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The value of valuable values

One of the keys to living a life that's meaningful and fulfilling is to identify the guiding forces of your life, choose the ones that bring you the most joy or satisfaction, and then follow them as best you can.


Your values run through everything you do -- your peak experiences and your lowest lows. They lift you up and connect you to your best, most wonderful self, and the violation of your values brings you frustration, disconnectedness, and dissatisfaction.


But most of the time they do it secretly, running in the background like your computer's operating system -- we know when it crashes or gets buggy, but if we're not clear on what our values are (like I am not clear on what my computer's operating system is), it's hard to recover from those unpleasant feelings.


There are several ways to identify your values:


1) Just knowing what they are

You've been alive long enough and done enough self-reflection that you know that family, accomplishment, and faith drive the majority of your decisions and lead you to positive outcomes. Or you've struggled enough with challenging coworkers to know that connection, innovation, and humor are what you need at work.


This is a great method, but if you don't already have this kind of clarity, it won't help much. (read on!)


2) Analyze your high moments

Think back to a time when you were most proud, filled with joy, or living on cloud 9. What were you serving in that moment? What were you honoring? For example, for many people, graduating from high school or college is a high point because it honors their values of hard work, determination, knowledge, or friendships. Or getting married is a high point because it celebrates the values of love, commitment, respect, or success. Your high points come because you were in full alignment with one of your most important values at the time, and because your values are different from everyone else's, your peak times will be unique. (I can easily imagine two spouses honoring different values at the exact same wedding.)


3) Reflect on your crap moments

What are the kinds of things that drive you bananas? Usually when we are triggered by a situation, it's because one of our values is being stepped on. As an example, it drives me NUTS when people rush to be the first ones off a subway car but then walk so slowly and take up so much space that I can't get around them. It turns out that I have a value around freedom of movement (it's why I don't like Peloton, either, alas). I like to move through space at my own pace in my own way. These low points (and there are lower points than subway exits, I acknowledge) shed some light on what we need to do differently.


4) Talk it out with close peeps

Sometimes your values are so integral to who you are that others can see them (or articulate them) better than you can. Ask your close friends or family what they think you value based on what they've seen of you. Take their answers with a grain of salt and a ton of curiosity -- what have you done that makes them think that way?


5) Do a value sort

There are several online value sorters that list a few dozen generic values and allow/force you to sort those values into a range of importance from Not At All Important to Vitally Important. While this might miss a value or two that are unique to you, they're a quick way to get a sense of what's really important to you. (Or an interesting first date activity, if you're into that kind of thing.)


Here are a couple of places you can find them:


Once you have your values in place, you can evaluate yourself against how fully you're living each value on a regular basis. The more you live them, the more aligned and complete you're likely to feel.


But don't take my word for it. Give it a try.


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