How to Clarify Your Values
Do you find it hard to maintain a sense of balance in your life? Do you struggle to remain consistent with your values? Do you sometimes make decisions that conflict with your own best interests? Or the experiences you’d love to have?
Your challenge might very well be related to a lack of clear values and priorities, or confusing the two.
As a coach, I often find people confusing priorities and values or mixing them together, but they aren’t the same thing.
In many cases, the definitions just aren’t clear. Values are more than “things” we consider important.
Values are principles or standards of behavior that one judges as important for a good life. This subtle difference is so important because values and priorities are both valuable tools we can use to make good decisions that move our lives toward what we ultimately desire. We need them both and we need them clarified.
Here’s a perfect example of how we confuse the two: Oftentimes the word family shows up in a list of values, but family is a priority. Connection, integrity, loyalty, and consistency are values applicable to family. They suggest the standards and behavior we want with family.
Why is the distinction important?
Because knowing the difference helps us be more effective in achieving the results we really want in life. Knowing the difference allows us to be more clear about what we do when, and how we do it.
Values provide the criteria, a template of sorts for how we choose to behave in any given moment, i.e. with honesty, kindness, or fairness. Values are the lens through which we want to engage the people, places and things that matter, i.e. our priorities.
Priorities receive our efforts to live our values.
We embody values. We can own them as aspects of our identity and get better at expressing them over time. You can work with values. I mean, if you value connection, you can learn how to connect better and that can serve you in your relationships. I.e. you can “do something” about connection. But how do you learn “family” better? That is unless you have values to guide you?
Priorities are equally important in their own right. Priorities help us pinpoint how we want to focus our values. They help shape the experiences we want. Think of the values as the how and priorities as the what. For example:
-I value connection so I prioritize quality time with quality people
-I value creativity so I prioritize daily writing
-I value health so I prioritize exercise/yoga
-I value prosperity so I prioritize work/making money
An important distinction to make is that priorities can change. For example in your twenties you might prioritize work and then later start a family which completely alters your time, attention, and energy.
Values do not change. But they can become more important. And we can get better at living our values over time. We can overlook or give attention to values in varying degrees, but they will always be there waiting for us…making us feel good when we honor them and a little poor when we ignore them.
Confusing priorities and values often causes unwanted results.
If we claim family as a value, that’s nice but it’s not clear how we want “to do” family. But when we prioritize family and apply important values, i.e., honesty, open-mindedness, connection, kindness and compassion to being with them, it changes our interactions with them. Our intent and action becomes much more clear and hard to hide from our awareness. Our level of authenticity soars when we know how to be integral with the circumstances of our lives.
The whole point of getting clear about your values and priorities is to simplify decision-making. I think it bears repeating that your values dictate how you wish to interact with yourself and the people, places, and things in your life. Without them, you engage in random behavior with mixed results.
So let’s try this:
Fold a piece of paper lengthwise and label the left side values and the right side priorities. You’ll likely find you have a lot more values than priorities and that’s okay. You may see some overlap as you work through this new concept and that too is okay. Try to narrow your values list down to 10-12 and your priorities down to 6-7. Consolidate as much as you can. For example I lump family and close friends together as “my familiars.” My writing and research together make up my creative work.
Oh, and be on the lookout for the things you may be denying yourself. Sometimes we don’t add things to our list of values and priorities because we don’t believe we deserve them or can actually have them. Or when we don’t have something in our life that we truly want and we fail to put it on our priority list. How can it ever become a priority later if it’s not now? I mean, if you want a partnership/relationship then you better make time for it. Just because it’s not happening now doesn’t mean you don’t need to prioritize it…you do!
Okay one final task!
Draw some lines across the columns matching the values to the priorities they align with. There can be several for each and some may be used more than once. Like honesty and integrity are values I try to bring to all parts of my life! I’ve already given you an example using family. Now it’s your turn to clarify how you want to live your values with the people, places, and things that matter most to you.
Let me know how this exercise goes!!