Quite Tough

The main benefit of knowing and understanding our system of values is that we will gain tremendous clarity and focus, but ultimately we must use this newfound clarity to make accountable choices, take responsible decisions and undertake committed action. So the key point of discovering our values, is to improve the outcomes that we obtain in those areas that are truly most important to us. In essence, values are priorities that “tells” us how to spend our time… right here, right now. There are two key reasons why priorities are important for our lives…

  1. Time currently is our most limited resource and time does not renew itself. Once we spend a day, it’s gone forever. When we waste that day by investing our time in actions that don’t produce the results that we desire, that loss is permanent. We can earn more money, improve our physical bodies and repair broken relationships, but we cannot redo yesterday. If we all had infinite time to our disposal, then values and priorities would be kind of irrelevant. But at least here on earth, we are mortal with limited life spans and when we value our mortal lives, then it’s just logical to invest our time wisely and as best we can. We’re free to decide what “best” means for each of us. The very idea that some possible permutations of our life appeal to us more than others, means that knowing our values will be of great benefit to us. However, if any life we might live is as good as any otherWhether… prince or pauper, Olympian or obese, saint or sinner, …etc. to us, don't waste time your efforts to prioritizing your values… because it will be of little use to you. But, it - certainly - will be worth your while when you can envision a life that are more preferable to you than others.
  2. As human beings we tend to be fairly inconsistent in how we invest our time and energy. We are easily distracted. It’s easy for us to fall into the trap of following dogmas and/or living by different priorities every day. One day we exercise; the next day we slack off. One day we work productively; the next day we’re stricken with a bout of procrastination. When we don’t consciously use our priorities (i.e. values) to stick to a clear and consistent course in life, we’ll naturally drift off course and shift all over the place, especially when the winds of change start blowing. This kind of living - much sooner than later - yields poor results. Imagine a ship without a rudder,Healthy GPS, robust belief system and directive vision, mission, value and legacy statements. that just went wherever the wind took it… who knows where it would eventually land? And the journey itself would likely be quite stressful and uncertain.

To consciously know and live by our values are essential. Values act as our compass to put us back on course every single day, so that day after day, we’re moving in the direction that takes us closer and closer to our definition of the “best” life we could possibly live. The “best” is our own-personal ideal, but generally as we get closer to this ideal, we’ll experience increasingly positive shades of “better” even when we never reach “best.” And this makes sense, because many results in life exist on a continuum.A continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, but the extremes are quite distinct. Obviously there are some discrete entities such as being married or not married, but our health, financial status, relationship intimacy and level of happiness are generally continuous, implying that they can gradually get better or worse. It just seem reasonable that more health, happiness, wealth, intimacy, inner peace, love, …etc. is better than less. Mainly because, our time is limited, and it takes time to move along the continuum through the various “betters,” we usually cannot instantly achieve the state of “best.”

Extracting values

To create and compile our own personal values hierarchy is a time consuming process, shouldn't be rushed and it will require our concentrated attention and effort. Extracting our personal values is hard work that requires plenty of time and effort, but - in the end - it’s really worth it.

The question to ask yourself is this… What in life is truly important for me?

First, brainstorm a list of your values when you answers the above question. Try to reduce your value list to a single word or two that encapsulates the essence of each answer. For example… when one of your answers is, “having a successful career”, then you could reduce that to the value of “success”. To make this exercise more constructive, you could reference a list of values that you can use as a guide to help build your own personal list of values. For the moment, don’t worry about the order of your list yet, or how long it is. Just get everything down in writing. For example… you might end up with a list that contains the following values…

  • Love
  • Health
  • Wealth
  • Comfort
  • Fun
  • Happiness
  • Success
  • Learning
  • Peace
  • Intimacy
  • Adventure
  • Security

There’s no rule or regulation for how long your list of values should be, but it is strongly advised not to compile a list of more than 10-15 essential values. More than 10-15 values - in general - might complicate and frustrate you more than providing direction in life, your choices and decisions. When your have more than this, consider dropping the marginal values that just barely made your list in the first place, or combine multiple values that are nearly identical on a single line, such as achievement/accomplishment, for instance.

Prioritizing values

We have to prioritize our list of values. This usually is the most time consuming and difficult step when compiling our list of values, because it requires critical questioning and thinking.

