So much of the work that I do with my coaching clients involves getting clear on what really matters to them in life – their values.
You’d think that something so central to our identity and our satisfaction with life would be front of mind, and yet… a majority of the people I work with have given little to no thought about their values before sitting down with me.
The reasons are all too predictable and understandable: the generally hectic nature of our contemporary lives, and the pressure to focus on what’s grabbing their attention in the moment – the next task, the next notification, the next meeting. In an environment like this, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and focus on today’s priorities.
Values can seem overly conceptual or intangible. Or even a bit of a luxury. And I totally get that.
Getting a little clarity
Taking the time to step back from tasks and errands and instead, reflecting on the personal qualities that you want to experience more of, is an investment that definitely pays off. Clarity of values can bring a sense of satisfaction, a new perspective on identity and indeed, on the week’s priorities. But clarity is just the first step.
Values are what you want to do, not how you want to feel.
“The Happiness Trap”
It’s not enough to be clear on what matters to us, we need to act with this in mind. In other words, we need to put our values into action on a regular basis. And this brings us to one of the most common misunderstandings when it comes to values: they’re not about how you want to feel. They’re about what you want to do.
Values over feelings
As I outlined in a recent blog post, so much of what we do in coaching can bring a sense of meaning and purpose. But, in the moment, not happiness. And so with values. Some of the important actions we’ll take don’t make us happy in that moment, but over time, allow us to be the kind of person we truly want to be.
Which is much more important than very temporary happiness.
Putting yourself forward for a promotion could be perfectly in line with your values. These might be ‘Career Focus’, ‘Professionalism’, or ‘Ongoing development’. The name you give it matters less than the knowledge it’s who you want to be. But what kind of emotions might you experience? Self-doubt. Fear of failure. Dislike of ambiguity. Fear of rejection.
If your decision about the promotion was purely about how you’ll feel, you might find yourself wondering if it’s worth it. You might even decide to keep your ambition to yourself and avoid the promotion process entirely.
Your application decision-making process will look very difficult depending on whether you examine it through the lens of values or emotions.
So, values-aligned action can be difficult, uncomfortable or even a little bit scary. But it’s most definitely worth it in the long run. And so it’s important to remember that values are about behaviour, not emotions. Things you’ll do, not what you’ll feel.
How will you put your values into action this week?