Clarity of values and goals is super important when it comes to personal development. However, in my experience, goals are discussed much more openly in the workplace than values – and I think this is a shame.
In a recent video, I explained why coaching isn’t just about goals and goal-setting. Yes, goals can be incredibly helpful in giving us a target to work towards. An outcome to achieve. A level to get to. But they also need to be meaningful and authentic to us. And that’s where values come in.
What are values?
Values are the personal qualities we want to bring to life – the stuff that’s meaningful and important to us. It could be maintaining your wellbeing, being close to nature, enjoying art and beauty, or being professional.
It could be family focus, life-long learning, security and stability or fun and adventure. We all have lots of values, and being clear on the most important ones means we can use them intentionally. To make decisions, guide our behaviour and cultivate habits that represent the life we want to live.
Values differ from goals in a number of ways, so let’s explore these differences, so you can be clear on how to put both into practice.
Values versus Goals
1 – Values give us a sense of direction whereas goals are the destination to be reached.
If you think of your development as a journey, being clear on your values means you can use them to head in the direction that matters to you. So they can act like an internal compass. Using the same metaphor, goals can act as the destination we want to reach. If I keep heading East, I’ll reach Tokyo. East is a direction, Tokyo is a destination. Travel and Adventure is a value, visiting Tokyo is a goal.
2 – Goals can be achieved, while values persist.
If we take the previous example, once I’ve visited Tokyo, I can cross it off my list of goals. It’s done. I’ve been! And yet, my value of ‘Travel and Adventure’ stays with me. So the goal is achieved, whereas values persist. I can now turn to planning my next trip, using my values to guide me.
3 – Values come from within us, while many goals are a function of the external world.
Your values come from you entire lived experience up until now. Your childhood and upbringing, your education, your relationships, your career to date. What’s meaningful and important to you lies within you. And it’s up to you to bring this stuff to life in your daily life.
Goals are about an externally defined target. Ans sometimes, these goals aren’t even defined by us – think about the targets you get set at work, for example. Reflecting on this distinction can help remind us oif what’s truly important and worthwhile to us, and what represents a goal we might be working towards for inauthentic reasons.
4 – Values can and should be applied flexibly. By their very nature, goals are inflexible.
You either achieve goals or you don’t. You either pass that professional exam or not. You either get the promotion or not. You either secure the new job or not. But your value of ‘Professionalism’ can and should be applied flexibly as you work towards these related goals.
Goals have a rule-like quality to them – their rigidity and specificity is part of what makes them useful. Values are principles and should be applied as flexibly as is helpful. I can bring my ‘Travel and Adventure’ value to life in all kinds of ways – from trying a new meal in my local restaurant all the way through to planning a round-the-world holiday.
5 – Goals are about a point in the future.
While goals represent a future destination, values can be about the present moment we’re in. If you think about any of the goals you’re working towards, they’re about a point in the future. A savings target exists in the future. A weight loss target exists in the future. Graduation from your university course is in the future. Values can be about the present moment and how we choose to show up here and now.
So, while both are useful when it comes to understanding ourselves and moving in a valued direction, values and goals differ in some fundamental ways. In the next blog post, I’ll look at some helpful ways you can bring your values and goals together.