When I run workshops on identifying and living values, someone usually asks me:
‘But how do I know if this is really MY value? Perhaps I have just been brought up to believe this is right?‘
This is an important question. When we live other people’s values, our lives tend to lack vitality. So how can we tell? Here are some tests you can apply to your values, to see if they really are ‘yours’:
Think about a time when you have been living that value. Looking back, are you proud of how you behaved? For example, I am English and I have been raised to value politeness. Looking back, there are times when I feel good about being polite (Thanking a waitress. Giving someone my seat in a crowded bus) and others when I feel uncomfortable with my ‘polite’ behaviour (Failing to challenge homophobic comments. Not giving my real opinion about something important.) This exploration then helps me to see that I don’t really value politeness. I value being kind and thoughtful. It also tells me that I value being authentic and standing up for my beliefs.
Use the perspective of time. If for the next 7 years you live this value, you let this value guide your behaviour, over and over again. Will it have supported you in being the person you really want to be? Or not? The perspective of time is helpful because of the risk/regret tipping point. We tend to make wiser decisions if we take a longer term view.
Give yourself permission. If I gave you an ironclad guarantee that everyone important to you would think well of you, whatever values you lived – would you still want to live this value? (This one was created by Russ Harris author of The Happiness Trap.) You might notice your mind getting hooked by this one ‘Yeh right! Like they would approve of me if I became an axe murderer’. If that happens, thank your mind, and see if you can do it anyway. It is just an activity! If the only thing holding you back from being an axe murderer is that your Mum would disapprove – I recommend therapy! However, if the only thing holding you back from living a rich and meaningful life is that your Mum would disapprove, I recommend this book.