A possible method to prioritize your values list is to identify the top value, then the second highest value, and so on until you’ve rebuilt the whole list in order of priority from the top to bottom. You might begin by asking yourself these or similar questions…

  • Which of these values is truly the most important for me in life?
  • If I could only satisfy or live by one of these values, which one would it be?

The answer to this questions is your number one value. Then move down the list and ask which remaining value is the next most important for you, and so on, until you’ve sorted the whole value list in priority order.

Sometimes the highest priority value will be quite obvious to you. Other times you’ll have it narrowed down to a few choices, but still have a hard time figuring out which one is really the most important among those. When this happens, imagine a scenario for each value, and then compare those scenarios with one another. For example… when you’re trying to decide which is more important for you… learning or peace, then ask yourself… “Which would I rather do, read a book or meditate?” This example assumes that reading a book would satisfy your value of learning and that meditating would satisfy your value of peace, each to roughly the same degree. When you create scenarios for the tough-to-prioritize values, the best ordering of your values usually becomes much clearer.

For instance, let's assume that your sorted list (using the list example above) looks something like this…

  1. Peace
  2. Love
  3. Intimacy
  4. Security
  5. Comfort
  6. Happiness
  7. Fun
  8. Health
  9. Learning
  10. Adventure
  11. Wealth
  12. Success

What can we deduct about this person? When we know an individual’s values hierarchy and priorities, we should have a fair chance of understanding and predicting his/her behavior. Providing that this individual lives true to his/her values, s/he will lead a life focused on peace, love and intimacy above all else. His/her relationships (both with herself and others) will be extremely important to him/her, and s/he would almost never put a career, success and money above his/her family.

On the other hand, let’s assume that you have prioritized your list of values in the exact opposite order…

  1. Success
  2. Wealth
  3. Adventure
  4. Learning
  5. Health
  6. Fun
  7. Happiness
  8. Comfort
  9. Security
  10. Intimacy
  11. Love
  12. Peace

What kind of person is this? Now we have someone who’s probably is very career-oriented, perhaps an entrepreneur or businessman/women. S/he will lead a very different life than the individual with peace as his/her top value. Succeeding and becoming rich is more important to this individual than personal relationships, so when s/he has a choice between advancing in his/her career or going on a family vacation, s/he will almost always put his/her career first.

When comparing the above prioritized value lists, it is quite obvious that this is indeed a very difficult and challenging process. These are not easy decisions to make. When a value appears on your list, then it’s definitely important to you. By prioritizing your values consciously, you’ll be able to rely on them when you need to take important decisions. If you know what is truly most important to you in life… is to experience inner contentment and peace, and then it will be much easier for you to say no to those things and circumstances that might take you away from that contentment and peace.

Now that you have your own personal value hierarchy worked out, it may seem like you’ve just unlocked something very important. Yes, you did! However, when your list of values are based on the values and priorities that have previously been conditioned into you by your upbringing, education and by society, such a list of values is actually worthless - even self-destructive - to you as a unique individual and your ability to live a life of development, growth and fulfillment. Such an indoctrinated/conditioned value list merely allows you to follow a path in life of derailments and stagnation's, which is barely manageable by using a combination of self-created and sustained psyche traps and barriers.

Reexamining current values

We don’t have to continue living by the same values for the rest of our life's. We can consciously change our values – even radically - when desired or needed. Nothing is stopping us to go from a person who values peace most highly to one whose top priority is success, or vice versa. We are not our values. We are the thinker of our thoughts, but we are not the thoughts themselves. Our values are our current compass, but they ain't the real “me”. Is it really possible that we can consciously change our values? Yes, it is possible. But we need to tackle the following question first… Why would one ever want to change one's values?

We may want to change our values, when we realize, understand and accept where our values are presently taking us, and we also realize that what we value right now, will not enable us to enjoy the “best” possible life for us. Our “best” life is our vision of all the possible destinations that we wish to reach. But our values are just a measure of the current direction we’re headed right now. And in most instances these two things are incongruent, implying that our current values are not always aligned with the course of our “best life”-vision.

