by Paula Quinsee, Relationship Expert and Author
Values are our moral compass, they guide us each day in our thoughts, actions, behavior and decision making. We use our values in every area of our life such as our goals, relationships, decisions, the workplace, leadership and more. They serve as the tick boxes against which we mentally reference ourselves as to making the right decisions and choices based on the situation we are facing at that time.
We generally have up to 10 values, however our core values will consist of those values that we feel strongest about and use to define ourselves by when it comes to our thoughts, actions, decisions and behavior. What we don’t realize is that our values are not cast in stone and can change as we develop, grow and evolve over time and the life stage we are at. For example, the values of a carefree youth backpacking around the world will be very different to the values of a person who is in their mid-30s, has a family and is establishing their career.
What we regularly fail to do is check in on ourselves and where our values are at assuming that they will always remain a constant. This is not the case and often this reality check comes about as a life-changing experience or event that makes us sit up and reflect on our lives and our journey to date.
If you have been exposed to the work of Tony Robbins, then you may know that he uses the term ‘personal rules’ and this includes what he calls our ‘towards’ values and ‘away’ values. Our ‘towards’ values are the values or emotions we strive towards feeling and experiencing and are pleasurable (e.g loved, appreciated, honesty etc) whilst our ‘away’ values are the emotions we strive to avoid feeling and experiencing and are painful (e.g. unworthy, unappreciated, dishonest).
Our values will always be reflected in our actions and behavior hence the cliché ‘actions speak louder than words’. When we are not living our values it’s often experienced as that little voice in our head or ‘the devil on our shoulder’ that we dismiss because we are not consciously paying attention to it. When things go right in our world, we are living our values, we find ourselves in a positive and pleasurable space, we are living our truth, feeling authentic, happy and fulfilled with life. When things go wrong in our world, we feel the opposite, we find ourselves in a painful state, a state of turmoil, anxiety, stress and distress. In other words we are not living our values.
There are times when we are not living our values even though we consciously and intentionally don’t mean to for example: if one of your values is honesty, you will strive to be honest in all areas of your life, but there are times when we tell “little white lies” because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, we’re afraid of the reaction we might get or the consequences of being honest might have. In this very moment, we are not being honest and therefore are not living our values.
When it comes to values, we also need to check what references and symbolisms we attach to our values as they can often be contradictory for example: if one of your core values is security and stability, you may symbolize or associate this through money. You may be saying you want security and stability but you are measuring it by the things money can give you i.e. a nice house, car, expensive holidays. Money will give you material things that you could perceive as being stable but this may not align with you wanting to feel emotionally stable and this will be reflected in your relationships i.e. you may feel you cannot rely on, depend on or trust anyone so you are unable to sustain a relationship.
It is key to our own wellbeing and of those around us to be conscious and aware of when we are living up to our values and when we are not, and what conditions we are attaching to our values as there can often be a disconnect which can cause conflict.
Our values constantly give us feedback and information as to when something is out of sync or doesn’t align to our moral compass, in other words when we compromise ourselves for example: if you want to avoid feeling rejected, your actions and behaviour will do everything to avoid experiencing this feeling and you could portray this by being overly generous, nice and always helping others. But often at the cost of your own emotional needs, wants and feelings.
We also attach conditions to our values and emotions for example: we do things to feel accepted and loved (e.g. being overly generous) yet internally we don’t believe we are worthy of or deserve to be loved. So while we may get the external response from others (someone say’s ‘well done you did a great job’), internally we don’t really believe it so we dismiss or downplay their words and compliments.
I was working with a client not so long ago who said one of his core values was family yet when we unpacked it to clarify if this was the case, he realized that he was not living up to this values. He came home late most nights when his children were already asleep and on the weekends he played golf therefore spending very little time with his family. Upon discussing it, he had a choice to either change his value or change his behaviour to reflect his value which is what he chose to do. He chose to come home earlier one night a week to have supper with his family and spend time with his children before bedtime and on the weekends he chose to play golf one of the days whilst the other day they spent doing things together as a family.
So it’s important that we constantly check in with our values as they change throughout our lifetime based on the life stage we are at. It’s important to understand what symbolisms, references and conditions we are attaching to our values and when we are living up to our values vs. when we are not.
If you are unsure of your values, there is a great online exercise by Dr Demartini you can use which comprises 13 questions and will guide you to discovering what your core values are.
Paula Quinsee is a Relationship Expert, Tedx speaker and author of the self-help guide Embracing Conflict. Paula is also a consultant to the TV show ‘Married at First Sight SA’. She works with individuals and organizations to cultivate healthy relationships in both personal and professional arenas by focusing on real skills and personal growth and development. Go to www.paulaquinsee.com for more info.
More articles by Paula