Individual values are always a popular topic in personal development. Whether they be personal values, family values, or work values, your values are what drive your life. Values are rooted in emotions and feelings. Although most of us never dig deep enough to uncover what those feelings ultimately are. Most of us stop at the means of our values without ever getting to the ends.
I’ll illustrate with a quick example. A lot of people will say that they value their family. But family is not really our value. It’s how our family makes us feel or the emotional state that it provides that gives us insight to it as a value. To really discover your values you have to ask yourself what feelings or emotional states it provides. For some, family means love and connection. For those people, their value is not family but the love and connection family provides. I hope that makes sense.
What happens when we become aware of an internal conflict with the values that we cherish or manage our life by? Well, we experience internal tension which results in pain and can even damage our relationships. You see, when values are in conflict, you can’t experience the feelings or emotions you hold so dear. Which means it is impossible to be happy.
To resolve the conflict, you must first get really clear on the values/feelings that drive your life. Then you must prioritize those values for greater effectiveness. And finally, you must understand how your actions are driven by your values.
To discover your life values or your “toward feelings”, the feelings and emotions you want to experience in your life, ask yourself this simple question; “What values/feelings/emotions are most important to me?” Take this time to jot down your thoughts. Don’t filter because there are no right or wrong answers. There are no values that are better than others. Be sure to challenge yourself to not stop at the means but to get to the ends remembering that your list of values are the words that access your emotional state. Some examples might be love, significance, respect, worthiness, adventure, etc. Keep going on your list until you have about ten values listed.
Next, prioritize your list of feelings by asking yourself which feeling has been most important over the past couple of months. An easy way to do this is to compare each feeling on the list to each other one by one. Using the short list in the previous paragraph, I would compare love to significance and decide which one was most important. Then I would compare love to respect. Then love to worthiness. Work all the way through the list and keep a running tally of your answers. This will allow you to order them from most important to least important.
Finally, figure out the “rules” for each of your feelings. In other words, what has to happen for you to feel X? Be sure to be honest and very specific. Again, it’s important to be spontaneous in this exercise and write down the first things that pop into your head without a filter. If love is one of your values, then what has to happen for you to feel love? Do you have to have someone say the words, “I love you” to you? If so, how frequently? Do you also need physical touch? Do you also need it demonstrated through favors without you asking or for others to do what you ask of them without question? Do this for each value on your list.
Then look for patterns in your rules. Are there any values on the list that are necessary to make the other values possible? Are there things that prevent you from experiencing your values? For instance, in order to feel X there can’t be X. In order to feel love, there can’t be any arguments. Are you in control or do you have no control over these scenarios? Are your values easy to achieve at work but difficult to achieve at home? Is it the other way around?
Rules are the way we organize our feelings. The interesting thing is that most of our rules don’t make that much sense. And the problem with that is that if the rules for our values aren’t based on rational thought, we can’t be happy. We can’t be happy because irrational rules are impossible to fulfill.
Now, repeat all three steps to focus on negative values or your “away from feelings”, the feelings you will do anything to avoid. Ask yourself which feelings you would do almost anything to avoid having to feel. List about five or six and then see if there is a theme to your list. Typically, this list will support your top value. Prioritize this list just like you did for your toward values. Finish up by listing your rules for these negative values. When reviewed, you will probably realize that it’s a lot easier to feel an away value than a towards value.
As I said earlier, most of your rules won’t makes sense. So, the tendency will be to edit your rules immediately once you see them on paper because your intellect will take over. Don’t worry about your rules not making sense. If your intellect had been aware of these rules, they wouldn’t have been created. Just get your first response/reaction down on paper and then you can review them for logic.
Once you see and understand that most of your rules don’t make sense, then you can reconsider and rewrite your rules so that you can experience your highest values easily and consistently.
To reconsider and rewrite your rules ask yourself these three questions:
1. Are the conditions for experiencing your values under your control or under the control of other people and external circumstances?
2. Are your rules flexible? Meaning, are there many ways for your values to be met so that you can experience your values in different ways instead of just a few, rigid, unreasonable ways?
3. Are your rules designed to make it easy to experience your values repeatedly or are they hard to accomplish?
Referencing back to our value of love and connection. What if you shifted from needing a loved one to tell you four times a day that they love you to needing only you to express your love for a loved one to feel the same love and connection? That moves the rule from outside of your control to within your control. What if, in addition to needing to being verbally told you are loved, you also see an email and a card as an acceptable form as well? How much easier would it be for you to experience your values repeatedly if your rules were in your control and had multiple ways of coming to fruition?
Irrational, complicated, and rigid rules means we are more likely to experience our negative/away from values than our positive/toward values. Once you are able to reconsider and rewrite your rules to make your positive values easier to attain and your negative values harder to experience, you come into alignment and reduce the inner tension caused by this conflict. Removing the tension allows you to experience your positive values and restore joy and happiness to your life.
Have you experienced this type of internal conflict before? What did you learn by going through this exercise?