Every year on December 31, I spend some time reflecting on the past year. And then, like a lot of you, I look forward to what I want to accomplish in the next 365 days. There is never any lack of possible projects to take on, but this year my focus is different.
This year, I want to focus on discovering my values—the things that are really important to me that give my life meaning. It’s not that I don’t have any goals; I think goals and aspirations are really important. What is more important, however, are the underlying principles that govern which goals I choose and how I want to show up in the world.
You might be thinking, “I know what my values are; why would I spend time trying to figure that out?” Not so fast! It takes time, an open mind, and a willingness to suspend judgment to explore what your values truly are in this moment.
Values vs. Goals
First, what are the differences between values and goals?
- Goals are something we want to achieve. Values are something we “are.”
- Goals are destinations. Values provide our direction.
- Goals can be reached. Values guide us.
- Goals are set. Values are discovered.
Values are what we hold dear. They are an internal reference point for what we believe is good, right, and important. They’re like a compass that keeps us on the course and influences how we behave. They guide us through the ups and downs of life and relationships.
Narrowing It Down
So, I bought some Values Cards, and I began my adventure in discovery. The thing about these cards is that you have to end up with just three, and that is really hard. I haven’t quite gotten that far yet; I’m down to five.
- Inner Peace
I like number 2 and 3, honesty and kindness, because they allow me to have number 1, inner peace. Number 4, courage, is really difficult for me, especially when it comes to being brave and honest with other people, but I feel that I need it to live with integrity. Number 5 is just something I love. When I stand back and look at them, I realize that they are all interdependent. WOW!
A Practice for Discovering Your Values
Here is a practice we do in our Mindful Self-Compassion course that can help you discover your deep core values and how to support yourself in living them out:
- Imagine that you are at the end of your life, looking back on the years between then and now. What would have given you deep satisfaction, joy, and contentment? What values did you embody that gave your life meaning? What were your core values? Write them down.
- Because you are a human being, there are times when you don’t live in accord with what you value most. Write down any ways that you are not living in accord with your values, or ways that your life feels out of balance with you values. (E.g., You value health, but you often don’t eat a healthy diet.)
- Ask yourself, what are the obstacles that are keeping me from living in accord with my values? (E.g., Money, time, other obligations?) Write these down.
- How might self-kindness and compassion help you live in accord with your values? (E.g., Give you confidence or a sense of safety?)
- Finally, can you give yourself compassion for the insurmountable problem that you, like all of us, are an imperfect human being?
So, what are your most precious values? What principles would you like to guide your life in 2019? I would love it if you would join me on this adventure.