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Hope Through Authenticity

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The Road to Your Next Best Decision: Can You Define Your Values?

In my group therapy session a few weeks ago, we talked about decision-making.  The leader asked this question:  Do your day-to-day decisions align with your values?

That sounds like such an easy question, doesn’t it?  But what about the follow-up question:  What are your values?  The question is NOT what are you goals.  Goals and values are quite different.  I think of values as the umbrella under which our goals rest.  Here is the best definition I found:

“Values signify what is important and worthwhile.  They serve as the basis for moral codes and ethical reflection.  Individuals have their own values based on many aspects including family, religion, peers, culture, race, social background, gender, etc. “  

(http://www.mtsu.edu/~u101irm/valuedef.html)

Can you define your values?  I’ll admit that I couldn’t.  I couldn’t even define values exactly.  Yet, I felt it was very important to know my values, understand my values, USE MY VALUES TO MAKE DECISIONS.

Choosing YOUR Values:  An Activity

core values

​​Before you begin the activity, please take a few minutes to list your values as you know them right now.  If you can’t come up with those over-arching umbrellas, take a few minutes to write down your goals.  Your goals may help you to define your values.

Now, print out these cards:  http://www.motivationalinterviewing.org/sites/default/files/valuescardsort_0.pdf

(Note:  if you are in a committed relationship, print two sets and I’ll explain why later).

Cut the cards apart and begin to sort based on “Very Important”, “Important”, “Not Important”.

You’ll note that several of the cards “feel” similar – for example, Fitness and Health – the descriptions will help you see the subtle differences.

Put the “Not Important” cards away (don’t throw them away).

Narrow your “Very Important” down to your top 10.  This will take some deep thinking and honest assessment.  For example, there is a difference between romance and sexuality.  Keep whittling. 

Once you have ten, can you put them in a hierarchy?  In other words, if you have chosen “honesty” and “stability” which is more important?  Say, for instance, would you sacrifice honesty to keep stability? 

A Snag

When our group did this activity, we quickly hit a snag.  I was doing the activity based on who I am now.  Another group member was doing it based on who she wishes to be. 

I wonder, which did you do:  the current you or the hoped-for you?  If you aren’t sure, look at how you live your life. 

After I finished my list of ten “as I am” values, I wrote them down and then did the activity again to determine my “hoped-for” values.  There were some differences.  Those differences are quite important.  If I want to make my Next Best Decision then I need to be working towards what I hope to be, right?

Soul Searching 

The activity is useless unless we use it to make that Next Best Decision.  So, start to ask yourself some questions:

  1. Does your life match your values?  Be specific.  Where does it?  Where does it not?
  2. In the areas where your life doesn’t match your values, can you change that?  If so, how?  If not, why not?  If you do change, what domino effects may ensue? 
  3. If you don’t have a list of goals, make one – these will help you understand your values and understanding your values may help you update your goals.  For example, one my goals is to complete a hike from Vienna to Prague.  That is obviously a value of both adventure and health/fitness.
  4. Look at how you spent your time over the last week.  Based on your activities, are you prioritizing your values?  Or, are you spending a lot of time in the “Not Important” stack.  Create a little pie chart of “time spent” and see what it looks like.
  5. Why do you have that value?  Is it really yours?  Or is it something you were taught or society expects?
  6. Where does that value stem from?  For example, I chose “stability” because I haven’t had a lot of that.
  7. Look at those that didn’t make the cut – why didn’t they?  Do you judge yourself for that?  For example, “service” didn’t make my list.  That’s because I taught for a long time and I feel like I’ve satisfied that need.  (I’ve been there, done that.)  Yet, I still feel guilty that service is not a value – it just feels like it “should” be one of my core values.
  8. Do the people in your life support your quest to live your values?

I can go on and on with ideas, but if you take the time to claim your values, then you have plenty to keep you busy.

Making Adjustments

You will likely find some areas that need adjusting.  Maybe that will be easy.  Maybe it will be impossible.  But just simply by knowing your values, you can make wiser decisions.  Even the decision for what to have for breakfast can impact your values.  Every single day you make thousands of decisions – use your top ten to guide you.

Also, use your top ten to set boundaries and feel comfortable saying “no”.  For example, in my “Not Important” stack I have “Ecology”.  Recently I was asked to join an Appalachian Trail clean-up crew.  My “should” brain thought I needed to do that (after all, who doesn’t think taking care of the land is important and I am a hiker).  My “values” brain reminded me that “genuiness” is one of my top ten and one thing I needed to accept about myself is that I don’t want to clean the AT.

That example sounds minor, I know.  And I also know that sometimes I will make decisions that don’t support my top 10.  That’s okay.

No matter what you decide to do – if you embrace your values you can consciously decide that this time in any circumstance.

If you don’t know your values your decisions will be like a pinball – bouncing all over the place, racking up points in some column.  It’s up to you to choose the which column to put your points in.

Values in Relationships

I had my husband determine his top 10 values.  He did this without my input.  Then we compared.  EYE OPENING.  He had “financial security” as one of his values.  I did not.  When we had a discussion, I realized I didn’t have this on my list because I simply depended on him to have it on his.  He didn’t have “adventure” on his because he knew I would take care of that.  We also had one or two areas that were not conflicting exactly but showed us why we keep having conflict over certain issues. 

I’ll be transparent on that last comment.  He had “relationship with siblings” and I did not.  It’s not that I don’t care about my siblings but we aren’t close and never have been.  Realizing this was a top 10 value for Dave allowed me to bend more to vacationing with his family.  I always wanted to do something else – an adventure.  Now I see where we have to satisfy both sets of values – and that can be done only IF we know them and discuss them.

If you are just beginning or searching for a relationship, keep your values in mind.  It’s not necessary that couples have the exact same values but it is important that you, at least, don’t have counter-values.  For example, if “religion” is in your top ten and it was in the “not important” stack of your potential partner, you have some work to do. 

A Few Last Ideas

  • Use the values cards to look at yourself five, ten, twenty years ago.  It’s quite interesting to see how they change. 
  • Have your children do them – with or without you – this can help immensely with long-term decision-making.
  • Post your top ten on your refrigerator.  If you’re artsy, make a “vision” board with them.

The Source and My Disclaimer

There are a myriad of sources to help you define, clarify, understand your values.  Just do a google search for “values worksheets” or “values cards” …

I liked the set I provided simply because there were so many and the differences were subtle – which forced deeper thinking and deeper conversation.

Here are my Top 10 – no judgments, please!  These are NOT listed in a hierarchical order.

  1. Self-Knowledge
  2. Tolerance
  3. Self-Control
  4. Adventure
  5. Realism
  6. Health
  7. Knowledge
  8. Growth
  9. Creativity
  10. Genuineness

Want to hear something funny – I did this 3 weeks ago and my top 10 was just a bit different than it is today.

If you’d like to discuss why I chose some and left out others, feel free to contact me.  If you’d like to discuss yours, also feel free to email me.

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