Please spend a moment - right now - to grasp and understand what this really means for you personally. When we keep living by our current values, then we can expect to get similar results to what we are already obtaining, possibly slightly better, when we live our values more consciously. But it is most likely that there is some part of us that isn’t satisfied with where we will end up if we keep following this same course. For example… Will we never experience an intimate, loving relationship? Will we never have children? Will we never become wealthy? Will we never develop an outstandingly energetic physical body? Will we never travel around the world? Will we never be able to help our favorite cause? Will we never feel that we’re living in total synchronicity with our spiritual beliefs? What if all these “nevers” could suddenly become possible for us? How can we possibly achieve it?… They can become possible for us when we shift and realign our values. And here’s the key: We don’t need to maintain the same set/list of values throughout our entire life's. We can change (i.e. reexamine) them as often as we like.

When we either adapt, change, tweak or re-prioritize our current list of values and consciously act on it, we change our behavior and therefore our eventual performance results. This is something that can lead us to incredible new experiences. For example… if your top value is health, and you’re already in outstanding physical condition, what would happen when you changed your top value to wealth? You would cut back on your workouts for a while and invest more time, energy and effort into becoming wealthy. Your investment in health would slide a little - but in the short-term - it probably won’t make much of a difference. Health may still be one of your top values, but it just isn’t number one anymore. By focusing intently on your new top value of wealth, you eventually succeed in becoming wealthy. But eventually, as you become very wealthy, making more and more money beyond a certain point may no longer serve you well. Now you may decide to shift your top value to compassion, so you go out and use your healthy and wealthy self to compassionately help other people. Through this process of consciously shifting your values, you’ve changed from a gym rat… to an entrepreneur… to a philanthropist. You live an amazing life. But when you always maintain your original values, you will only experience being a gym rat for your entire life. And most of your true potential would remain untapped.

Living our values

How can we truly live our values?

We follow a very similar process of listing and prioritizing, but now we do it with specific objectives.A goal is the focus of our ambition or envisioned end destination, that is an aim for our personal growth in life or desired result. Objectives are various “stepping-stones” which are aimed at or sought to manifest our goals of life. No need to repeat the process in much detail again, because it’s exactly the same as creating and prioritizing our list of values, the only difference is that we repeat the above steps with our formulated objectives as corresponding with our goalsA goal is the focus of our ambition or envisioned end destination, that is an aim for our personal growth in life or desired result. Objectives are various “stepping-stones” which are aimed at or sought to manifest our goals of life. (i.e. our priority values). Here’s a sample objective list…

  • Reduce weight to 150 pounds - objective for health value.
  • Become a millionaire - objective for wealth value.
  • Move to Cape Town - objective for happiness value.
  • Become a real estate investor - objective for success value.
  • Travel through every country in Europe - objective for adventure value.
  • Fall in love and get married - objective for love & intimacy values.
  • Give a speech in front of 5000 people - objective for learning value.
  • Go skydiving - objective for adventure value.
  • Get a part in a movie - objective for fun value.
  • Visit the moon - objective for adventure value.
  • Run a marathon - objective for health value.

Again, write out your objectives. Decide which ones are truly most important to you at the present moment. Prioritize them. In this case it’s fine if you have more than 10-15 objectives. More than 100 is even OK… it will just take much longer to prioritize and - please - keep in mind that the idea is to achieve, not to continuously prioritize, re-prioritize objectives. Thus, limit your objectives to the number that can be accommodated comfortably within your SDS-strategy.

These objectives represent the experiences that you feel are part of the “best” life you could live. Now do you realize the problem with having a static list of values throughout your entire life? How is a static single list of values going to allow you achieve your life goal? The values that will make you a millionaire probably aren’t the same ones that will get you married. And the values that will send you skydiving aren’t the ones that will help you become a real estate investor. At some point in your life, you’ll need to focus intently on one of these objectives, while letting the others slide for a bit.

When you fail to focus your energy on the goals that are truly important to you now in order to seize your current window of opportunity, some of them will silently slip away - like most new year resolutions - and that in the long run is a heavy price to pay. You may succeed in your career and never get married. Or you may get married, but never enjoy a state of physical fitness. Think back to the big, meaningful objectives/goals that you’ve already accomplished. Didn’t you have to go through a period, where achieving that goal became your top priority for a while? And in the process, you (probably unconsciously) tweaked your values to accommodate that objective or goal.

