Understanding our values and how they shape our lives is often a difficult process. It requires us to strip back the layers of our thoughts, behaviours and actions to discover what drives us to do what we do. Doing so provides us with clarity on who we are and what matters. Stress, dissatisfaction and unhappiness are consequences of living a life disconnected from our values. But how we do get this clarity and ensure our life aligns with what we really care about?
I’ve recently been working on understanding my own values and the impact they’ve had in my life. What I found was that the standard process of reviewing a list of values and selecting those that resonate with you can become more a wish list of how you want to be rather than how you actually are. In order to get a better idea of where I’m actually at, I took a step back and considered how I’d feel and what I’d do with today if tomorrow didn’t exist. With a limited time frame my thoughts, behaviour and actions would be based on my current frameset instead of the one I thought I had or wanted to have.
Following is the exercise I’ve developed to help you discover the values you’re living your life by today. For those that are interested, you can read my experience from the activity here.
An Introduction to Values
Values are as individual as you. They are your judgement of what is important in your life. The following list is an example of common values to start you thinking.
The following is a visualisation activity. After reading the scenario spend some contemplating how you would think and feel if this happened to you. Explore your feelings and reactions then proceed with the tasks below.
It is 6 am. You have just woken up to be presented with the knowledge that at 4 pm today you will fall asleep and never wake. You don’t know how it’ll happen except that you will be alone when it occurs and it will not be painful. The clock has started, you have 10 hours left.
The question is, how are you going to spend your final day?
Minimum 30 minutes. The longer you spend on this exercise the greater understanding you’ll have of your decision making, time management, priorities and how these align with your values.
- Write down what you believe are your top 5 values.
- Break the 10 hours of your ‘final day’ into 1-hour increments and write what you would do in each hour block
- What couldn’t you fit in?
- Did you have to reprioritise items to make room for these items?
- Would you normally reprioritise or only in this exercise given it was your ‘last day’?
- How did the choices you made for that day align with you thought were your values?
- Did you discover anything new?
- Do your thoughts, actions and behaviour align with your values in everyday life? If not, why not?
- What would you change given more time?
- Will you change knowing you do have more time?
- What would’ve been your focus today if it wasn’t your last day?
- Compare your actual life with your highest values and priorities.
- How often do you fill your days with those activities that don’t align with what you now know is important to you?
- Did you experience any feelings of regret or loss?
- What has held you back from addressing these before now?
- How are you going to resolve them going forward?
This might appear a confronting and slightly morbid exercise but its purpose is to:
- Evaluate your life as it is today.
This is about being mindful of where you are and how you got there.
- Provide clarity of what is important to you.
When time is limited our awareness of values and priorities become focused. It may be that we spend a lot of time on unimportant activities in our day-to-day life simply because we believe we have the time to get to the important matters ‘later’.
- Awareness of potential conflict between ideal and current position
Feelings of regret, loss or frustration provide a starting point for areas that we can focus on.
- Appreciation, gratitude and mindfulness
The fact is today isn’t your last day! Plan for tomorrow but live in today. Be conscious of your choices, hold close the things that matter and be thankful that you have time to make a change.
“That’s the good part of dying; when you’ve nothing to lose, you run any risk you want.”
― Ray Bradbury,
This exercise is designed to highlight the immediate and highest priority items. If you were given more time (eg. a week or month), the list of values and priorities will expand and become more defined. I encourage you to repeat the exercise with a broader timespan over the next few weeks.
I encourage you to repeat the exercise with a broader timespan over the next few weeks.
I also encourage you to repeat the exercise after there has been a major shift in your life. Rarely do our core values change entirely (they are after all who we are!) but they will change and priorities shift during life cycles and events.
I’m always fascinated by how hard it is for all of us to be true to you. If this has helped you to learn more about yourself and find that honesty, I’d love to hear from you!