As we wrap up the first seven days of January, many of us will be setting goals and intentions for the new year. Rather than give you the same old tips and tricks for sticking to your resolutions, I’m inviting you to swap your resolutions for values-based action!
Focusing on our values doesn’t mean we won’t set goals (don’t worry, we’ll get there). What it does mean is that we are focusing more on our “why.” Resolutions for the new year frequently come from a place of “should” and “must,” rather than a place of meaning. So yes, before we dig into goal setting, we have to zoom out a take a look at the big picture and identify values. These are our ideas about what is most important to you in your life —what you want to live by and live for… the why.
Identifying Values: Where to Start?
You can think of values as a guiding compass; a direction that we can always move towards.
Values are often the silent forces behind our choices and actions. When we have greater awareness of our values, we can be more self-directed and effective in our day to day living and prioritize accordingly. Once you’ve ident
ified your values, rank your top 3-5.
Some broad domains include:
Family relations- What kind of relationships do you want with your family? What kind of mother/father/brother/sister/uncle/aunt do you want to be?
Physical well-being— What kind of values do you have regarding your physical wellbeing? How do you want to look after yourself?
Marriage/couple/intimate relationships- What kind of husband/wife/partner do you want to be? What quality of relationship do you want to be a part of?
Friendship/social relationships- What sort of friend do you want to be? What friendships is it important to cultivate? How would you like to act towards your friends?
Parenting- What sort of parent do you want to be? What qualities do you want your children to see in you?
Spirituality- What kind of relationship do you want with God / nature / the Earth?
Recreation- How would you like to enjoy yourself? What relaxes you? When are you most playful?
Citizenship/community- What kind of environment do you want to be a part of? How do you want to contribute to your community?
Education/training/personal growth- How would you like to grow? What kind of skills would you like to develop? What would you like to know more about?
Changing Behavior with Values and Goals
While it’s great to know what is important to us and what brings us meaning, it’s not enough to stop there! Behavior change requires us to translate those values into actionable behavioral steps. The more specific you can get the better! The easiest way to set yourself up for success is to use the SMART goal format.
Getting out of Your Own Way:
Now that you've identified values and related goals, it's time to talk about the biggest barrier to success...OURSELVES! We can hold something dear but still make choices that don't move us in the direction of our values. These barriers can of course be practical in nature, such as time and resources. However, more often than not they are internal, meaning the thoughts, feelings and body sensations that arise when we are are at a choice point.
These can be powerful dictators of our behaviors and actions, oftentimes without us even noticing!
What is important to remember is that living a values-based life doesn't always feel good. Sometimes living out our values requires us to be willing to feel a certain level of fear, anxiety, and discomfort but the payoff is living a meaningful life. Sure, that may not sound very appealing, but what is the alternative? Living a life of avoidance, trying to minimize discomfort and pain. So what will you choose?
On a practical note, when I work with clients on values clarification, our worksheet looks something like this:
Once you've identified barriers, the next step is to identify a plan of action! This could include recognizing that thoughts aren't facts, separating out past from present, increasing self-compassionate talk, having a support system in place to encourage you and increase accountability... the possibilities are endless. For some, the plan of action may be relatively easy to identify, while for others it mean mean digging into the impact of our history and early relationships. Go at your own pace and seek out extra support if you need it!