For most people, dealing with distressing experiences, such as anxiety, depression, and memories of sexual abuse, takes a lot of our energy. At times it might feel like it takes all you’ve got just to stay afloat, leaving not much left over for anything else. In order to get ourselves in a better place to deal with these difficulties, and life’s problems in general, it is worth putting some time and energy into identifying and living by your values; that is, what you stand for as a person.
Our values act as a kind of reference guide or compass for who we are, how we act in particular situations, and where we want to go in life. If we possess a clear sense of purpose and direction, and act according to our values, then we are less likely to feel overwhelmed or be knocked off course when we experience challenging situations.
What are ‘values’?
Values are life-concepts that are important to us. They might be based on how we were brought up, on religious or spiritual tradition, on a particular sense of ethics, or an approach to life that we have adopted along the way.
There are no right or wrong values, and they are different for everyone. One person might most value being genuine in relationships, honesty, and having a good work ethic, while another’s values could consist of ‘giving people a fair go,’ being creative, and ‘always doing my best.’
Whatever the history of our values, they are essentially our sense of the (subjective) right way for us to live. When we act in accordance with our values, we generally see our life as purposeful and meaningful.
Tips for identifying your values
We usually hold our values implicitly; in other words, we don’t often consciously think about and name our values in a structured way. By identifying our values, we establish a basic guide for us in our life.
Take some time to think about the following areas of life, and try to identify a word or sentence or two about what is important to you; what kind of person do you want to be and how would you like to act in these areas of life?
We have included some possible suggestions of common values below. Keep in mind there is a lot of overlap between the life domains and the values themselves; most values can apply to several life domains at once! This is just a very rough guide.
|Family||Assertiveness: to respectfully stand up for my rights and request what I want|
Fairness: to be fair to myself or others
Forgiveness: to be forgiving towards myself or others
Independence: to be self-supportive, and choose my own way of doing things
Respect: to be respectful towards myself or others; to be polite, considerate and show positive regard
|Relationships||Freedom: to live freely; to choose how I live and behave, or help others do likewise |
Honesty: to be honest, truthful, and sincere with myself and others
Intimacy: to open up, reveal, and share myself – emotionally or physically – in my close personal relationships
Love: to act lovingly or affectionately towards myself or others
Romance: to be romantic; to display and express love or strong affection
Sexuality: to explore or express my sexuality
Trust: to be trustworthy; to be loyal, faithful, sincere, and reliable
|Parenting||Acceptance: to be open to and accepting of myself, others, life|
Compassion: to act with kindness towards those who are suffering
Encouragement: to encourage and reward behaviour that I value in myself or others
Patience: to wait calmly for what I want
|Friendships||Caring: to be caring towards myself, others, the environment|
Connection: to engage fully in whatever I am doing, and be fully present with others
Friendliness: to be friendly, companionable, or agreeable towards others
Generosity: to be generous, sharing and giving, to myself or others
Humour: to see and appreciate the humorous side of life
Reciprocity: to build relationships in which there is a fair balance of giving and taking
Supportiveness: to be supportive, helpful, encouraging, and available to myself or others
|Study / Learning||Challenge: to keep challenging myself to grow, learn, improve|
Creativity: to be creative or innovative
Curiosity: to be curious, open-minded and interested; to explore and discover
Open-mindedness: to think things through, see things from other’s points of view, and weigh evidence fairly
Persistence: to continue resolutely, despite problems or difficulties
Self-development: to keep growing, advancing or improving in knowledge, skills, character, or life experience
Skilfulness: to continually practice and improve my skills, and apply myself fully when using them
|Work / Career||Cooperation: to be cooperative and collaborative with others|
Industry: to be industrious, hard-working, dedicated
Order: to be orderly and organised
Power: to strongly influence or wield authority over others, e.g. taking charge, leading, organising
Responsibility: to be responsible and accountable for my actions
|Leisure||Adventure: to be adventurous; to actively seek, create, or explore novel or stimulating experiences|
Excitement: to seek, create and engage in activities that are exciting, stimulating or thrilling
Fun: to be fun-loving; to seek, create, and engage in fun-filled activities
Pleasure: to create and give pleasure to myself or others
|Spirituality||Beauty: to appreciate, create, nurture or cultivate beauty in myself, others, the environment|
Humility: to be humble or modest; to let my achievements speak for themselves
Spirituality: to connect with things bigger than myself
|Community||Contribution: to contribute, help, assist, or make a positive difference to myself or others|
Conformity: to be respectful and obedient of rules and obligations
Equality: to treat others as equal to myself, and vice-versa
Justice: to uphold justice and fairness
Kindness: to be kind, compassionate, considerate, nurturing or caring towards myself or others
|Health||Fitness: to maintain or improve my fitness; to look after my physical and mental health and wellbeing|
Self-control: to act in accordance with my own ideals
|Personal wellbeing||Authenticity: to be authentic, genuine, real; to be true to myself|
Courage: to be courageous or brave; to persist in the face of fear, threat, or difficulty
Flexibility: to adjust and adapt readily to changing circumstances
Gratitude: to be grateful for and appreciative of the positive aspects of myself, others and life
Mindfulness: to be conscious of, open to, and curious about my here-and-now experience
Safety: to secure, protect, or ensure safety of myself or others
Self-awareness: to be aware of my own thoughts, feelings and actions
Self-care: to look after my health and wellbeing, and get my needs met
Sensuality: to create, explore and enjoy experiences that stimulate the five senses
Keeping a record of what you value and how you want to live your life can be useful. Once you have created a record for yourself, the next step is to start to take some small steps that make these values an every-day part of how you live and act in your life.
Values related goals
While values are very important, the thing to keep in mind about them is that they are ideas, not behaviours. Once you have identified your most important values, it is helpful to then engage in behaviours that move you towards those values. This means committing to things you can do that are in line with them.
Identify an action or behaviour that will bring your life more in line with a particular value. For example, if a value of yours is “self care,” what are some self caring behaviours you can commit to and engage in on a regular basis? Do some SMART goal setting for each and every value that is important to you. Often you will then notice an increased sense of wholeness, of being true to yourself, and an improvement in your wellbeing.
This approach to life does not mean we are never confronted by difficult situations, unwelcome thoughts and uncomfortable feelings. It is just our focus is on calming and centring ourselves and acting in accordance with what we have established as our preferred, valued way of living life.