When your life is in congruence with your “valid values” — the principles you deem as important and desirable — you feel in harmony and balanced. It’s a good idea to check in from time to time to see that you are living your values, whatever they may be.
Living On Purpose
Purpose, it is said, is the reason we do what we do. “The first principle is simply this,” writes Matthew Kelly, “you are here to become the-best-possible-version-of-yourself.” [Kelly] This we might call the Universal Purpose – we all have this as our overall aim.
Another way to state it is that our Purpose is to give our best in Service to the world. But the way we do this is as varied as the people we are. My service is different than yours. This is our unique purpose. And the ways we choose to live out that purpose change as we grow and change.
If purpose is about why we do what we do, then living your values is part of how you achieve your purpose.
Why Live Your Values?
We all value some qualities over others, but we aren’t always aware of what those are. Some people have never taken the time to think about what traits they deem as valuable and what characteristics they value. Fewer still have crafted goals around their values as a way to expressly honor and live out of their values.
When your life is in congruence with your “valid values” — the principles you deem as important and desirable — you feel in harmony and balanced. One of the keys to creating your Excelerated Life™ is to choose your values, then consciously take steps to live them.
What Values Are
Everyone has values, whether they realize them or not, whether they can name them or not. We all value some qualities over others, but we aren’t always aware of what those are. Or we don’t always live out the values we say we have. If you want to know what you value, look at how you spend your time and energy.
Values are principles or qualities that we find worthy and desirable. A value is a feeling, a belief, or a behavior that you are naturally drawn to – principles that you consider necessary to a well-lived life. They represent behaviors and activities that bring us joy, contentment, and feelings of well-being when we engage in them. You could think of values as a pair of glasses through which you view your life and world. Or your values could be a compass that points you in the right direction on your journey . . . if you remember to look at it.
Our values initially came from parents, teachers, and other adults in our young lives. As children, we adopted the values of these influential adults. We saw the way our parents lived and we adopted those values. We observed what behaviors our teachers and other authority figures rewarded and the behaviors they punished. We were immersed in our local culture and absorbed values from there.
We incorporated the values we encountered in these various ways without thinking about them too much. And some of us still hold those values we learned in childhood, never stopping to consciously decide which ones are serving us and which ones may not be that helpful in our current conditions. Or we may still live according to some of those values, but we have likely acquired other values as well. Therefore, it is often helpful to study or review what values we are living out through our behavior.
What Values Are Not
A value is not a want or need. A need is something you must have in order to survive and thrive. (Food, clothing, and shelter are the big 3.) A want is something you acquire or experience with the idea of fulfillment (to a lesser or greater degree).
A value is a feeling, a belief, and a behavior that you are naturally drawn to – principles that you regard as necessary to a well-lived life. Values are intrinsically neither “good” nor “bad” but some can serve you individually better than others and some will appeal to you more than others.
What Living Your Values Doesn’t Do
Living from your values does not remove all obstacles from your path but it does give you a sense of how to deal with them.
If you are feeling frustrated, if you are struggling, if things just aren’t going your way, check in to see if you are truly honoring your highest values. Honoring your values doesn’t mean that your goals and aspirations won’t take hard work, but the struggle is removed.
What Living Your Values Does
You and I are the builders of our lives, adding one day to another to create a life. When we live according to our deepest values, we build a quality life.
If we don’t know what our values are or we ignore them, we risk being less than we are capable of being, to our own detriment. But when you align your life goals with your top priority values – your Valid Values – your life becomes more fulfilled.
How might your life be different if you consciously chose your values and then deliberately took actions that honored them?
Benefits of Living Your Values
There are a number of benefits to choosing the values you want.
You begin to live on purpose. You are clear on what that is and you can choose to live in ways that reflect it. You can use this knowledge to guide your behavior. [6 Steps]
Another benefit is that knowing your values helps in decision-making. When you are faced with a choice, you know what matters to you. [6 Steps] You may also experience increased confidence and a feeling of stability. You know what you want and you know what’s important to you. [6 Steps]
If you consciously choose your values, then rely on them when you set goals, make plans, consider opportunities, and interact with others, you are building a solid foundation on which to create your life.
Drawbacks of Living Your Values
Defining your Valid Values is not a one-and-done exercise. Recognize that your values are subject to change.
As you move through life, you change and your values may change. For example, when you start your career, success – measured by money and status – might be a top priority. But after you have a family, work-life balance may be what you value more.
