Embracing A Value-Led Life
Life today can feel complicated, stressful, and at times completely overwhelming. The Global Organization for Stress reports that 74% of Americans experienced moderate to high stress levels in the past month, and over 40 million adults suffer from anxiety.
Take a moment to think about your family, your friends…even acquaintances. How many people do you know who feel 100% satisfied and fulfilled in their lives? The unfortunate truth of today’s world is that many people feel unhappy, unsure, or out of alignment with their deepest desires, needs and beliefs.
The solution? Live in alignment with your core values.
Though you may not be aware of it, every choice you make or don’t make is driven by your values. When you’re feeling stressed, upset, or unfulfilled, it’s usually because you are not living in congruence with what you value – what you believe matters most. Living a values-led life means your lifestyle choices, daily activities, relationships, and thoughts reflect what you hold to be most important.
So as complicated as life may seem, it’s actually very simple – as simple as determining what you value and living in alignment with those values, no matter what. Connecting to your core values and activating them in your daily life is key to living a life of true satisfaction, purpose and joy.
“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.” – Ayn Rand
What Are Values?
We all have them – our core values are deeply ingrained principles that guide our actions, emotions and behavior.
Values are not the same as goals. A goal is something that is accomplished. Values are ongoing. They continue to guide you throughout your life, as opposed to something that gets crossed off your list once it is achieved.
Your values represent who you are – who you want to be, what you want to experience, and how you want to live. When you are conscious and integrous with these values, they serve as a compass, guiding you towards your highest contentment and truth.
The problem arises when you are not conscious of your values…when you have not taken the time to clearly define the principles that are most important to you.
We live in a society that tells us some values are more acceptable than others. Some values make you good, while other values make you ‘selfish’ or ‘bad’. In other words, you’ve been raised to think some values are right while others are wrong.
As a result, many peoples’ core values are unconscious or inherited. Oftentimes they are cultural or social values we have been indoctrinated with from an early age, and we accept such values without much reflection or thought.
Although there is nothing innately wrong with such inherited values, it is important that we reflect on them and ask ourselves whether or not they are truly in alignment with our innermost beliefs.
This in and of itself can be the most challenging part of living a values-led life: being radically honest with yourself about what your values actually are. To sort through the conditioning, programming, and opinions of others and clarify what matters most to you requires courage, awareness, and self-reflection.
Why Are Values So Important?
In any part of your life, is there a gap between what you value doing and what you are actually doing? Between how you value behaving and how you actually behave?
The universe is always providing opportunities for you to live in accordance with what you want. The problem is, if you don’t make this choice consciously, you will make it subconsciously, and the subconscious often prioritizes what provides safety as opposed to what provides the most personal fulfillment.
There is tremendous power in discovering and living according to your highest values. Values can provide a north star for you as you go about your daily life. By clarifying and being intentional about your decisions, and acting in ways consistent with your values, life becomes much more simple.
When things are in alignment, you are confident and feel peace with your decisions, even in the face of stress or other people’s opinions. Confusion and complications fall away, and you begin to experience true contentment, even in challenging times.
There are many benefits that go along with clarifying your values, including:
- Increased confidence, self-esteem and and trust
- Healthier relationships and communication
- Enhanced decision-making and decisiveness
- Less worry and stress
- Greater sense of joy, fulfillment, and purpose
A note on values and relationships:
Value conflicts are the main cause of incompatibility in couples, and oftentimes, this comes from a lack of awareness or an unwillingness to look at the true compatibility between our values and those of our partner. How can you create a conscious, supportive relationship when you don’t know your values, or when they are clearly out of alignment with those of your significant other?
If you are in a relationship where your values are taking you in opposite directions, it will be quite challenging to keep that relationship together. This is why it is critical to clarify your values and choose a partner whose priorities are consistent with your own.
So how exactly do you determine your core values?
How To Clarify Your Core Values
Your core values are the deepest values you have. They are at the root of all other values, and they are the most important ones to become aware of.
Use the following technique and questions to determine your own core values:
Pull up a list of common values. You can easily find one online by searching ‘values list’ or ‘list of core values’. This list will likely contain common values like love, friendship, honesty, adventure, and freedom.
Give yourself 5-10 minutes to read through the list and either write down or circle any that resonate with you. Don’t overthink it.
Take some time to look through the list and ask yourself which values are truly yours. Ask yourself whether a value is truly important to you or something you think you “should” have. Cross out any values that feel like they belong to others, such as your parents, culture, or society as a whole.
Now it’s time to choose your top values, the ones that are core to who you are. Start by narrowing your list down to your top five or six values. Write them down as a separate list.
From there, choose your top three values. Of the five or six you’ve written down, which are you most inspired by? Be honest with yourself about which values resonate most.
Finally, choose your number one core value.
It can be hard to narrow it down to one, but by not consciously acknowledging your number one value and making your choices accordingly, you run the risk of missing out on what is actually most important to you.
If you’re having trouble choosing, look back at your life and consider these questions:
- When were you the absolute happiest and why? What were you doing, and what factors contributed the most to your happiness?
- When were you the most proud of yourself and why?
- When did you experience the most fulfillment and meaning and why?
Now look at your life currently:
- What situation makes you the unhappiest and why? (Strong emotions are always connected to core values. When we are upset, it is because something is threatening one of our core values. Use the moments you get triggered as an opportunity to gain clarity around your core values.)
- What desire or need is missing from your life now?
- What part of your life now makes you feel the happiest and why?
- What provides the most meaning? What makes you feel the most proud and fulfilled in your current life?
When you look through your top values, ask yourself if they feel true for you. Do they feel in integrity? Will you support these values, even if they come with consequences or conflict with the values of others?
You need to prioritize your top values and when push comes to shove, prioritize your number one core value above all others. Now is the time to take a look at your life and to be really honest about how you are not living in alignment with your top value or values. From here, decide what changes you can make today to begin living in alignment with your core values.
Be Flexible…Your Values Can Change
By definition, values are relatively stable things—certainly more stable than passing thoughts, emotions, moods, or preferences. But that doesn’t mean they don’t change or evolve at all.
Living unconditionally in alignment with your core values is a lifelong practice, and it’s important to understand that your values are fluid. Many will change or adjust over time and in different contexts and areas of your life, so make time to revisit your values, allow them to shift without judgment, and live your life accordingly.
Your values are the building blocks of the life you truly want. They will serve as a light that illuminates your path and helps you live more intentionally, with a greater sense of fulfillment and joy.
So whatever your particular goals or challenges are, make a little time to reflect on your personal values and get specific with them. The sense of purpose, clarity, and motivation that comes from knowing your values well is well worth the effort.
Danielle Rateau is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor, certified health coach, and global traveler. In 2022, she lived and worked at an ayahuasca retreat center in Peru. She is currently expanding her offerings through the study of trauma informed breathwork and sound healing.
Connect with Danielle on Instagram: @daniellerateau