A woo-woo idea?
Values based living is when we ‘live in line with our values’. This of course is one of those mostly meaningless sayings that coaches and wellness people throw around- like everyone should know what it means.
For a long time, I didn’t understand values-based living or see any merit in the idea. Values seemed like a bunch of inspirational words that really had very little to do with my everyday life.
The value of values
What I’ve come to understand, is that values-based living doesn’t need to be so wishy washy. In reality, it is actually an incredibly powerful tool for how to guide your life.
Your values exist whether you know it or not. They come out when someone makes a racist joke, or throws trash on the road. They come out when someone says something mean, or doesn’t say thank you when you hold the door.
They are the invisible framework that guide our lives, our behaviours and our ideas of what is important in this world. Sure, they may seem like vague words like ‘honesty’, but when you feel discomfort because a friend asks you to lie- that is the life behind the word.
Values vs. outcomes
Values based living is in opposition to outcomes based living. This is not a new idea, but it is an important one. If you’re like me, chances are you have lived your life from achievement to achievement. When achievements stop, life becomes meaningless.
Living by values requires switching your worth as a person to living in line with what is important to you (internal); rather than by what you are achieving out in the world (external). This simple shift makes a huge difference for mental health.
3 ways values support you
- It gives you boundaries: when I first started this work, I was a huge push over, especially if anyone needed help. Very often I found myself in situations I didn’t like morally or doing work I didn’t have the bandwidth to do. I realized that the anxiety and discomfort I felt was a sign that my values and boundaries were being crossed. This gave me the ammunition to say no. Where I felt bad refusing because ‘I didn’t really want to, but didn’t know why’ – now I could identify that it was crossing my boundary and that wasn’t acceptable.
- It gives you a north star: in a moment of stress or confusion, it can be incredibly difficult to make a decision. Values are simple bright lines you can follow. I have used this countless times when I was too tired or anxious to get to a logical choice. I would grab onto the rope of minimalism, or wisdom, or vulnerability and it would lead me in a direction I could be proud of.
- It gives you back the power & responsibility: I believe that the most important thing we can ask of ourselves is ‘did I make myself proud’? This isn’t ‘was I perfect’ or ‘did everyone like me’ or some other completely out of our control standard. Rather, values allow us to judge our behavior by a standard we set and control. In asking ourselves, ‘am I proud of myself?’ we take back the power to set our own value, but also the responsibility of deciding what is right- and doing it.