Whether you want to find your ideal career, build healthy relationships or simply live a more fulfilling life, life coaches and psychologists are pretty unanimous that understanding – and living by – your personal values is crucial.
It sounds simple, but in the busy-ness of life it’s easy to forget our values and find ourselves floundering in a job, relationship or personal situation that just doesn’t sit quite right.
So how can we get clear on the values that mean most to us, and start living more in line with what’s truly important?
What are values?
Our values are broadly defined as the beliefs and attitudes that guide our behaviour and decision-making.
Everybody’s values are different. It could be anything from being kind to prioritising health to seeking adventure to living in line with your spirituality.
“Examples of values include honesty, independence, creativity and love,” says Medibank psychologist Emily Toner.
“These might be different to the values that are shared by your family, community or culture.”
Experts suggest that most people have around five to seven key values that they wish to align their life with, and when you do that, they say life becomes simpler and more satisfying.
“We are often most comfortable, content and without internal conflict when we are able to stick close to our values,” executive coach Carley Sime writes on Forbes.com.
“We can feel extremely uncomfortable and unhappy when we are not able to act according to our values.”
How to identify your own values
A good way to identify your core values is to consider some moments when you felt really satisfied or ecstatic – maybe it was when you hit your goal weight or you crossed a fun run finish line or your child was born or standing up for someone who is being picked on – and spend a few minutes writing about the experience.
Highlight or pull out the details that stand out most and consider why they are so important to you. So, say you wrote about the feeling of freedom at the top of a mountain hike you did with your family, you might start to realise that some of your values are around adventure, health and quality family time.
Or if it was about a really rewarding time in your career, you might identify that your values are around learning new things, challenging yourself mentally and being surrounded by likeminded people.
How to use your values
As you start to identify your most treasured values, you can keep them front-and-centre of your mind when making life decisions, both big and small.
By doing so, executive coach Lyndall Mitchell – who lists her three key values are health, family happiness and economic security – says you may find you become more assertive about your wants and needs.
“I have learnt a word I previously hadn’t used that often which is ‘no’. Now I say no more often when it doesn’t work for me or my family,” she tells Health and Fitness Travel.
“[I know] the importance of boundaries – I use my values as guideposts and I aim to always live authentically aligned to my values and make decisions based on these.”
In a lot of ways, life becomes simpler when you are living true to your values. Suddenly it’s easier to decline a slice of cake because you know that being healthy and energised for your family is more important than satisfying a quick craving, or you might find you decline a lucrative job offer because you realise it will demand too much time away from your loved ones.
“Science shows that people who know their values and act in alignment with those values experience a greater sense of wellbeing and mental health,” Toner explains.
“However, it’s not enough to simply recognise your values, you also need to act on them to feel the benefits. Actions that are in line with your values often feel authentic and right, whereas behaviour in opposition to your values might make you feel uncomfortable and lead to regrets down the track.”