In recent posts, I’ve explored the key differences between values and goals, as well as how we can use them together.
So much of the coaching I do with my coaching clients involves clarification and reconnection with their values, because values are so core to being the kind of person we’d like to be. But just like many other aspects of our identity, they can be misunderstood.
Let’s take a look at three of the most common ways we can misinterpret values and how to use them:
1. Flexible principles, not rigid rules
One of the most common misunderstandings when it comes to values is how they’re applied and the flexibility we can bring to them. Values are inherently flexible, meaning they can be applied in countless different ways, depending on the context we find ourselves in.
Forgetting about this flexibility means we can start to see our values as rules to be followed or standards to be met. This moves the helpful belief “I would like to be a dependable person” to the rigid rule “I must always be dependable”. The former gives us ‘wiggle room’ to cope with whatever the context throws at us. The latter requires us to meet our commitments, not matter what.
You can just imagine the pressure this could put someone under. It also means ‘dependability’ could displace any number of other values from our awareness, oversimplifying the view we hold of ourselves. ‘Failure’ to be dependable could then be viewed as a significant personal failure, and not the everyday event it is in reality.
2. My values, not yours
It’s easy to forget that our values may not be shared by the people around us. This needn’t necessarily lead to friction or conflict. We may place importance on very different aspects of life and still get along tremendously.
It’s also important to remember that clarity of values means you work towards living your values – there’s no obligation for others to respond in kind. Your compassion, your generosity, your diligence – they might not be mirrored in the behaviour of those around you. But that’s not the point of values anyway. It’s about providing some principles to guide your behaviour in life.
Similarly, we may share some values, but express them in very different ways. Just because compassion is important to you, nobody around you needs to express it in the same way.
Your values are just that: yours.
3. Values are an everyday thing
Values-based living isn’t always easy, but it is rewarding. Research has consistently demonstrated the positive impact that the application of our values can have on our wellbeing. This is why it’s important that values aren’t thought of as just a tool that we pull out when it suits us. It’s as important to bring our values to life in tiny ways each day, and not just when it’s easy or convenient.
This means we need to navigate discomfort as we move in the direction of our values – but we do this knowing we’re moving in a valued and meaningful direction. So, don’t wait until you’re faced with a major decision or a particularly challenging setback to reach for your values – they’ll feel like an unfamiliar, even alien concept. Instead, live them in small ways as you go about your day, so you know how it looks and feels like to express them.
To learn more about values and the role they play in fostering our psychological flexibility, check out this episode of the podcast, where I interview fellow psychologist Ross McIntosh.