Values are not what we talk about. They are how we live. They determine why we make and live the choices we eventually do.
Quite often, we don’t live what we advocate. We may express certain preferences and ethics in our self-talk and external debates. But when it comes to walking the talk, these may be less present and more absent than we would like.
Any such split within us causes us stress, discontent and keeps us disturbed. Without knowing it, we are living by one set of principles and measuring ourselves by another. Whereas acknowledging any such dichotomy helps address the gap and us move to a more integrous, hence more peaceful, fulfilling and enjoyable way of life.
This gap within us may be something we see clearly, or it may be something we have not realized. When subtle or unconscious, it may display itself in the form of dissatisfaction, angst or apathy. Procrastination or indecisiveness may be keeping us in a long state of ‘stuckness’. Also, look out for an emotionally charged reaction towards others displaying behavior contradictory to your stated values. Any such triggering is a good hint of us being unable to notice, and or forgive that in our self. (Click here for a more detailed write-up on this.)
In order to address this split, we need to clarify our values. The truth is that understanding our personal values is a tricky business. What we want and what we think we want can be two radically different things.
Everything has its pros and cons. In theoretical discussion, we tend to discount the discomforts accompanying ‘nobler’ choices, as also our non-adherence to the same. In practice, it may be more challenging to live with the price one has to pay or the changes these aspirations demand of us.
Illustratively, one may believe in minimalism but rationalize the need to hold on to dozens of books; one may advocate fitness or environmental issues, but take the car for even short distances; one may value fairness, charity or generosity, but pay cost or less at the ‘pay-what-you-want’ cafe; one may aspire to forgiveness and yet be unable to let go of an old disagreement with family.
Often, what we think we value is more indicative of what we expect from others and the world than of ourselves.
A thorough, methodical examination of how we use our limited resources of time, energy and attention can be quite revealing. Such a deeply honest inquiry can help us discern the values we live (find comfortable or doable) at this point, as against those we aspire towards. There are several online questionnaires that can help you with this task.
Below is a list of some useful questions that I had noted a while back (sorry, I can’t recollect the source). Initial, reflexive answers may come from habit and conditioning. So make sure you spend a little time reflecting and revisiting these before you list at least 3-5 answers to each one:
- How do you fill your space?
- How do you spend your time?
- How do you spend your energy?
- How do you spend your money?
- What do you think about most?
- What do you envision or visualize most?
- What do you internally dialogue about most?
- What do you externally dialogue about most?
- Where are you most organized?
- Where are you most disciplined?
- What do you react to most?
- What do you set goals towards most?
This should have helped you gain a fairly good idea about what you currently find comfortable or doable and live by.
Now compare this to who you thought you were or would like to be and how you would like to live. Some areas will already converge while the contrasts in other places may surprise you.
A more complete alignment can be attained in one of the following two ways:
I. By updating our list of values to reflect reality as it stands.
A deeper understanding of who we are, where we are and how things currently stand helps us find truer, more peaceful self-acceptance. Broadly speaking, there are two possible explanations for the places our values turned out to be different from what we thought prior to the exercise:
- There may be another set of priorities that we understand the merits of but are not yet ready to shift towards. For example, valuing generosity or co-operation, but displaying stinginess and competitive traits. In such case, discovering and releasing the underlying fears, unhealed wounds and insecurities is necessary before there can be any change in priorities.
- We actually judge what we thought we valued. For example, we think we value ‘gentleness’, but demonstrate ‘aggressiveness’ because the former is judged as being ‘weak’; or we thought we value ‘freedom’ in work and relationships, but find this to be ‘impractical’ or ‘shallow’, and consequently ‘commit’ to unhappy jobs or marriages.
In such a case, it is useful to check if the judgments are truly our own, or our way of ‘fitting in’. There may have been instances of being say ‘gentle’, or announcing your ‘need for freedom’, that led to disastrous consequences. Or that one has now come to respect the ‘power’ that ‘aggression’ brings, or the ‘comfort’ and ‘reliability’ that ‘commitment’ brings. ‘Rights’ and ‘wrongs’ are a matter of opinion but where we stand today needs to be admitted.
By being honest with ourselves, we cease wasting energy in the denial of our hurts, and rejection of our current experience and opinion. We are then able to re-examine how we would like to live the rest of our life. This further guides us in our inner work of releasing filters, limiting beliefs and emotional baggage.
II. By implementing choices and actions that incorporate our true values.
Even if they be baby steps, one must start actioning the shift.Radical changes in lifestyle, career, home, health, finances, etc. may seem like a daunting task. Such changes can be challenging, time-consuming and disruptive to the comfort of familiarity we have chosen thus far. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, as they say. Well begun is half done.
How you choose to be is a choice you make from moment to moment. Whether one is being mindful or running on auto-pilot makes all the difference.
As long as every step takes you closer to your idea of who you believe yourself to be at heart – regardless of what ensues and how long it takes – you begin to experience greater happiness and contentment.
Lastly, a side-benefit of clarifying our values is healthier relationships: Like it or not, we gauge others using yardsticks determined by our values. Being aware of our values gives us a better understanding of our reactions and thus helps make things less personal. For example, someone who values hard work will likely find a Taoist lazy or irresponsible. Or someone valuing extroversion is likely to see an introvert as boring, shy and so forth. Recognizing that we are referring to a completely different framework enables us to be less rigid and demanding of others, thereby bringing greater harmony into our relationships.
I hope this article helps you discover a greater clarity and ease. If you find it useful, please share it with others.
Photo: Tanushree Vaidya Photography