How Well Do You Follow Your Internal GPS?

Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time researching and deepening my understanding of values and their relationship to goals. As part of a yet-to-be-announced project that I’m working on, my colleagues and I are reflecting on why we sometimes do things that align with our values and why we sometimes don’t. The mystery is why we wouldn’t always take actions that support what we value. We know (and science confirms) that we’re happiest when we’re pursuing something and when that pursuit is aligned with stuff that is important to us.  So, why then, do we sometimes choose to do stuff that isn’t important to us and therefore isn’t very satisfying?  

As we look forward to 2022, I challenge each of you to not make resolutions, but to reflect on the alignment of your personal values and your everyday decisions.   First, let’s define the concept of personal values.  I like to frame them as the feelings and beliefs that operate in the back of your brain that subtly guide your behaviors and ideals.  We use them to judge actions, people, things and situations.  We figure out what we value through life experience and self-awareness. 

If you google “personal values” you’ll see endless sites giving you lists of what can be considered personal values. That’s fine, but I consider those lists to be a little too specific to start off. I like to start with the 10 broad categories developed by Shalom Schwartz, PhD. many years ago through his work at Hebrew University in Israel. By sampling a vast number of people in 60+ different cultures, Dr. Schwartz determined that there are 10 universal personal values regardless of culture. These 10 categories have been scrutinized and challenged over the years, but never found to be inaccurate. 

Here they are:

Conformity – You tend to be restrained and match your attitudes, beliefs and behaviors to the people around you in order to keep the peace. (obedient, self-disciplined, polite, loyal, responsible, honoring parents and elders)

Self-Direction – You value having the freedom to choose what you do and think. It is important that you direct your own life.  (Creativity, freedom, privacy, self-respect, curiosity, independence)

Stimulation – You seek out adventures, challenges, and generally enjoy a varied life  filled with excitement and novelty. 

Hedonism – You prioritize physical pleasure in all that you do and will actively avoid anything uncomfortable. (pleasure, self-indulgent, enjoying life)

Achievement – It is likely that you prioritize work, value competency and have a strong sense of purpose and persistence. You seek opportunities to be proud. (ambitious, successful, capable, influential)

Power – Prestige and recognition are important to you.  You are likely to exhibit dominance and control over people and resources. You strive to achieve and hold authority. (wealth, social power, preservation of public image)

Security – A sense of belonging is essential to you.  You prefer a healthy lifestyle in which all of the systems you interact with are stable and orderly. (clean, reciprocation of favors, national security, family security, social order, healthy, moderate, sense of belonging)

Tradition – You are committed to maintaining a connection to previous generations through respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that your culture or religion provides. You prioritize adherence to social norms to preserve the status quo. (accepting position in life, humble, devout.)

**Tradition is closely related to conformity.  Both involve subordinating oneself. In tradition, subordinate yourself to intangible things such as religions and customs.  Conformity = subordinating oneself to a particular person or group that you’re around.

Benevolence – You are dedicated to preserving and improving the well-being of others. (helpful, honest, forgiving, responsible, loyal, friendship, mature love)

Universalism – You believe that all people and the environment are to be understood, protected, and appreciated. (broad minded, social justice, equality, world peace, unity with nature, wisdom, inner harmony) 

Which values resonate with you the most?  Name your top three values. Are you ok with your values? Are you being honest with yourself about what you actually value?  Keeping your values in mind, what do you want your life to look like in a week, month, year or five years from now?  What is one thing you will do to make that happen?  Give yourself something to strive towards, breaking it up into singular actions, each action moving you closer to how you want your life to be.  This is the road to contentment and happiness.

Something to keep in mind:  Living according to your values does not make you immune to pain. There will always be periods of grief, anger, loneliness, and sadness.  Living according to your values gives your life meaning and purpose.  It allows you to wake up and be able to look at yourself in the mirror without shame or regret. When you string enough of those days together, it is on reflection that you will be able to feel the small smirk spread across your face that comes from knowing you made the best choices for you regardless of the outcome. That is happiness.  Happiness is a natural consequence of living a values driven life, not a destination.

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