As your life circumstances change, as you gain different experiences, as you mature, your values most likely will change . . . as they probably should. Thinking from time to time about the things you value highest helps you stay true to them, even as they change.
What To Do
First, be aware that, in order to make it possible to live from your Valid Values, you must have ample reserves of resources (material, psychological, spiritual) and be in the process of having your most basic needs met. If you worry about not having “enough” or if you have unmet needs, you will find it difficult to live out of your values.
You can choose to live out of your Valid Values, but you must do so with intention. If you feel you could do more to live out your values, try this exercise:
- What are your Valid Values? Before you can live them, you must identify them.
• Write down your top 10 values, those things that are most important to you to be or do.
• Once you have 10, go through the list and pick the 5 that are most important.
• Take some time with this – play with them until you find the ones that resonate with you, that “feel right”.
- For each of your 5 Valid Values, ask “How well am I expressing this value in my life?”
• Write down five specific ways you are honoring this value.
- For each of your 5 Valid Values, ask:
• How am I not expressing this value in my life?
• What am I doing that restricts and suppresses my efforts to live this value?
• Write down five specific things that do not honor this value.
- For each of your 5 Valid Values:
• List 3 changes you can make to more fully honor and express this value.
Then, to act according to your values and not your feelings, put behavior, identity, and feelings in the right order.
In his book, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, Eric Greitens, former Navy Seal and Rhodes scholar, says that most of us behave based on how we feel in the moment. These behaviors then determine how we see ourselves, our identity. “I got up this morning and had a great workout. I am rockin’ it!” Or: “I didn’t feel like getting up and working out this morning. I guess I’m just a lazy lout!”
Eric’s brilliant, mind-opening idea is this. When we follow this pattern: feelings -> behavior -> identity, we have it backward. A more mature and helpful model is this: identity -> behavior -> feelings. We decide on the person we want to become, act according to that identity, and let our feelings rise from those actions.
Act according to your values, not your feelings. To live your values, determine what they are and let your actions come from them. Remember our model: Identity/Values->Actions->Feelings NOT Feelings->Actions->Identity/Values.
Finally, sometimes the choice in a given situation is between two of your Valid Values. That’s why it’s good to prioritize your list of values so you know what your most important value is, your next most important, and so forth.
How To Do It
The Valid Values Excelerator is an extensive exercise that leads you through the steps of identifying your values, then gradually narrowing the selection until you have your top four or five – your Valid Values. Then you look at where you are expressing these values in your life and where you may not be expressing them and the results this is having for you.
The Excelerator JumpStart – Excelerated Values™ contains steps you can take right now to begin defining and living out your Valid Values. These are short, quick actions intended to give you a jump start for this step in creating your Excelerated Life.
Here is an exercise to turn your values into behaviors. [Sands] List your Valid Values in priority order, then write three short sentences that describe behaviors that demonstrate the value. As an example, here are my top 3 Valid Values and behaviors that help me live them out.
o I do what I say I will do.
o My word is my bond.
o I live in congruence with my Valid Values.
- Family well-being
o I give my family unconditional love.
o I provide and care for my family.
o I make time to listen and connect with my family.
- Health + vitality
o I get 7 or more hours of sleep each night.
o I aim for 20+ minutes of exercise twice a day.
o I eat mostly whole foods and avoid sugar.
The more closely aligned your life and work are with your values, the more fulfilled and happy you will be. The more you live out your values, the more authentic your life is, and the more you begin living the dream. Pick one of your valid values and craft a project to fulfill that value.
For example, let’s say one of your valid values is “helping others”. You could begin volunteering at a local agency such as a soup kitchen, United Ministries, or any of the many other organizations that offer various services. Or you could choose to do an act of kindness for another person every day.
Or maybe you have “empowerment” as a value. You could delegate some tasks to an employee or one of your children that will help them stretch and grow. Give them the authority as well as the responsibility to achieve the task. Or you could empower yourself by realizing that you are responsible for your own __________ (happiness, growth, life, you-name-it) and taking steps to make that happen. What you do to honor and live into your value is less important than the fact that you do something to live your valid values.
What Not To Do
Don’t be a “feeler”, doing things only when you “feel” like it. A practice of the Excelerated Life™ is to act on principles and values, not on feelings. One way we do this is to become a “doer” and not a “feeler”. [Chandler]
A Doer accomplishes the things she has set out to do, regardless of how she feels. The Feeler only does things when she feels like it. The Doer, as Dr. Stephen Covey writes in The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, is proactive. The Feeler is reactive.
