Understanding your personal values makes life more productive and comfortable.
Understanding your personal values is an important step in understanding your behavior. In my previous article on self sabotage, I mentioned that if your values are in conflict in a given area of your life, that can create cognitive dissonance and result in procrastination and other self-sabotaging behaviors.
As an example, I had a lady as a client a few years ago who was an excellent public speaker with a great platform. She spoke from the heart and her message was changing lives. In response to this feedback from the world she set a goal to become one of the top motivational speakers—to rise in the ranks and to speak for larger and larger audiences. She envisioned television in her future as well, as she imagined spreading her message and changing lives. And it was all going very well. She was wowing audiences, getting wonderful reviews and more and more requests to speak. She was charging a fee to speak and she was accepted into the National Speaker’s Bureau. Everything was lining up and she was well on her way. Then a curious thing started to happen. She began missing deadlines, failing to return calls, and missing out on opportunities through her own inactions. She realized she was sabotaging herself and came to see me.
Conflicting personal values can lead to self sabotage and more.
Through our work together we discovered she had conflicting personal values. She valued achievement and she valued contribution—making a difference in the world. And these are the personal values that had helped her reach the level she had. She also had a strong personal value of honoring her family as a mother. She had children who were still young enough to need her and even though she had the support of her family in her endeavors, those speaking opportunities were taking her away from home more and more often, and sometimes for longer periods of time. And that internal conflict between her personal values caused her feelings and responses to change.
When she came to see me she really didn’t understand why she was “messing up” and missing out on what she truly believed was her most heart-felt mission. When her personal values conflict came to the surface through the work we did together, then it made sense, and she was able to deal with the situation in a way that honored ALL of her personal values and brought her back into alignment with herself. Then she was able to start meeting her commitments and get back on track.
How did she do that? She recognized that while her children were still young, it was important to her to be home more than not. She had a family meeting to find out what her husband and children felt would be the best way for her to move forward. How often would it be ok for Mom to be gone overnight? Would it be ok to be gone for two nights? How often? Then she structured her availability with the speaking bureaus to reflect those parameters and made it clear on her website how far away from home base she would travel and put a calendar on her website that showed her availability. She decided, in concert with her family, that when the children were older she would expand her speaking, but not until then. In this way she was able to honor ALL of her values, she was no longer in conflict with herself and her actions reflected that, enabling her to quickly respond to inquiries, send in the needed paperwork, and so on, to meet the commitments she decided to make.
With awareness you can tweak your circumstances to enable you to succeed.
So, you can have personal values that don’t line up for a period of time in your life, or that don’t line up in a particular area of your life, and you can still eliminate self sabotage by, as Socrates would say, “knowing thyself.”
I’m in this position myself even today. One of my top personal values is to be achieving. I put very high bars for myself to jump through and that requires a lot of my time, energy, effort and focus. However, my TOP personal value is family (which shows up as “Love” in this particular values instrument that I will tell you about further in this article). Knowing this about myself, I structure my day and my week so that I am home more often in the evenings and weekends and have the flexibility to be available when my family needs me. And I know that there are going to be times when I feel a bit uncomfortable. Times when I wish things could be different. But I also know that I’ll address that and keep open and honest communication with my family (and my work family) so that this stays at a conscious level for me. It’s when you’re unaware of these internal conflicts that your behaviors can come out sideways.
These conflicts can come up in a number of ways. Perhaps the culture at your workplace is out of alignment with one of your top values. You’ll see below one mine is “honesty.” I worked at a place years ago where dishonesty was the cultural norm. (I’m not kidding. Yes, it was a used car lot.) I spiraled into a depression working there. I would climb into one of the pickup truck cabs and just sit and cry. I felt frozen and immobilized. I believed I needed that job because of my life situation at the time, and when I sold cars I made great money for my age (I was just 19). I had no idea of what my values were at the time but the emotional impact of such a conflict was huge. Finally, something within me said, “I can’t be here,” and I up and quit (VERY not like me), despite the consequences of not having another job to go to and it was a tough economy. I went through several months of hell on that job before finally making that choice though, because one of my personal values is also self-sufficiency and so giving up my source of income and returning to a place of dependence upon my family was a difficult choice for me. So, you see how when deeply held values come into conflict, it affects you? I hope that by sharing these stories with you, you’ll be able to see how this could be at work in your own life.
How, then, do you find out what your top values are so that you can begin to understand where you may be having internal conflicts? There are a number of lists of values available out there. Just do an internet search for “lists of personal values” and you’ll find a bunch. One useful exercise is to go through and circle the 50 or so that feel most important to you, create a new list out of those and then go through that list again and narrow it down to 25. Then narrow it down to ten. You could even go so far as to then narrow it down to five. Imagine situations where those top ten might be compromised—how strongly do you feel about that? The values that you would not be willing to compromise are your strongest values and the ones that, when pitched against each other are likely to cause self sabotaging behavior. For example, if you have a strong value for thrift, and you know that in order to move forward with your goals you need to make a big investment, perhaps in education or equipment, you may find yourself procrastinating and putting off making that investment. If you understand this about yourself, you can work through the mental exercises — what will happen if you don’t make that investment? Is there any other way to reach your goal without having that? If not, is the investment worth it to you, what is the return on investment to you? Can you live without having that? Make a pros and cons list, journal, find a wise person to talk it over with, and then determine your best action that keeps you moving forward and honors your values.
Here is another option. At VIAcharacter.org you can take a free test that determines your core strengths. While they use the word strengths, this instrument very much lines up with values. It was created by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. Dr. Seligman is one of the biggest names in the field of positive psychology and this is an excellent and valid tool. I took it myself to see if it confirmed what I believed I knew about myself—that my first and foremost value is family, and after that it is learning, and growing, and achieving and contributing to the world. Here is what came out of that test as my top 12 strengths.
Cindy’s Top Values
1. Love—Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing & caring are reciprocated; being close to people. (CL: This comes out for me in loyalty to and wanting to allocate time to my family and closest friends.)
2. Judgment—Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.
3. Perspective—Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself/others.
4. Love Of Learning—Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally; related to the strength of curiosity but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows. (CL: This one is in play in my desire to learn, grow & achieve and CAN be in conflict with #1 at times.)
5. Creativity—Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it.
6. Humor—-Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.
7. Honesty—Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions.
8. Perseverance—Finishing what one starts; persevering in a course of action in spite of obstacles; “getting it out the door”; taking pleasure in completing tasks. (CL: Again, at times in conflict with #1. If I’m deeply working with a client and we’re running long and my family is expecting me to come home, there will be a moment when I have to work through the emotions of that.)
9. Leadership—Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same time maintain good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen.
10. Curiosity—Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering.
11. Fairness—Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.
12. Hope—Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about.
So there you go; now you know all about me! LOL! I guess one of my values is also transparency. Maybe that’s wrapped up in the “honesty” one.
I encourage you to take the test (it’s free and fun) and learn about your top values. Take a look at where they may be situationally in conflict and how that might be driving any self-sabotaging behaviors in your life. Then you can make informed choices with your conscious, logical mind and get yourself into a new situation where you are able to honor all of your values, or at least can mindfully work through those times when you have values in conflict so that it doesn’t chip away at you without your knowledge and understanding.
When we are living with integrity and in alignment with our values, that is when we do our best work, live our best lives, and impact the world in the most powerful and positive way! ~ Cindy Locher