To live is to choose. But to choose well,
you must know who you are
and what you stand for. -- KOFI ANNAN
How you feel about anything is determined by what you value. Even if you choose to do something that feels unpleasant, if you examine the situation closely, you will see that your choice likely stems from your desire to live in accordance with your values. For example, if you watch your best friend perform at an amateur comedy hour, you may do so not because you think the jokes will be good and you will enjoy them — they might be painfully bad — but because being a good friend feels better than being someone who selfishly shirks the duties of friendship. Maintaining good friendships is an activity with very high thrive value.
Values are simply your ideals and your beliefs about what matters to you and what will make your life the best it can be. While everyone has a different set of values, everyone values the things they perceive will promote their ability to thrive. While we assign a value to everything we come in contact with — I like this better than that — we tend to think of the things we value as what we hold dearest to us and what gives our life meaning.
What Do You Consider Worthwhile?
Our values consist of internal and personal factors, which most people think of as traits or qualities, such as honesty, love, and respect, as well as external, apersonal factors, such as health, fun, and adventure. Values are essentially the things you consider worthwhile. When there is not enough of what you value in your life, you may feel distressed or like the quality of your life is poor. Increasing the presence of these things in your life will greatly promote your well-being.
Your values are not a list of what you have already achieved; rather, they are a list of what you aspire to. They play a large role in how you create your future because they represent your highest priorities and deepest driving forces. Knowing what you value and what matters most to you will help you determine what you want, make the best choices, and point you in the right direction.
Your values are formed by your experiences. They are influenced by your parents and family, your religious affiliation, your friends and peers, your education, the books you read, your society, and more. Whether or not you are aware of them, they impact every aspect of your life, including work, love, play, spirituality, and physical well-being. You demonstrate what you value through all your actions. You use what you value to make decisions and manage your priorities. You build your goals and derive your life purpose from what you value.
A gap between your values and your actions leads to distress. If you value open communication but are having a difficult time talking to your partner, this situation will not feel good to you. Knowing what you value can help you identify sources of distress and begin to evaluate solutions.
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When you have a clear sense of what matters most to you, it is easier to know where to direct your energy. Every day there are an infinite number of things you can do and choices you can make. Without knowing what you value, it is easy to get distracted and wander around making decisions that don’t lead you anywhere. When you know what is most important to you, your decisions become clearer and easier. When you make choices and act in ways that are consistent with your values, you will feel a greater sense of internal alignment and well-being.
Identifying What You Value
Before you can begin mapping out the path to greater well-being, you need to know where you are starting from. The best way to do this is to examine what you value.
Remember that values are generally not specific things but qualities or idealized states. As you start to identify what you value, if I value red sports cars comes to mind, for example, ask yourself why. What is it about red sports cars that you like? How do they make you feel? It is easy to make the mistake of thinking it is a thing we value because of the meaning we have assigned to it. Most things by themselves, though, are meaningless objects, just as money by itself is nothing more than paper with ink on it; we have assigned numeric value to it, which allows us to exchange it for things we want.
Knowing what quality you value in something can help open up other possibilities when you can’t have that specific thing. For example, if you want to go to Harvard but don’t get in, knowing that you want to go there because you value a good education will open up the possibility of considering other schools where you can still receive a quality education. If things are what pop into your mind as you begin to create your list of values, keep asking yourself why you value those things until you come up with qualities that you connect with these things that you would like to have in your life.
Worksheet: Rank Your Values
Below is a list of common qualities or states that people value. It is not an exhaustive list, so if you think of others, please write them down on a blank sheet of paper. Review the list, then rank, in order of importance, the top five values in each area of your life. You should choose five values, ranked 1 through 5, for each area. There may be many values you consider important that do not get ranked because they are not in the top five.
Worksheet 7.1 From Think Forward to Thrive © 2014 by Jennice Vilhauer, PhD
You can hold many values in life, and you will likely have different values for the various areas of your life, such as work, love, and play. You may value independence at work but not in love. Knowing what you value in the different areas of life will help you choose how to focus your time, thoughts, and energy as you begin to build the life you desire.
Values also tend to have a hierarchy, and knowing clearly what values are most important to us can help us make good choices in our day-to-day life. For example, you may value enjoying delicious food but also value your health. When you are given the choice of eating chocolate cake or a spinach salad, you might remind yourself how much you want to be healthy and to meet your weight-loss goal. When you are clear about which values matter most to you and you are focusing on them regularly, they become more accessible to you, making your decisions much easier.
Next, define these values so they aren’t just words on a page. Create language to capture the spirit of each value — what does it mean to you? For example, if independence is your top value in the area of work, you might define it as Being able to work on my own without much supervision or interference from others. Now ask yourself why this value is important to you. Be as specific as you can. This will help you to develop a sense of your worldview. Once you have defined a value and identified why it is important to you, review what you have written, and ask yourself: What types of actions represent this value? Write these actions down; these are the things you can do to start living in accordance with your values.
Creating a Values Statement
Having defined the core values in the various areas of your life, you can now put them together into a values statement that represents how you want to lead your life and behave in the world. Values statements are assertions about how you value yourself, other people, your community, and the world. Values statements describe actions, which are the living enactment of the fundamental values you hold.
To begin writing your values statement, review your list and look for themes. You may notice that you carry certain values consistently across all five areas, such as “helping others.” Incorporate in your statement the name of each value you’re including, the reasons you hold these values, and any actions or feelings that capture the value’s meaning to you. It isn’t necessary to use everything you wrote in your worksheet, only the things that really resonate with you.
Frame each sentence in the present tense, since these are aspirational statements based on what you value now and what you aspire to. As you encounter new experiences, your values will change; you can always modify the statement later.
Remember, the statement does not need to reflect what you are currently doing in your life but rather what you currently value. Here’s an example:
My Values Statement
I value the ability to live independently and the freedom to express myself creatively so that I can always produce my best work and live to my full potential. I value choosing activities that bring calm and relaxation into my life so that I rejuvenate and care for myself. I make the effort to openly and fearlessly communicate with others because I value close and strong relationships.
Tips for Thriving
What we value most is the ability to thrive, which always comes with a good feeling.
Things themselves have little meaning unless they help us to thrive. Know what qualities you value in the things you desire so that you can open up other possibilities for ways to experience those values.
Your values determine how you feel about everything. Knowing what you truly value can help guide you in the decisions you make about what you want and the goals you set for yourself.
Increasing the presence of what you value will promote your sense of well-being.
Use what you value to inform your choices, deter yourself from distractions, and better allocate your resources.
Don't limit yourself by believing that only one thing can make you feel a certain way. There are lots of ways to thrive, so be open to possibilities.
©2014 by Jennice Vilhauer. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.
www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
Think Forward to Thrive: How to Use the Mind's Power of Anticipation to Transcend Your Past and Transform Your Life
by Jennice Vilhauer, PhD.
About the Author
Jennice S. Vilhauer is an award winning psychologist at Emory University and the developer of Future Directed Therapy. She has helped thousands of people overcome their depression and reengage their vitality for life by teaching them how to harness the mind's power of anticipation to overcome negative past experiences and develop the skills necessary to create a better future. She is currently the Director of the Outpatient Psychotherapy Program at Emory Healthcare, and has worked at numerous prestigious institutions around the country including Columbia University, UCLA, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Visit her website at www.futuredirectedtherapy.com
Watch an interview: CBS news - Future Directed Therapy (FDT)