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Living in-line with Values

October 30, 2021

2 people siting on a porch in autumn

Amy Mauro

Defining what I mean by values here

Values are the things that are important to you, what you cherish about life. They are your highest priorities in life.” -Marsha Lineham via DBT Skills Training Manual

Identifying values can be a useful tool to help people live lives they experience as worth living and lead to long-term feelings of satisfaction, contentment, and happiness.

Different people have different values, peoples values may shift as they grow and change, and sometimes people have values that conflict with each other. An example of this may be a person who values both independence and intimacy. We can have different parts of ourselves, and sometimes having conflicting values may lead to some of the distress that a person is experiencing in life.

How to Identify Values

There are many ways to do this, but a helpful tool to identify values is to look through a value’s sort (essentially a list of values compiled from studies on this subject) and work to think about the values that are most important to you. Use the process of elimination if necessary. Write down your top values. 5-6 is a manageable amount, but more or less is completely fine.

While doing this, it is important to remember that what you value should be intrinsic and not reflect what you think other people expect or want you to value. If you would be willing to do work on this value without anyone ever knowing about it, that may be a good sign that you really value this thing rather than are prioritizing it for other’s approval.

Now What?

After identifying and listing your top values, it is time to intentionally start thinking about how to live in-line with your values and make values-based decisions. Oftentimes, our emotions and feelings will make our decisions for us. For example, I want to be a hard worker and be successful, but I keep staying up late watching Netflix and then hit snooze and keep running late to work. Or perhaps I value being a good friend and building relationships, but anxiety gets in the way and I keep cancelling plans with people I want to grow friendship with. “Emotions are excellent servants, but tyrannical masters.” -Kris Valloton.

  1. Begin to be mindful when you are making a decision, talking to someone, going through life, etc. of your values. When your emotion is prompting you to do something that is opposite to your values, act opposite to the emotion instead (this is a DBT Skill). Ask yourself, “What would be a value’s based decision, way of tackling this problem, interacting with this person?” Then act on it.
    • This can sometimes feel difficult when some values support one decision and other values support another. Work to identify which one reflects the most important or majority of your values.
  2. Write down the top value you want to work on in this life season. Then identify three goals that would help you live more in-line with that value. Choose one of those goals, break it down into actionable steps, and then work towards it with intention. Rinse repeat as needed.
    • An example: Identified the value of wanting to make the world a better place. Wrote down three goals: volunteer, donate monthly money to an important cause, learn how to bake and start giving baked goods to people with an encouraging note attached. Chose volunteering, did research on various places nearby, thought about which one felt the most impactful, contacted two, signed up to volunteer one once a week.

To Summarize

  1. Values are the things in life that are most important in life, they make us tick, they make us feel fulfilled as we live in-line with them.
  2. Intentionally building a life in-line with values takes work, but can lead to feelings of long-term contentment and happiness.
  3. Look through a value’s sort and identify your top values.
  4. Begin to work on this by 1. Mindfully making decisions most congruent to your values 2. By identifying a value to work on and choosing one actionable goal to do that supports this value.

About The Author

Nikki Stafford, LMHC Headshot

Nikki is a professional counselor who seeks to help others enhance their lives by intentionally working towards their self-defined goals and values. She works to help each person feel comfortable and accepted, identify and build on current strengths, and is flexible to individualize her clinical skills in order to help each person find  movement towards the life they want to live.