Personal values: they are the internal-guidance systems that we use to make decisions about our lives, our relationships, and any major decision we may come across. But do you know your own personal values?
It is far too easy, in our busy culture, to move through life without stopping to consider what guides your choices. Unfortunately this disconnection from the self creates problems like increased anxiety, procrastination, and a general feeling of being lost. Once you are able to identify what values are deeply important to you, you are able to create a personal compass that can guide your daily actions.
If you are unsure what your own personal values might be, try this exercise. It may take a little time and a few materials, but at the end of it, you may have a confident view of what you value most.
You'll need to gather:
- A notebook or loose leaf paper, and a writing utensil
- If you prefer digital writing, a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer where you can comfortably work
- Some quiet time when you can reliably work uninterrupted
Reflect on Your Past
Begin by drafting out three sections to reflect on. Moments in your past when you were proud of yourself, moments in your past when you were happiest with your surroundings, and moments in your past when you were uncomfortable with the situation at hand. Try and keep these three separate so you can look at these memories individually. You may wind up with something like this:
- Drafted a grant proposal and had it approved
- Finally saving up to buy my own place
- Being stuck between two friends getting a divorce
Now, you want to write out some of the reasons those memories make you feel positive. What about that memory made you proud? Was it because you put in a lot of hard work, and got to see effort put back out? Was it because you had creative freedom over a project, or because you got to be in charge of a team?
Look too at the memories where you felt uncomfortable. Was it because you felt conflicted or overly involved? Was is because you were saddened to see each friend behave in ways designed to hurt the other? Really take time to reflect on these.
Journal Specific Emotions
As you think about why those memories stand out to you, write a paragraph or two about each of them. Write about how you felt - there's no need to get too detailed about why you felt a certain why. Just recall how you felt, and write it down. Go back, reread those paragraphs, and underline or circle words that stand out to you - words that have power and meaning behind them, like "courage," "honesty," "freedom," or "creativity." These are the roots of your personal values, and it's how you will chart the next step.
Consider Your Future
Once you've journaled as many memories as you can (or care to), it's time to think about what these words actually mean for you. Let's look back at the example of finding happiness in saving up money to buy your own place - some of the personal values there could be "self-motivated," "independence," and "persistence."
On a fresh page, write out some of these words. Think about what they might have in store for you in the future. Self-motivation to launch your own company? Independence to hike a long trip on your own? Persistence to fight for a battle you see as worthy? The more often you see these words come up in your journaling, the more aligned they likely are with your personal values. Use them to think about who you are, and where you're going. You might be surprised about how far ahead you already are.
Looking for more information on finding your own personal values? I would love for you to schedule an appointment!