense of our values, then we have a better opportunity to make decisions and do things that align with those values. This can give us a better chance to live a richer and more meaningful life.
So how can we get a better idea of our values?
One way is to simply look at a list of values and select those that resonate more strongly within us. It might help to rate each word, for instance: one star = that value is somewhat important to me, two stars = the value is important to me; three stars = the value is very important to me. Lists of values can be found readily on the internet simply by typing “list of values” in a search engine.
Another way to clarify values is to imagine you are at your 80th birthday party and people are toasting your life so far – what would you like them to say about the way you have lived your life? Another technique that can help clarify values is to ask “What does that mean to me?” For example, if you think you value having money, you can ask “What does that mean to me?”, and you might conclude that it means you can go on lots of holidays, or you can go to university. Doing this can help you to realise that your underlying values may be, for example, adventure, or learning, or friendship.
It may be useful to make a list of your Top 5 or Top 10 values. You could keep a list on your fridge, bathroom mirror, or on your phone, to keep them fresh in your mind.
You can use your awareness of your values in different ways. For example when you’re contemplating doing something that either takes you down path A or path B, you could ask “If I decided on path (A), will it take me in a direction towards or away from what I value?” Something else you can do is to look at how one of your values in the context of the different areas of your life, such as relationships, work, or family. Then see if you can then set goals that will take you a further step in your valued direction.
Values can be a very effective way to help bring meaning and richness back into our lives. By definition values represent what is most important to in our lives, so see if you can try to clarify your values and use them to help you take even the smallest step in your valued direction today.
David Norman, Clinical Psychologist