Everyone operates with some kind of understanding of what’s right or wrong, good or bad, scary or safe. But not many people ask themselves why they think this way or do what they do.
You may have some surface-level idea of what makes you tick, but probably not to the extent that you are able to make any real sense of it. Most people are on auto-pilot, going about their days, and doing things in whatever ways they were taught by their parents, peers, and society.
What’s really driving you, though, is your set of core values.
What Are Values?
Your values are an internal representation (a picture, feeling, or sound) of what is encoded in your unconscious mind as being the most important things to you in an area of your life.
In cognitive psychology, core values are considered to be deeper than beliefs. They hover at the deepest level of your unconscious (subconscious) mind. Values are actually imprinted in you long before your beliefs and are programmed as images in your unconscious mind as a young child. It’s said that this occurs between the age of 0 and 3, and by the time you are 3 years old, your core values have already been programmed.
According to sociologist Morris Massey, the development of values follows this approximate timeline:
- The Imprint Period (ages 0-7)
Like a sponge, you absorb everything you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and feel. You are imprinted by everything.
- The Modeling Period (ages 8-13)
You adopt the characteristics of whoever you look up to and who you want to be like. You copy other people and try on different ways of being.
- The Socialization Period (ages 14-21)
During this phase, you try to determine where you fit into society. As you develop your individuality, you begin to push back on earlier programming and rules.
Between your early 20s and mid-30s, you develop your business persona—or how you present yourself to the outside world. This can explain why some people don’t do anything with their college degree. They picked it when they were 18 years old, and it no longer resonates with who they are.
Each of these periods are key to developing your set of values—what you hold as being the most important to you. And from those values come your beliefs—or convictions that you trust as being true.
For example, imagine you value having success in business. As you think of success, you will find that you have a number of beliefs about what success looks like, sounds like, feels like, and also whether or not you are able to achieve it and why. This sets your attitude on how you approach your life.
Importance of Knowing Your Values
Knowing your values is key to determining what you do with your time and how you evaluate the time that you spend. At the deepest level of your programming, your core values drive you to spend your time in ways that support what is most important to you. Until you know what your values are, this is happening at the unconscious level.
Your top five values are the most influential in how you live your life. While others exist and are important, they do not have as much influence on your behaviours or help you prioritise your time.
By becoming consciously aware of your values, you can use them to make more informed decisions and set goals.
How to Identify Your Values
To identify your values in a major area of your life, follow these simple steps:
- Choose an area of life in which you’d like to identify your values (For example: health and fitness, career, relationships, family, personal growth and development, or spirituality).
- Ask yourself: “What’s important to me about (fill in the area of life)?
- Write down a list of words that come to mind.
- When you can’t think of anything else, number the words according to their order of importance to you. NOTE: Of course these things are ALL important to you. Do your best to put them in order of importance.
- Next, re-write your list of words in order of importance on a fresh sheet of paper.
- You now have your values in this area of life.
Now that you know what your values are, you can be more conscious of your choices before you make them.
Values Should Support Goals and Vice Versa
It’s important that your goals be in alignment with your values and vice versa. If they do not directly support one another, you will encounter a values conflict.
For example, if you value financial abundance in business, and you take a salaried position that does not support the lifestyle you want, there will be conflict. Or, if you value open communication in a relationship, and the person you are in a relationship with does not openly communicate, there will be conflict.
Coordinating your decisions to support both your values and your goals will help you achieve the things you want in your life. This is something that, for the most part, is in your control.
Another form of values conflict is when you have two values that are both positive but are competing with one another. For example, if you value money and freedom in your career, here’s how it could play out:
In order to make more money, you work more and more, but your freedom begins to feel neglected and starts shouting “Hey! What about me?!?” Realising the imbalance, you start doing things to create more freedom, like taking down time and vacations, at the expense of working less. When your value for money isn’t being met, it suddenly begins shouting “Hey! What about me?!?” This back and forth then becomes a cycle.
This type of conflict requires you to harmonise your life by balancing your various values. You will need to make compromises and accept that there may be an adjustment period before you find your happy medium.
Start by writing out your values in each major area of life and you’ll soon be on the road to aligning your goals with what is truly most important to you. Living this kind of balanced life can bring new joy, experience, and satisfaction.