Do you know what your personal values are?
Defining and aligning to our personal values can help us feel motivated, inspired and live a rich and meaningful life. When we know what’s most important to us we can look for ways to have more of this in our lives.
In motherhood there are many (often conflicting) messages about what should be most important to us but if those are not aligned to our values, we may still find ourselves unhappy and unfulfilled. Often we pursue these shoulds at the expense of our true values. Sometimes so much so, that we lose connection with our true values. Fortunately, those true values are still there. Our values are not based on what others expect from us or what we think we should be doing. They come from within us and represent our deepest sense of who we are. Focusing on your personal values can help you release yourself from all the shoulds and stay true to who you really are and what really matters to you.
What are values?
There are many definitions of values, but I like to think about them as:
- The things that are most important to you in your life
- The way you want to behave or show up in your life.
Unlike goals, values are not ever fully achieved and completed. Rather, we continue to look for ways to bring them into our lives and experience them.
How to define your values
Defining your values usually involves reflection based on a series of questions about you and your life. Some people recommend looking at a list of example values for inspiration. If you’d like to do that, you can find a list here. However, this is not essential and you may find it easier to answer the questions with no predetermined thoughts about what your values may or may not be. If you choose to use the list of examples, remember that words may mean different things to different people. The only thing that matters here is what the words mean to you. There is no right or wrong.
Use some or all of the following questions to as reflection and journal prompts to help you discover your values.
- What was your favourite working experience and why?
- Who is the most important person to you and why? What qualities do you most like about them?
- If you could do anything, how would you spend your time and why?
- Think of a time in your life when you felt really good, or when things were going really well for you. Which values were playing out for you at this time?
- Think about a time when things weren’t going so well. Which values were being compromised or were lacking at this time?
- Complete this sentence “When I have ____, I feel fulfilled and at peace with myself and my life.”
- Think about a challenge or difficulty you are facing at the moment and imagine looking back on it one year from now. Imagine that you handled it in the best possible way, behaving as the person you really want to be. What did you stand for in the face of this challenge? How did you treat yourself and others?
Once you have answered the questions that feel helpful for you, see if you can identify any themes in your answers. You may have identified similar values that can be combined or one word may feel more meaningful for you than the other.
Then, identify your top 3-5 values. If you are having trouble prioritising them, try pairing them up and asking yourself “If I couldn’t have both, would I rather have _____ or ______?”. Repeat this over and over with different combinations to sort your values into priority order.
Now, take your list of top values. For each one, close your eyes and really focus on it. What does it feel like in your body? What does it look like in your mind? If you can picture it clearly and feel an emotional response, it’s a good indication that you’ve found one of your core values. If you can’t, you might like to consider if there is something related but more important, if a different word would be more meaningful or whether it may not be one of your core values.
How to use your values
Once you’ve defined your values, how do you align with them to create a rich and fulfilling life?
Here are some practical ways you can use your values:
1. Setting your intentions for the day – Which values will you focus on bringing to life today?
2. Planning your priorities for the day – When you look at your to-do list, which items are aligned to your values and which are not? How can you allocate more time to your values in your day? How can you create more opportunities to live your values today?
3. Making decisions – Which option is more aligned to your values? Which of your values would you like to stand for in making this decision? How do your values influence the way this decision is made?
4. Navigating challenging situations – Which of your values do you want to stand for in the face of this challenge? How do you want to conduct yourself in this challenge? What matters most to you in this moment?
5. Motivating yourself in unfulfilling situations – How can you bring your values into this situation to make it more fulfilling? This could involve:
- Looking for small ways to sprinkle your values in, when you can’t make major changes to the situation.
- Looking at the situation differently to find meaning, through the lens of your values.
- Finding different ways to live a particular value when your first preference isn’t possible (for example, if you can’t go to the gym, but the underlying value for this is self-caring or health, how else can you care for yourself or improve your health?)
6. Reflecting on your day – How did you live your values today?
7. Choosing the key people in your life – Do the people in your life have similar or complimentary values to you? Or do they at least support your values?
The more our values are present in our lives, the more aligned and fulfilled we will feel. Remember, your values can change over time so this is an exercise that you may wish to revisit in the future. Equally, don’t be surprised if your values have changed since you became a mother. This is what happens in our matrescence – the things we value shift. It is part of your evolution and growth.
How do you currently use your values in your life? Can you see an opportunity to use them differently or more?