In my last blog post I wrote about how a seemingly innocuous coaching exercise had reconnected me to my values, and so had also brought some renewed meaning to my life. I also mentioned how I would look at values and show you how it’s possible to connect with them in order to understand what really matters and so find some direction.
When I’m working with clients, one of the first things I do is spend time helping them to really connect to and understand their values. It’s a weird one really because values don’t seem to offer anything tangible. Indeed, to some, values as a concept may be a woo-woo notion that have little or no concrete impact upon the process of coaching. On the contrary, during lockdown I experienced some different types of coaching myself as a coachee. The difference for me between the great coaching sessions I had and the okay ones were that with the good coaching, the coaches were able to connect with me just that little bit deeper and help me to reflect on my underlying motivation for doing things. What I’m talking about here is the ability for the coach to help you look at yourself in a genuine, real and honest way. This is massively important in any process of change, and values are a key which enable us to do this.
Values are unique to each individual. Values are what we stand for. They are not goals, but chosen life directions which serve to guide us like a compass. Russ Harris describes them like this:
“To lose ten pounds of weight is a goal; eating healthily is a value. To go to the gym is a goal; caring for your body is a value. To have a big house is a goal; supporting your family is a value….To feel less anxious is an ‘emotional goal’; acting courageously is a value. To feel happy is an emotional goal; being warm, open and friendly to others is a value…” (p193. ‘ACT Made Simple.’)
For me, values are like a really good Victoria sponge cake underneath some fancy pants icing and decoration. Because really, you can have the cake without the icing, but it kind of doesn’t work the other way round – with just the icing on its own.
Values should be held lightly, so they don’t become a binding contract ie oppressive and restrictive. But they can be around you all the time to guide you and especially so when making decisions. This is because when we are lost, stuck, our sense of meaning is gone, we’re anxious or depressed, we can use them to inspire, add richness to life, bring motivation and also return us to some meaning. It is of course important that in living true to our values, we must learn to prioritise them – for example when there is a clash of values. An example of this clash, would be something like finding yourself in a toxic friendship and following the value of being kind at the expense of everything. This would mean you suffered harm within that friendship and the value of looking after yourself was diminished. So, it requires some discernment on your part to understand how to balance your values.
There are lots of ways to do this. Sometimes it’s necessary to do some work with thoughts and emotions first, just to clear the path so to speak. But let’s assume that you aren’t tangled in any thoughts at the moment or struggling with a strong emotion, so the first task is simply to clarify your values. This can be done by asking yourself a ‘miracle question’. This one comes from ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: 100 Key Points and Techniques’ by R. Bennett and J.E.Oliver:
“The zombie apocalypse finally strikes, as you knew it would. Humanity is brought to its knees and in its wake, you emerge the other side as the sole survivor. You’ve managed to take care of the survival essentials: you’ve got safe shelter; you’ve found years’ supply of baked beans and you’ve figured out how to take care of the zombie threat. Now there’s no one left on the planet to judge your actions, criticise you or say things to hold you back. What would you do to build a meaningful life?”
To help you come up with some answers, you can consider: What new things would you do? What you do more or less of? How would you treat yourself? What would you let go of?
Now, you can stop at this point. Knowing what you value in life and having this information to hand is important in itself. But, to really get the most impact out of values, you can attach them to your life domains eg relationships, work, health etc. A really great way to do this is by forming a classic coaching action plan – BUT, the one I’m suggesting takes into account the need to attach values to our goals. You can find this plan here.
It really is a straightforward exercise, but one which does require some investment of time on your part. However, if you do complete it, believe me, the result of doing so can be liberating. For example, you can use it in the work domain if you’re looking for a new job. Following the process can help you move towards employment which gives you satisfaction and a sense of purpose rather than just going for a job which does give you cash, but also gives you a bucketful of stress and tension every day of your working life.
So, discovering values can help you connect to vitality, purpose and meaning. They help you discover the ‘why’ of an action rather than just ‘what’ the action is. As Michael Jr states:
‘When you know your why, your what becomes more impactful because you’re walking in or towards your purpose.’
If you feel like you might benefit from connecting to your values, but find doing this on your own is too complicated and you want some support, then contact me by phone on 07486 607420 or by any other method on my contact page.