When we have our objective hierarchy, select the top one or two objectives, and consciously devise a strategy that will lead you to achieve them. Let’s say your objectives list is prioritized as above, so your #1 goal is to reduce your weight to 150 pounds. To achieve this goal, you might make health your #1 value. Then you might make self-discipline our #2 value, so you’ll stick to your diet and exercise program. And then learning might become your #3 value, so you spend time educating yourself about proper diet and nutrition. You must design these values based on your own personal circumstances (i.e. context). Like any skill this takes lots of practice, but over time we’ll become more efficient at relating and synchronizing our objectives to manifest our values. Whenever we achieve a major objective, that’s a good time to select a new objective and update our values list to accommodate it. Once you’ve run the marathon, if you feel ready to move onto something else - like becoming a millionaire - then you can knock health down a few notches and go into maintenance mode there, while you push values like wealth, success and courage to the top of your list to help you meet the next challenge.

Applying values to make choices & take decisions

Once we know and understand our personal values, we can consult them whenever we need to make a primary choice and/or to take a key decision. For example… Should you accept the new job you’ve been offered? Should you pursue a new relationship now? How much time should you spend with your family? These can be tough and challenging choices and decisions without a clear right or wrong answer. Another complication is that we might prefer to answer these questions differently in different phases of our life's.

Our values list provides a sure way for making these decisions responsibly and accountably. When we’re confronted with such a decision, we can “pull out” our list of values and reaffirm the prioritization of our current values. Then we can ask ourselves… “What would a person with these values choose to do in this situation and under these circumstances?” It’s usually the prioritization of our values that will provide an answer to this question.

As an example… when you’re offered a job promotion that will shift your work weeks from 40 hours to 60 hours, but double your salary, should you take it? If values like success and achievement are at the top of your value list, you’ll probably say yes. When freedom and family are at the top, you’ll likely decline the promotion. By clarifying your values, you’ve already done most of the hard thinking required to discover what’s most important to you. So now when you’re confronted with such decisions, you’re able to reduce them to a values comparison, and the final decision falls “automatically” into place. If the promotion equates to increased success, but reduced peace in your mind, then you can compare those values to determine whether it’s a good idea or not. Your goal is to increase your fulfillment of your highest values… without sacrificing any of them to lower values.

Keep in mind that this is only one of the many different paradigms for making decisions. As such it has its limitations depending on the obstacle context, but more often than not it brings more clarity to our decision-making, especially when serving as the foundation of our minimum standards.

Achieving Alignment

Whenever our values shift, we may find that it becomes necessary to realign various aspects of our life's to calibrate it to a state of harmony with our “new and/or re-prioritized” values. For example… If success is your #1 personal value, then it will be important for you to experience it in abundance. Success for you may equate to a successful career, a high income, a fulfilling relationship and a healthy body. Thus, we need to ask ourselves which aspects of our life's are misaligned with our top values and consider means and strategies on how to bring them into full alignment.

When we notice and experience a misalignment - between our reality and our values - we have basically only two options to restore value alignment. We can…

  1. adapt, change or tweak the situation or circumstances to restore alignment. For example… When health is your top value and you realize you’ve been keeping too much junk food in your house, you could modify your kitchen to fit your new health value, such as phasing out the junk and restocking it with healthier choices.
  2. remove ourselves from the situation and start fresh to create alignment from scratch. For example… If you find yourself in a relationship where you definitely want to have children and your significant otherWho might be your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. definitely don’t want any children, you can choose to break up and seek out a more compatible relationship.

Thus, whenever we encounter a misalignment, we can - when possible - either adapt the circumstances to restore alignment, or we can remove ourselves from the situation or circumstances and start fresh.

The third alternative - of continuing to live with the misalignment - when “nothing can be done” about it, actually isn't a viable alternative at all, because this would mean to live without integrity to our values and a sure way to get stuck in life. An example would be choosing to remain in an abusive relationship out of misplaced loyalty. Living with misalignment for too long often results in serious negative consequences, such as chronic depression or complete burnout.

Whenever our values change, it’s essential to review the various areas of our life's to make sure that its properly aligned with the kind of person we truly believe that we are. For example… If we're in a relationship, is it compatible with our values? If we work for a company, are its perceived values compatible with ours? When there’s a misalignment, then it’s time to make changes either by adapting too or by getting out.

