As we approach the start of each new year, self-reflection is an inevitable and often positive process. It can be incredibly useful to think about the things we want to do to deepen our relationships, achieve more satisfaction at work, improve our health and self-care… Yet often, this time of reflection leads us to start making promises to ourselves that are unrealistic or simply impossible to see through. Sometimes we set goals that are vague like “I’m going to ‘get out’ more” or “I’m going to be a better mother/partner/sister/ son etc.” Setting unrealistic or vague goals is a set up for disappointment.
We live in a goals-focused society. So as we enter a new year, we make resolutions like “I’m going to get married this year” or “I’m going to get that promotion.” “I’m going to lose weight, get in shape” – this is a popular one. The problem with goals/resolutions is that in many cases, they’re not totally within our control and once we “cross them off the list,” well, it doesn’t always end there. We often set new goals for ourselves and can end up searching for that ultimate sense of satisfaction and achievement.
Values, on the other hand, are in my opinion, more valuable than goals. Values are statements or expressions about how you wish to behave, about what really matters to you, about what is most important. Like a compass, values give us direction. They help us to move through our lives in a way that we can feel good about… Ultimately, living by your values leads to a fuller, more satisfying life. In any moment, we can act on our values… or we can ignore them – but the choice is ours; we are in total control. You can never guarantee that you will achieve a single goal you set for yourself BUT you can absolutely choose to live by your values every moment of every day. So, you may not be able to get that promotion at work, but you can still feel empowered by your commitment to being your most focused, efficient and professional self. So you may not get married this year…. but you can be loving, caring, and open in your relationships. You may not “get fit” this year, but you can live healthfully and show compassion toward your body on a regular basis. And remember, values are not what you “should” do or “have to” do. Values are statements about what you stand for, who you want to be… principles to guide you and motivate you through your life.
A little trick to help access your values: imagine your 80th birthday party…. every single important or impactful person you’ve come across in your life is there to celebrate you. Maybe even people who don’t yet exist are there (perhaps children or grandchildren you may have in the future). As each person stands up to give a toast, what would you hope they might say about you? What did you mean to them? What role did you play? What will they say you stood for? If you can answer these questions – or even if you just think about it a bit and raise some questions – then you’ve started on a path to living a life guided by – and enriched by – your values.