Have you ever made a choice that brought instant regret to you because it did not align with how you see yourself? Say, for instance, saying yes to a party with a friend when you have a work deadline to meet or spending more than your budget for the month. On the contrary, have you ever felt happy or encouraged to make a decision that reassured you of how you want to see or carry yourself? Say, for example, reading ten pages of a book or following a healthy diet. What do you think is common in both these aspects? Our values.
Consciously or unconsciously, most of us make decisions or choices based on our values, i.e., things we consider valuable or important in life. When we do not, we might feel discouraged, disappointed, surprised, or sometimes even angry at ourselves for not honouring ourselves. If values are so important, how often do we reflect on them or revisit them? If I say I value spending money wisely, but if I am not tracking my expenses or budgeting my monthly expenditures, does spending money wisely really matter to me? Perhaps not.
It is one thing to say that we value something, but it is a different thing to live by it. Our values reflect in what we do, day in and day out. Unless what we say is not aligned with our actions, choices, and habits—it does not matter what we say. Values without translatable acts are just aspirations, and we can’t fulfil our aspirations without working toward them.
Values also do not have to be ambitious or grand. We can even live by one value (possibly more than that) which can help us navigate life when ninety-nine things could be going wrong. It is a matter of finding out what we consider valuable and letting them grow through us so (with the help of our choices) that we can become the kind of individuals we want to be and work on our desired identity.
Let me share some of my examples for more clarity. I try to make my daily life choices based on six core values: choice, contribution, gratitude, listening, playfulness, and reflection. To exercise choicefulness as a value, I think before saying yes to any pursuit or request. I am also conscious of giving space to people to exercise their choice and not demand what they would not enjoy doing for me. I love contributing (to the people around me) anything, in any way, that has helped me become a better version of myself or live my life more meaningfully. It could be facilitating sessions, sharing helpful posts in my Instagram stories or Twitter feed, or recommending a book that impacted me positively.
I exercise gratitude when I thank people in my life sincerely for their time, efforts, and company. While gratitude may signal formality for many, for me, it is a core value that helps me cherish my relationships with people and myself. I value listening by holding space for people I am close to and session participants in my workshops to express themselves vulnerably. Playfulness is a non-negotiable value that helps me anchor myself, find joy in everyday things and spark fun and connection in my relationship. I often make jokes and act silly with people I love. Reflection is a value that I try to incorporate in almost everything I do—such as journaling about my day, having a conversation with a loved one, making a life decision, trying to solve a problem I encounter, or developing a session.
A great way to find out and reevaluate our values is to reflect on the kind of people we want to be. Instead of trying to nail a clear set of values straight on, where we might want to begin is—by asking ourselves some reflective questions. Here are some questions that help me gather my thoughts and reflect on my values.
- For what am I grateful?
- Where does my attention get drawn quickly?
- Without what can I not function?
- To what do I enjoy dedicating my time?
- What do I appreciate in the people around me?
- In what am I mostly indulged?
- What gives me the energy to carry on with my day?
- What kind of relationships do I cherish the most?
- What is it that I can’t separate from my identity?
- What gives me joy?
- What adds value to my life?
- For what do I consider worth struggling?
- What’s my go-to?
- What gives my life its meaning?
We can always find sustainable ways to live by our values. To do so, we must figure out what we consider valuable first. When we start questioning ourselves, we start evaluating where we stand at present, whether our choices are helping or hurting us, and how the things we value today will shape us tomorrow. We may not find answers right away but perhaps arrive at better questions. As Nancy Willard says, “Answers are closed rooms, and questions are open doors that invite us.” So, let’s reflect. Let’s ask ourselves some meaningful questions to find out what we value and how we can make choices embedded in them.