“The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person,” writes Dr. Covey. “Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values — carefully thought about, selected and internalized values.” [Covey]
When you don’t know or don’t think about your values as you set goals, make plans, etc., you risk having the life you are building come crashing down when a problem or crisis strikes. Even if there isn’t a catastrophe, it’s doubtful you will flourish and thrive if you don’t have a solid foundation upon which to build your life. But simply knowing your values isn’t enough to bring inner peace. You must live out your values in the things you choose to do, the people you choose to be with, and the way you choose to spend your time. As you look at your life today, does it reflect your governing values? If it does not, you need to begin closing the gap.
When You Are Not Living Your Values
Sometimes, we get so caught up in the busyness of living that we fail to honor our Valid Values — the values that are important to us. When this happens, we feel disconnected from our lives, harried, and unfulfilled.
When it comes to living from our values, you and I find ourselves in one of these categories: [Tilford]
- We don’t know what our values are. In this case, life lacks meaning and fulfillment. We feel aimless, like a balloon floating on the wind.
- We know what we value, but our life does not currently reflect that. This can lead to feelings of incongruence as we see a gap between where we are and where we want to be.
- We think we know what our values are, but in reality, we are living according to values we have picked up from our parents, other authority figures, or our society. So, we try to live the way we think we should live, not in ways that reflect the values that are truly important to us.
- We know what we value and we live to the best of our capabilities in ways that honor our values.
When you live in accordance with your Valid Values, your life is harmonious and balanced, so:
- if you are feeling out of touch or disconnected, you may not be living from your values.
- if your actions are based primarily on how you feel, you may not be living from your values.
- if you often find yourself in reactive mode, you may not be living from your values.
If we don’t know what our values are, or if we ignore them, we risk being less than we are capable of, to our own detriment. If you are frustrated, if you are struggling, if things just aren’t going your way, check in to see if you are truly honoring your highest values.
When You Are Living Your Values
What values do you live by? Note that I didn’t ask what values you say are important to you . . . but what values do you show are important to you by how you live them out? Sometimes the values you think are important and the values you are actually living are not the same.
How would your life be different if you chose the values you live by? What if you went through an exercise to examine and choose values that you want to live out? What new meanings might you discover? How would knowing your values help you in deciding on the best behavior in a specific situation?
Once you find it, your true purpose does not change. The things that are important to you may change over time and so will your values. Therefore, the way you live out your purpose can and will change if you are growing and changing.
You and I are builders, adding one day to another to create a life. When we live according to our deepest values, we build a quality life. As Viktor Frankl said, it is not we who should ask “What is the meaning of life?” Life asks the question and we answer by how we live. [Frankl] When you strengthen your values, you are living authentically in congruence with what matters most to you. You are bringing meaning to your life.
We Have a Choice
The more you live from your true values, the greater meaning your life has for you, and the more successful you are. As you strengthen your values, you feel you are being true to yourself and genuine with others.
There is a space between what happens to us and how we respond. And in that space, we have a choice. We can react based on our feelings in the moment, or we can respond based on our values and our identities. When we choose the latter, obstacles and problems become learning moments. We grow stronger from meeting the challenges. We win or we learn. Now we are defining and living our Valid Values, our Excelerated Values™! And that is one step in embracing your Excelerated Life™!
Do you feel your values reflect your purpose?
In not, what step could you take today to bring them into alignment?
Share your experience by leaving a comment below.
Excelerated Values™ – defining and living your Valid Values – is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.
“6 Steps to Discover Your Core Values.” Indeed Career Development. Indeed, December 12, 2019. Web. June 23, 2020.
Chandler, Steve. “Doing Something or Feeling Something?”.”The Small Business Advocate”. Small Business Network, Inc, 10 April 2011. Web. 01 Oct. 2018. https://www.smallbusinessadvocate.com/small-business-article/doing-something-or-feeling-something-2494
Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits Of Highly Successful People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989
Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search For Meaning Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1959.
Greitens, Eric. Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom For Living A Better Life. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2015.
Kelly, Matthew. Off Balance: Getting Beyond The Work-Life Balance Myth To Personal And Professional Satisfaction. New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2011.
Sands, Ben. “How To Discover Your Personal Core Values (And Why You Must!).” Sands Leadership. Sands Leadership, . Web. June 23, 2020.
Tilford, Catherine. “Knowing Your Values: Why It’s Important.” Embrace Strength Counseling. Embrace Strength Counseling, Inc., June 29, 2012. Web. November 14, 2020.