The word ‘values’ can trigger different meanings for different people. Some people will instantly think of valuing their family or their relationship. When I speak of ‘values’, I mean something much more specific.
I mean deep down how do you most want to treat yourself, others, and the world? How do you want to treat your family? What kind of partner do you want to be?
In this definition, values are defined as desired global qualities of ongoing action. They are something that can be done in any moment. For example, loving, kindness, compassion, respect, courage, cooperation, adventure, curiosity are all examples of values.
Values vs. Goals
It is very common to confuse values with goals. One way to look at it is values are in the here and now, goals are in the future. If it is something that can be checked off a list, like getting married, then it is a goal. Being a loving partner would be a value.
What is helpful about this distinction is that we might never reach a certain goal, for example we might never get married. However, we can always connect with our value of being loving, whether that be towards ourselves, others, and the world. Conversely, we may reach our goal of getting married, but not be living by our value of being loving.
If you were going on a road trip your compass is like your values, pointing you in the direction you want to go, whereas goals are the things you do along the way. Values can help guide our goals, and we can reconnect with them in any moment to remind ourselves of the person we truly wish to be. This helps give our life meaning and purpose.
How you want to behave, not how others want you to behave
Values are about how we deep down want to behave, not how we think we should behave, or how the people in our lives want us to behave.
Our values never need to be justified. They are simply preferences, just like we all have different preferences for ice cream flavours. We would never argue that my taste in chocolate ice cream is superior to your taste for strawberry. The same goes for our values.
Values and Pain – The Double Sided Coin
There are many different exercises that can help clarify our values. One simple way is to spend a moment to reflect on what causes you pain. What causes you to be most upset with others, or most upset with yourself? Chances are your values are hidden in there.
Are you upset with yourself when you are short or snap at someone you care about? Perhaps that means you value kindness. Do you not like it when a friend gossips to you about someone in your life? Perhaps you value honesty.
Values and pain are two sides of the same coin.
As psychologist Steve Hayes put it, we hurt where we care, and we care where we hurt. If we cannot turn towards our pain, that means we also cannot turn towards the things that truly matter to us. We lose contact with our values, and by extension lose contact with what gives life meaning and purpose.
Check out this Ted Talk where Steve Hayes goes into how pain and values are intimately connected, and how we cannot have one without the other.