February 29, 2012

Defining Your Values

Over at Reading For Your Success I came across a fantastic tool for self-discovery. It's what helped me craft my mission statement and my values. My mission statement helps me define where I am going. And my values help me define where I am right now.

Oftentimes when you think values you think complex, vague concepts like "honour" or "truth". I'm talking about concrete, clear values that offer a day to day, moment to moment guide in every single moment and aspect of my life. And values also include the things you want to avoid, keep out of your life. For example, I don't smoke. That's one of the values I've had since I was little. And it's not changing, not any time soon, because that value is part of what defines who I am as a human being, and how I fit into this world. The only way that value would change is if I have changed.

So if you're struggling to understand who you are, or you knew who you were but may have changed, here's an exercise I adopted from Reading For Your Success with my own tweaks and comments. Feel free to use, share, enjoy, or light on fire.

1. Make some lists. If you know me, you know I'm a list addict. They're useful. They are a scientific tool for gathering and processing information. So we're going to start with some lists. Make a short list that answers each of these questions:
-What are traits of people you admire?
-What are traits you look for in a partner/lover/spouse?
-What traits do you avoid in a partner/lover/spouse?
-What are traits of people that bother/disturb/annoy/anger you?
-What are the most important parts of your life/being?
-What kind of a person do you want to be?

Now take from those lists anything that repeats itself, or anything that stands out. Cross off anything superfluous (like "rock-hard abs") and condense into one new, short list.

2. Analyze the data. Look at your shiny new list. Think about it. Spend some time on this step, doing some deep thinking. Your values define who you are as a person to yourself, and to the people around you. Take this seriously. Is this who you want to be? If it isn't, go back to step one, and make a new list that reflects this better. You might have to do some soul-searching or library adventures.

If this is a good list, continue to the next step.

3. Define your terms. Define what each of the items on your list means clearly, leaving no room for doubt. Don't use ambiguous terms. Use powerful, meaningful vocabulary. If you need to, brainstorm.

For example, one of my values is freedom. The definition of this value is: maintaining my ability to choose for myself in all things, at all times.

Don't define your values the way other people would. These definitions are what you believe, what you feel, what you desire. Don't let anyone else define your values for you, ever, or they are no longer yours.

4. Don't plan. This step is not planning. I'm trying to knock the habit of planning. But it is brief guidelines that will help you stick to your values. These "guidelines" can be habits you want to form, or they can be rules you follow, or exercises you can do to practice your values.

For example, some "guidelines" for my freedom value are:
-Take my education into my own hands
-Consciously exercise my ability to choose
-Be aware when my freedom is being reduced or removed, and fix it
-Use my freedom to further myself and expand my freedom, not restrict or drag down

5. Follow through. Print your list, definitions, and guidelines up and hang them on your wall. Or post them on your blog. Or otherwise give yourself daily access to them. Come back to this list often, come to it when you need to make a decision and think 'what choice best reflects my values?'. If you go through a large life change or experience, reevaluate your list. Every six months or whenever, reevaluate, rewrite. You will change, and as you do, your values might too. Or they might stay the same.

Either way, the four previous steps are useless if you don't follow through, if you don't live according to these values. Though if you decide you don't like it, stop. While it's important to stick to your values, your values should be important to you.

My Values:
- Honesty. Absolute truth in all things. No omissions, deceptions, lies or anything other than the complete and total truth.
- Respect. Respect for all people, myself, animals, objects and the planet.
- Family (I consider friends family, too). Caring for and protecting, no matter what the cost, to the best of my ability, anyone who has been welcomed into my herd.
- Freedom. Maintaining my ability to choose for myself in all things, at all times.
- Wisdom. Knowing and Understanding God's word. Listening to others. Maintaining an open mind.
- Passion. Following what I love, devoting every fiber of my being too it, despite any risks or fears.
- Joy. Be happy, always, and find the beauty in even the ugliest of situations. Glorify in the gifts of God instead of mourning the things I've lost or desiring the things I do not have. Being happy in the moment.
- Unique-ness. Standing out from the crowd and expressing who I am and how I feel in everything that I do, wear, say, and any other opportunity to express it.

What are your values?

For some further reading, check out:

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