Do you find that you experience unease, boredom with your current state in life, mental dissonance and even unhappiness? There can be a number of reasons why anyone may experience any of these, but the one I want to address, is the lack of clarity on what our personal values are.
I believe that it is impossible for someone to have no personal values at all. Rather, many of us are unclear as to what our values are. Hence the reason we feel out of sync with our true selves when we are placed in certain situations or make certain decisions. When our values are not clearly defined and articulated it can lead to poor choices and decision making, difficulty, restlessness in life and general feelings of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
I was recently confronted with the question of what my personal values are, while listening to an audio book. Yes, reading is life! If like me, you have complained that you simply don’t have the time to read as much as you would like, then try listening to audio books sometimes. You can conveniently listen to them while driving, commuting, working or just relaxing. You can listen to them just about anywhere. I am sure there are many platforms available where you can find both digital and audio books, but I recommend Scribd because it is what I use and it works for me. For $8.99US (approximately $61TT) per month, you have access to a wide selection of books, audio books, magazines, podcasts and more.
Let’s get back to my story. So I am listening to this audio book while driving home from work one evening, which challenged me about what my values are. It felt like someone jolted me. “Uh what? Values?”, I thought. I asked myself the question, but nothing immediately came to mind. “Sure, of course I have values, I just have to figure out what they are”, I said.
We must admit that personal values are not necessarily an everyday conversational topic, though they impact our lives daily. More popular topics, particularly during this time of our existence may be, the number of new Covid19 cases, politics, the economy, wealth, health, success and the like. When last have you been asked about your values. Before that moment I don’t remember when last I was asked about my values, it just has not come up. No wonder I was taken by surprise, and maybe you are too.
So What are Personal Values Anyway?
Authors of the research article, “Personal values in human life” tell us that, values refer to what is good and worthy. Personal values are broad desirable goals that motivate people’s action and serve as guiding principles in their lives. Simply put, your values are those good, worthy and noble things that are most important to you. These are the things which tend to motivate your behavior and attitudes. For instance, if honesty is something that you value, you will not arrive at work at 10am but punch your time card as if you had been there at 8am.
A simply google search can produce a long list of possible personal values, and it may be a worthwhile place to start, when attempting to better understand and clarify what your personal values are. However, personal values are just that, personal! What is of high importance to me certainly may not be of great importance to you. For instance, freedom is high on my list of values and thus displays itself in my need for spontaneity, autonomy and the outdoors. If I am debarred from expressing or honoring this particular aspect of myself, I will likely feel stifled, even caged. However, freedom may not be of great importance to you or even if it is, it may express itself in different ways in your life.
How to Clarify your Values
Maybe you are already clear on what your values are, maybe you are not. If you are not, if you are like me and you have had to ask yourself twice, just know that all is not lost. Maybe you need to redefine your values, because somethings that were once important to you are no longer important. Some values may change as you grow, while others, such as spirituality and strong relationships stay constant.
The best way to determine your values is just to think about it. No one can tell you what your values are or decide them for you, only you determine what they are. Ask yourself, what are the things that are most important to you. Reflect deeply on moments in life when you felt most alive, most satisfied, most fulfilled; moments when you felt most agitated or discomfort or unhappiness. What led to those feelings? Which things that are important to you were being honored or dishonored at those moments, and would have led to those feelings. All of these can help you clarify your values. This process may take you a couple hours, it may take you a day, a few days or even weeks. There is no need to rush, just stick with it until you find the clarity you seek. You can click here to view a list of common values and gain more insight on clarifying your values.
Once you are clear on what your values are then honor them in your daily lives. Let your life and your decisions be guided by those things which are important to you. If you value learning, then read something new every day or take an online course. If you value strong relationships, then engage in activities with those in your life that will strengthen those relationships.
Values and Cognitive Dissonance
When we don’t live our lives in accordance to our values we can experience unease and inner turmoil, even what is referred to in psychology as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance refers to the mental discomfort that results from conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors, and the efforts to find relief from this discomfort and restore balance by altering one or more of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors.
For example, if you value honesty, you would find yourself experiencing great amounts of unease and mental dissonance even anxiety if the company you work for is engaging in dishonest practices, or worse expects you to be less than honest with clients or customers. Maybe you are not in a position to quit or speak up against your company’s dishonesty so you go along with it. In an effort to bring some relief to your cognitive dissonance and restore harmony you tell yourself that you are only going along with it until you can find a new job, or you convince yourself that the dishonest act is not really that dishonest after all. However, by consistently violating your value of honesty you eventually become very unhappy at your job and with yourself, which if persists can lead to many other mental and emotional problems.
Knowing what our values are is one of the steps on the ladder of self-knowledge and self-awareness. Understanding and awareness of how our values shape and impact our lives is a very important path on our journey of growth and development. Growth is a process and author Wintley Phipps advises that it requires deliberate planning. Dare I say that one important step in the planning process is knowing what our values are. Dare I say that every aspect of our lives are ultimately connected to our core values. Dare I say that one of the keys to a happy life and existence is knowing and honoring our core values.
There is only so much I can say on the topic of personal values in these pages. My intention was to get you thinking, to stimulate you to do further investigation and introspection, just as I was inspired to. On that note, I leave you with this question: What are your values?
Thank you for taking time to read this post. I trust you found it inspiring. Until next time, blessings, peace and love! 😊