Values, we all have them; but many people don’t know what they are and most people have not prioritized them. In this article, I want to shed some light on why prioritizing personal values is important and give you some tips on how to accomplish it.
Auto Pilot Mode
Years ago, I never really thought about my values. I mean I knew what I considered to be important in life, but I never questioned how I made my choices. Like most people, I made my decisions on auto-pilot, assuming what I believed was right.
Like many people, I also defended my ideas and often tried to convince others to change their decisions and behavior without understanding the relationship of values to our beliefs about the world.
Then I Woke Up
Then something unexpected happened. I woke up to the fact that I was living the ideals of other people. It turns out; this is a common experience and one that can cause a great deal of chaos and conflict, once realized.
For me, it initiated a significant change in the way I was living. I became so fascinated by my disillusionment and what was causing the conflict in my life, that I returned to school to study it.
What I discovered, was that at the root of our conflict lies our values and belief system and I chose to focus on how we form and use our values as a means to manage our conflict. I learned how we could misidentify our values, which would contribute and escalate conflict issues.
The Myth About Values
Values can be a tricky topic to consider because there are many misconceptions about them. People can become defensive when discussing them because they mistakenly believe some values are more important than others. Typically, we adopt the values of our parents or culture, or we select values we think are most important based on some philosophical ideal. Let me dispel this myth and put your mind at rest.
Values cannot be judged as good or bad; they are entirely neutral concepts that merely express our priorities. Unfortunately, when people believe particular values are more significant than others, they often limit their choice. As a result, they become unconscious to the motivating drivers of their life and can experience much conflict.
Conflict & Dissatisfaction
Have you ever worked hard to accomplish an elusive goal or felt dissatisfaction after you achieve it?
Let me share an often overlooked truth. If you have any conflict in your life, relational, career or internal; I can guarantee your values are involved.
People think conflict arises because of value differences, but that is not always the case.
Our most significant conflicts exist when we have not identified our priorities and aligned them with our decisions and choices.
Let me give you an example of how people misidentify value priorities and why it can create conflict in life.
A few years ago, I was helping a group of people identify their values, and before I gave them a survey that would automatically prioritize their value choices, I asked them to write down what they believed to be their top three values. Then they completed the online survey. The results were fascinating and shocked many of them.
Almost everyone selected ‘Family,' as a top priority. However after they completed the online survey, less than 2% had ‘Family’ as one of their top ten values! It’s important to know that just because these individuals did not select ‘Family’ as a top priority does not mean they did not hold it as a value. However, it does indicate it did not have the degree of importance they believed.
When we make choices based on an incorrect value priority, there will be a misalignment between our intentions and our actions. The result will confuse what we think is most important in life, and the lack of clarity will cause self-sabotaging behaviour or relational conflict.
There is very little guidance to help people identify their unique values because we are too busy trying to impose our own choices on others. Even when we have the best intentions, it is a fact that we can only teach other people what our values are and not what theirs should be. Since we all have a unique experience of the world, our values will be formed based on our experience and beliefs.
Other problems that exist with identifying value priorities are that people often select values they would like to have without having an authentic relationship with them or they choose values from a limited list. Both of these issues do not help make our unconscious motivators, conscious priorities.
So How do You Identify Your Priority Values?
Identifying priority values is one of the most critical and exciting life-changing activities.
There are one hundred and twenty-eight different values that have been identified, and selection can be challenging because you want to make value choices based on your desires but not because you think they are necessary or right. Your collection should be priorities that would significantly impact your life if they were missing.
Value priorities are what guide our every decision and action and when we make them conscious, we can use them to direct our life intentionally.
Life becomes much easier when we have a compass, and our values provide the compass for our life journey. Detours not only become less frequent, but it also becomes easier to self-correct when we start going in the wrong direction.
While the easiest way to identify your priority values is using an online survey that forces you to make choices, you can do it manually (it just takes more time and effort, but it's well worth it!). The reason it can take so long is that you will always begin with your conscious mind and the truth is, your conscious mind or ego, will not always be truthful about what is most important to your soul! There is nothing wrong with your ego; it’s just that you want to be true to what is most important to you, not what will be most important to others.
If you start doubting or judging your selection or hear yourself, saying things like “I should select that value,” then you know it is your ego and conditioning that is making a choice and not your soul.
Our soul speaks to us through our intuition. It uses the language of feelings. So when considering a value notice what you are feeling, not what you are thinking. It may be necessary to take frequent breaks because your conscious mind will take over.
1. Identify Your Values
You can begin by asking yourself questions about what is most important and why. Usually, it is the ‘why’, that defines your values. Here are ten questions to get you started…
- What qualities do you appreciate in other people?
- What activities do you need in your life?
- What are your most important possessions?
- What do you want to achieve in life?
- What would you least like to lose in your life?
- What are your most cherished memories?
- How would you like to be remembered?
- What inspires you?
- What is your ideal life?
- What is missing in your life?
Remember to drill down and discover WHY your answers are important to you.
2. Define Your Values
Once you have created a list of values, it’s time to define them.
Write down what the values mean to you. People have different ideas about what values mean and their importance, so it's necessary to understand what they mean to you.
3. Prioritize Your Values
Finally, it’s time to prioritize! This activity requires you to work quickly so as not to engage your ego. Divide your list of values into three categories: essential values, important values, nice to have values. Next, prioritize the values in each group. The method to accomplish this requires you to be ruthless.
Working in one category at a time, examine the first two values and ask yourself if you could only choose one, which would it be? Your selection becomes your priority. Then you do the same thing with the next two and so on until you have completed the list. Eventually, you will have a prioritized list based on your true feelings.
It’s important to note that prioritizing does not mean you hold no value for discarded ones. However, you may find it helpful to notice any significant discrepancies or conflict between your value choices and repeat the exercise.
When you move to the next category of values, compare the top value with the bottom value of the list you just completed. Are they aligned the way that feels best?
As you can see, this exercise can take quite a bit of effort, but the results are invaluable. For me, my life has completely changed. I don't spend time ruminating or doubting my decisions because I know they are made using my authentic values while also considering different priorities of other people. Not all my decisions are easy but at least they now accurately reflect conscious choices.
Prioritizing our values is one of the most important tasks of our life. Not only will you have a greater understanding of what is most important in your life, but you will also have greater understanding and appreciation of value differences amongst the people in your world. Most importantly, you will have created a guide for your life choices and direction.