What is important to you?
What you believe is right and wrong.
Because what you believe is right and wrong will define what you will and will not do, thus influencing your attitudes and behavior.
Values – What Is Important To You?
If you are like most people, when asked about your values, you can come up with a few answers on the spot. That’s because we all have things that linger on the fringes of our minds. Things like family, children, financial security, or food on the table. They come to us quickly because they are so raw and so obvious.
But what is their root, and why is it something you need to think about? Well, the things that are important to you define two very distinct dimensions of your life: right and wrong or good and bad.
So if family is essential to you, when you see anything that is damaging to the idea of family, you will deem it to be wrong. For instance, if you watch the news and see some kind of justice being meted out which results in separating children from their families, you might think that it’s wrong. Somebody else, with a different set of views, might not see it as wrong, but as right.
Therefore, you will filter your attitudes, behaviors, and actions through the prism of your values, to judge the rights and wrongs of the world. And the reason this is a critical point to grasp is that you cannot set up any goals or visions that require actions that are not aligned with these views about right and wrong.
That’s because if you attempt to accomplish a goal that requires some action that is against your values, you will simply not be able to complete it. Period. Or, even worse, you will try to fake it and cause misery for yourself and those around you.
What Are Values?
Values are, as explained above, the things in life that are important to you from a moral perspective. Note that values in themselves are not always good from an ethical standpoint. Consider that many people throughout history have had values that resulted in actions that today we all agree are fundamentally wrong.
Just think of any dictator who has ever lived. Much like every villain is a hero in their own mind, those dictators had values. There were lots of things they believed to be important, such as, for example, social status, power, race, or gender. By filtering their actions through those views, they could justify vicious acts against humanity.
Therefore an exercise of not only understanding your values but also crafting your own ethical set of values is a paramount step to take before moving into action. If you act with the wrong set of values as your primary guide, you will wind up in a dreadful place. So taking the time not only to understand what your values are but also to define those values is critical.
During your Discovery Voyage, you will go through identifying your existing values, understanding and defining them, and also prioritizing them. At a later point, during the Creation Voyage, you may (or may not) update these values to match your vision and goals. That process will be called aligning your values with your goals.
That’s because, and I must repeat this: you cannot accomplish any goals that are not aligned with your personal values.
Also, because values lie so deeply at the core of your personality, and because they drive what you believe is good or bad, they have a direct influence over what makes you happy or sad in life. By living your life in an environment attuned to, and with your behavior aligned with your positive values, and by turning away from the negative ones, you will create fulfillment and joy for yourself.
How To Discover Your Values
First, let’s look at two examples of values and their definition:
Honesty – “Honesty is a facet of moral character that connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, straightforwardness, including straightforwardness of conduct, along with the absence of lying, cheating, theft. Honesty also involves being trustworthy, loyal, fair, and sincere.” (Wikipedia)
Ambition – “1.a: an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power. 2: a desire for activity or exertion.” (Wikipedia)
I chose these examples because they represent a straightforward way to showcase how you can interpret values. Just by reading the word and its definition, you can figure out what it means for a person who holds that as a high value. Now, the devil is in the details: what does honesty mean to you? Does it mean telling the truth all the time? Or maybe just most of the time? The difference is subtle, yet important.
To complete this exercise, you will need to download the document from the link at the bottom and follow the instructions. For now, let’s go through the process step-by-step so you have a clear understanding of what you have to do.
1 Brainstorm through the list
The first page of the worksheet asks you to read the list of values and check-mark all that you have held as important throughout your life. Think of a mental scale from 0 to 10. Anything above 7 is of high importance; anything below 3 is of no importance. Go through the list and mark all your high-importance ones. Then go again and mark those that have medium importance. Don’t worry if you come up with a lot of items. It’s okay.
2 Group items together
After you have completed step one, replicate the list of your selected values on the next sheet, called the Grouping Sheet. Once you have them all down, start combining them. Look for items that sound or signify a similar value, so similar that you would rather keep only one term that is more relevant, or simply combine them. For example, you may have “Learning” and “Knowledge” in your values, but to you, it sounds better to combine them into one value called “Knowledge and Learning.” Cross out all of those that will not remain on the list. Your list might still be large, maybe fifteen to thirty items. It’s all right; keep going.
3 Trim the list
Copy your remaining values into the next worksheet, called the Trimming Sheet. Read the list one more time to make sure all the items belong there. Be honest with yourself; you are not selecting values you would like to have or wish to have, or you know your mother would be really proud to know that you had. We are talking about the truth of your past. Tell the truth!
Once you are satisfied with the trimmed-down list, take the first two items. Which one is more important to you? Remember the winner. Go to the next item and compare the winner to that one. Who’s the winner now? Keep going until you finish the list. The overall winner is your #1 value. Write it at the top of the Priority Sheet. Cross that one out and repeat the process with the next value in the list. Keep going until you fill in all top 15 priority values. You don’t have to go to 15; you can stop at 10 or even 5.
5 Clean up the list
Note how I highlighted your top five and top ten values with a distinctive border. Those are the ones you need to focus on. Read them several times and recall periods in your life where those top five (at least) have manifested for you. You must be able to associate events and actions in your life that have been driven by these values. The more connections you can make, the more you will validate your list.
Your Values’ What and Why
Just as we did with your identity, it’s not enough to merely reveal the list of values. You need to go a lot deeper, and for that, you must do an exercise that will take you to the true meaning that these values have for you.
You may go with your top ten values or, if you would rather be very focused, limit yourself to only the top five. Remember, in the context of personal development, focus trumps. So, take your list of top values and, using the provided worksheet, write one or two sentences or even a long paragraph about each.
- What does this value mean to you? Here, use your own words to describe the value. Don’t look for the dictionary definition; give your heartfelt description. Since this is an important value to you, you must have a definition close to your heart and soul. If you find yourself unable to define this in a meaningful way, ask yourself once more if this is truly one of your values.
- Write why you think this value is essential to you. Were you inspired by something or someone? Has something happened that led you to it? Was this the way you were born? Try to think exactly why you hold this value as important. Remember, do not state why you believe this value should be important to you. We are not looking for wishful values here. This is the real deal. Tell the truth. As you go through this exercise, if you cannot attach a reason as to why you believe a value is important to you, once again, ask yourself if you are not just putting this on the list because it sounds good.
One very critical thing to mention regarding purpose is fear and other types of negative emotions. Did you mark something as important because of the fear of not having it? For example, is financial security a high value because of your fear of not being financially secure? That might be it, but I warn you that identifying your values through the negative emotion of not having that value is not the right way to go. Strive to look for the positive “why.” Every negative has a positive. Reframe your mind away from the fear, anxiety, or any other negative emotions and find a positive replacement.
The First Stepping Stone Of Your Character
Congratulations! You have taken the first step toward understanding who you are and what lies at the root of your character and personality. Over the next few chapters, you will continue your Discovery Voyage and go a lot deeper.
To get on with the practical exercise, download the worksheet from the link below. Once you finish with this step, proceed to the next section, Your Beliefs.
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