What is driving your life? Are you prioritizing activities based on their urgency, so that you zig-zag randomly from here to there based on the latest fire that needs to be put out, or are you making your decisions guided by what really matters to you? If we aren’t careful, our attention and time can be consumed by the urgent rather than the important, leaving us to discover at some point in the future that we were so busy being busy that our lives weren’t focused on the things most important to us.
The first step, then, is to identify what your values are. I really like to use this set of values here: http://www.motivationalinterviewing.org/sites/default/files/valuescardsort_0.pdf As you will see if you look at the handout, you print off pages with 83 values (plus a couple of blanks for you to add your own if they aren’t in the list). You cut out the little slips of paper and then you categorize them into three categories: not important to me, important to me, or very important to me.
Sounds easy, right? It’s surprisingly challenging because you are likely to find that many of those potential values are ideals that you do believe in. The trick becomes identifying those that are the most important to you. That means you may feel like you are saying some of your other values aren’t actually valued by you. You might feel that way, but that’s not what you’re actually doing. Out of the, for example, 35 values that you identify as important or very important, we’d like to determine the top 5-7 values. If you have more than that in your “very important” pile of values, then you can focus on this stack. Go through the values in the “very important” pile and determine which 5-7 get to stay in that category. The rest get moved to the “important” pile. If you don’t have 5-7 in your “very important” pile, then you can either go with only the couple you have picked out, of you can go through your “important” pile and identify a couple of those which you decide get to move to “very important.”
If you have tried this and you have been unable to narrow your “very important” list of values to 5-7 and you still have 20 values, there is another option: can you group those values into themes? For instance, some values might pertain to quality of life, or health, or the Arts. If you are unable to narrow your individual values down, you might be able to group them into a couple of themes.
Once you have your 5-7 values (or themes), you can start examining your life. Are you making decisions about how you live based on your values? Where are your values showing up in your life? Where are they absent?
Let me give an example to make this a little more concrete. Let’s say I’ve selected the following values: commitment, family, fun, growth, health, and leisure. But when I look at my life, I see that I’m a workaholic. Perhaps it started because I wanted to be a good provider for my family (my values of family and commitment). But now I realize that the kids are growing up quickly and my heavy work schedule is getting between me and family time, time for fun, leisure time, time for exercise, and even time to explore topics that could lead to growth. Yikes! This would be a clear example of my values getting overshadowed by everyday urgent or “important” (important, perhaps, to other people but not necessarily to me) issues. It may have happened so gradually I was unaware of it happening. But now I can see where I’m living by my values and where I’m not, so I can be intentional about how I proceed and what changes I want to make.
Moving forward, as you find yourself in a place where you have to make a decision, you may want to take a moment to examine each possible choice and whether each choice will move you toward your values or away from them.
Sometimes it helps to work with a person to make the changes you identify as needed. I invite you to contact me if you would like me to walk with you on that change journey.