Adapting our current values

Important to realize and understand is that we frequently have to UPDATE our current list of values, as frequently as needed, but at least once a year. Generally most people tend to do a personal value check and update at the end of the old or the beginning of a new year. The so called new year resolutions, that isn't taken seriously by most people making them, and - normally - probably last for only a month or three. These lists of values do not represent our overall global life values (i.e. our ethics and legacy statement). What they represent is merely what we consciously want to focus on for the next couple of months. They serve as a compass, helping us to decide which way to go whenever we need to take key decisions. Our selected list of values serve the purpose of sharpening our short-range focus, so that we can end up where we want to be in six months to a years from now. Once we reach that milestone, we usually need a different structures list of values to reach the next one.

At some point in our life's we will encounter a situation that forces us to reassess and reexamine our current values. For example… Maybe a close friend dies, a major illness hits you, or you begin a new relationship, and consequently, you gain a new perspective on what’s truly most important to you. This is to be expected as we grow older and have new experiences. Suddenly our values list doesn’t seem to be an accurate representation of the “real me”. We’ve changed too much. So it’s time to reassess and reexamine our values and create a new and prioritized list of values. Depending on how fast-paced our life's is and how much change we experience, we may need to update our values every few months, or our values may go relatively unchanged for years, when our life's is slow-paced.

The Ultimate Alignment

The ultimate goal of living our values is to eventually bring them into alignment with universal laws. As we experience living with different sets of values, we’ll learn what’s truly important to us. Our values may shift a great deal at first, as we set new goals and have new experiences, but eventually our values will begin to converge.

Our values are our current estimations of the truth. They represent our answer to the question of how to live. Some sets of values will fail to produce the results we desire. It may leave us feeling restless and unfulfilled. Other sets of values bring us closer to a feeling of congruence. When we act with integrity to values that are themselves aligned with universal laws, we obtain the best possible results.

This process of alignment is similar to how scientists try to discover a mathematical formula to explain natural phenomena. Isaac Newton’s famous F = ma law was an approximation of reality. But it was inaccurate at relativistic speeds, and eventually Albert Einstein provided a more accurate formula. Just as the physical universe is the source for hypothetical physical laws, creation will also provide feedback to let us know how closely our values align with reality.

The process of discovery in this case is still experiential, but it can’t be measured as scientifically as gravity. The scientific method requires that an experiment be repeatable under the same conditions, but human problems and experiences never duplicate the exact same conditions. Once we make a one-time decision in our career or our relationships, we never face that exact same decision with identical conditions again. Since we cannot apply the scientific method to such situations, the best we can do is to try to classify events according to observable patterns we’ve previously experienced. What this actually implies is that the process of values clarification is inherently messy and inexact. It’s also a uniquely individual experience. We cannot prove that one set of values is any better or worse than any another, but we can begin to notice patterns over time, and these patterns can help guiding us in the direction of universal laws.

The existence of universal laws cannot be proven. However, as we live with different sets of values long enough and gain enough experience, we will start to see that there are certain values which outperform others in certain areas, hinting at the possibility that there may exist a true principle that works universally for everyone.

An example of a possible universal principle is that of fairness… When you align yourself with the value of fairness and live with integrity to it, you will likely find that it works extremely well. Fairness means that you treat everyone you encounter as a person of equal value to yourself… no more, no less. Imagine having to design your own system for running a company or a country, not knowing in advance what role you’d play after it was launched. It seems reasonable that you would design that system with fairness for all participants as the highest priority.

When your values are misaligned with the value of fairness, you will find that your results suffer. If you are unfair in your relationships or your business dealings, others will recognize and adapt to your unfairness, making it harder for you to even achieve a reasonable outcome when you want it. They may even warn others in advance of your behavior to make it harder for you to get anything done by delegating to others. So your effectiveness grows weaker the longer the misalignment exists. But when you build a reputation for fairness in all of your dealings, you will maintain strong levels of trust with others, and that will make it easier to elicit cooperation the co-operation of other people.

The ultimate goal of living and refining our values is to identify and achieve congruence with universal laws. Then our model of reality (i.e. umwelt) finally matches reality itself, and in the long run our actions will consistently produce the best possible outcomes. This isn’t just an individual journey either… it’s one that all of humanity is experiencing with each passing century. Social creations like democracy, slavery or capital punishment can be seen as part of an ongoing process of collective values clarification.

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  • Last modified: 18 September, 2018 @ 5:42pm
  • by Jan Viljoen