The starting point for changing your life, so that you are happier and living better, is to know yourself. You gotta know and understand who you are (the good, the bad, and the ugly!) before you can live it out — and the heartbeat of your Authentic Self is made up of your values.
When we live by our values, they are the compasses that guide everything we do. They ground our decision-making and root our actions in a purpose greater than ourselves. In short, they give our lives both direction and meaning — which is why having a very clear understanding of what your values are is so important.
Once you have this, you can commit to what I call values-based living — the practice of consistently and consciously looking to your values to guide your behavior. While this is an empowering way to live, it’s no piece of cake, lemme tell you! It takes hard work and effort to make it happen. But it’s worth it. You will be happier and you will live better. And who doesn’t want that?!
So how can you tell if you’re living a values-based life? If you are, you’re likely doing these three things:
1. You know what your values are
When you’re living a values-based life, you have a very good sense of the qualities, beliefs, and standards for behavior that are really, truly important to you—in other words, your values. But many of us are either unclear about what our values are, or the values we think we hold are too broad to rely on as a compass to guide specific behaviors and decisions (for example, “respect”).
If you’re not sure what your values are, or if you think they might not be specific enough, try this exercise.
For one week, take a few moments each day to write down 3 things:
Looking at your answers, notice the themes that come up. What do you want to do/experience more of? Less of? Upon reflection, what specific qualities, beliefs, and standards for behavior are at the root of these themes and desires?
This should give you a starting point for defining your values and understanding how these values show up in individual actions.
2. You look to your values when faced with decisions — big or small
Our values dictate how we speak, what we say, the content we consume, who we befriend, how we make a living, and just about everything else we do. If we live in accordance with our values, we look to them as guideposts when making decisions — small things (like who we follow on social media), big things (like who we choose as our romantic partners), and everything in between (like what jokes we laugh at, what we eat, and who we’re friends with).
When I’m faced with an important decision and feel uncertain about what to do, I do a conscious exercise to help guide me. I ask myself:
This type of self-inquiry makes decisions much easier because I know that I only want to act in alignment with my values, and it feels really good to know that how I live is consistent with what I believe in.
3. You regularly affirm and check in with your values
To keep your values top of mind, it’s important to affirm them. I find that integrating moments of affirmation into my day-to-day life helps me to stay connected to my values.
To help me do this, I consciously tune in to my emotions. Moments when I’ve done something that feels really good (like helped a friend or a random stranger) or moments of feeling really shitty (like when I’ve allowed someone to overstep one of my personal boundaries) can be good triggers for checking in.
In these moments, I mentally go over what my values are, and why they are important to me. I also remind myself that living a values-based life has a positive impact on the world, and that, despite how challenging it can be, it’s always worth it to let my values be my guide.
For example, one of my core values is inclusion. My deep desire to help build a world that is inclusive guides everything I do — what I watch, who I befriend, who I work with, what I click on, what I wear, every word I utter, and so much more. This work — helping to interrupt hate and oppression — can be difficult, so it’s important for me to consciously remind myself of the greater purpose that I’m striving for. Feeling connected to this greater purpose makes the individual moments more meaningful, and easier to bear.
When we consciously engage with our values, it’s an incredibly empowering and liberating place to be. There is a lot of power in recognizing that our behavior is a choice. If you aren’t already doing it, I strongly encourage you to consciously try out values-based living for the next few months. A good place to start is right here: define your values, look to them when faced with both big and small decisions, and mentally check in with them every so often. By doing this, you will become happier.
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