Values That Matter When They Matter

We hear a lot about values and principles in the general media these days and if you believed everything you read, you might feel that we are not living our lives in the way we should. However, values are simple and they are ours to choose but what are they?

Values are guides to human behavior and they guide the way we approach our lives. In philosophy, values are crucial for ethical decision-making. In psychology, they are the core of what makes a life meaningful, moving away from short-term satisfaction to long-term fulfilment. Abraham Maslow, the groundbreaking psychologist responsible for the hierarchy of needs, also noted that they are an integral part of self-actualization. Values have a drip-down effect. They inform our beliefs, our behaviors, and our choices. Without knowing what your values are, it can be difficult to know what direction to move in. As Stephen Covey said in The 7 Habits:

The most effective way I know to begin with the end in mind is to develop a personal mission statement or philosophy or creed. It focuses on what you want to be (character) and to do (contributions and achievements) and on the values or principles upon which being and doing are based.

Stephen Covey

There is often confusion between values and goals. Goals are aims, values are the principles you use to reach that aim. Goals without values is like trying to drive a car without a steering wheel. Goals without values are meaningless and in my opinion, will only keep us focused on an end and the expectations we place on ourselves often mean that we are constantly striving to meet the impossible or unrealistic standards we set for ourselves. In the end, we often give up our goal because it is too hard, consolidating our thoughts about ourselves in a negative sense.

Values are a different thing and if we find our values, they determine the way we approach, think and behave in all situations we find ourselves in. They are our guide and teacher. They are realistic and even better, they are part of us.

When I ask my clients about values and what they mean to them, the question is often met with confusion or at best given a general answer that might cover many value sets.  “I want to be happy” or  “I want to be loved” are common answers. However, these types of values tend to be too general to have any effect on our daily lives. Also, what happens if you say “I value family” and need to spend a lot of time at work or “I value health” and constantly eat cake? Does this mean giving up on your values? I would say not. Important domains of our lives like family, work and our social lives are areas where we live out our values flexibly depending on the circumstances.

We often feel that our values are in conflict. We often have to make choices about where we put our time and energy and this is mostly about prioritising which value is important in any given moment. Values do not compete with each other but enrich the varied domains of our lives. If you are not sure about what your values are, I have selected a good article here that describes a way of determining what your value set might be.

Exercising Your Values:

Think about a few areas of your life that are important to you from the following list: Family, partner, work, community, self-care, creativity, spirituality, friend circle, personal growth, any other.

  • What do you care most about in these areas?
  • What actions reflect your caring?
  • How could you apply more of your values to these areas?

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.

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