Your values are what you believe are important in the way you live and work. Values help you to set your priorities, by deciding what is most important in life, but so often you are not consciously aware of them. When your actions and behaviours match your values, life is usually good. But when they are out of alignment, you will often experience stress and unhappiness. This is why identifying your values is so important. Emotions can give you insight into your personal values.
Values represent a guiding direction for your life rather than a destination. If your life is going in a direction that is personally meaningful, you are more likely to be able to navigate inevitable challenges that arise. Valued living enhances resilience. Whereas goals can be achieved, values cannot be achieved.
How Values Help You
Whether you recognise them or not, values exist. If you value family but your work demands long hours that take you away from your family, then you are likely to feel internal stress and conflict. If you don’t value competition but you work in a highly competitive work environment, you are unlikely to be happy for long.
Understanding your values in these situations can be helpful. When you know your values you can use them to make decisions about your life including:
- What work should I pursue?
- Should I start my own business?
- Should I follow tradition or create a new path?
- Should I compromise or be firm with my position?
Do Values Change?
Values may change throughout your life. For example, when starting out on your career you may measure success by money or status. Once you have a family, you may value work-life balance more. Keeping in touch with your values is a lifelong process. You should continuously revisit your values, especially if life feels out of balance.
Values are the answer to the question:
“What do you find important in life?”
Using Values to Build Resilience
Connecting to personal values can help you be more resilient in the face of stress.
A study by Creswell and colleagues (2005) showed that reflecting on personal values buffered physiological and psychological stress responses during a laboratory stress challenge.
Participants completed either a value-affirmation task or a control task prior to participating in a laboratory stress challenge. Participants who affirmed their values had significantly lower cortisol responses to stress, compared with control participants. These results suggest that reflecting on personal values can keep neuroendocrine and psychological responses to stress at low levels.
Values provide a reason to keep going, especially when life events make it hard or impossible to live in line with personal values. They can help you to find the strength to actively deal with the stressful life event and stay motivated.
How Do You Work Out Your Top Values?
Here is a list of values for you to consider. Underline or circle about ten values that resonate with you and then try to distil that down to your top three.
- Are these top values being met in your work and your life?
- Do these values make you feel good about yourself?
- Would you be comfortable and proud to tell someone you respect what your values are?
- Do your top-priority values fit with your life and your vision for yourself?
- Do your values represent what’s truly important to you?
Don’t lose track of what is important to you.
Try to spend your time and energy on things that nurture your values.