If I were to ask you to quickly list the things in your life that make you happy, content, or fulfilled what would you say? Say your list out loud right now. I swear no one’s judging…
This list is often comprised of people; how we spend our time; how we view ourselves and others; our opinions; or our goals. It’s our soul’s way of telling us, “Hey, this is how I’m wired and what I need to feel my best.” When we stop listening to those internal truths and head down paths that don’t ignite us, our lives also start to feel as though they’ve gone off course.
When our lives are full of situations or people that don’t represent who we are at the core, discontentment slowly sneaks in. Every client I’ve coached has bumped up against this obstacle in one form or another and needed help seeing their lives more clearly to help them uncover their purpose, authentic selves, joy, and goals.
The first step to that freedom is always this: Identify your values.
The notion that we are most content when our actions are aligned with our values is not new, but what does it mean, exactly? Essentially, if you have a job, a partner, or anything in life that goes against what you firmly believe in, you’re going to start feeling like a passenger in your own life.
The practice of comparing your actions to the things you hold closely to your heart can help you discern where the pitfalls are. For example, I value fitness and being active, but when my actions are binge-watching horrible reality television (that I can’t get enough of, for some reason), I don’t feel my best. I can ignore my values and give in to the short-term pleasure of doing nothing, or I can do the hard work of listening and course-correcting to avoid the slippery slope of getting into a soul-suffocating routine that doesn’t support my values.
How to Uncover Your Values
Your values are your lighthouse—They are the beacon that navigates you throughout life. They are the pulse dancing in your veins. They are the raw, naked truth of who you are without your title, possessions, or accomplishments. They are your roadmap and user’s manual, communicating what you need from your soul to your brain.
Figuring out if your life is aligned with your values seems like a tall task, so it’s important to spend some time uncovering the epicenter that is your values. People assume they have to answer with something world-changing or esoteric. Your answer can be as simple as “dogs,” “coffee” or “a clean house” as long as you’re answering with full honesty about what you place high importance on.
Sometimes our lives match up to the values we were pretending to have because we were trying to please others, and that has a way of catching up with us. Answer honestly, and give yourself permission to give voice to what you crave, need, and giggle maniacally about.
Some helpful questions to ask yourself to find values that might be tucked away:
1- What are the things in my life that really light me up?
2- What are the parts of my life I am not willing to change for anyone?
3- What makes me emotional?
4- What have been some of the happiest moments in my life and in this past year? What has made me happy today?
5- At the end of my life, what do I hope to have accomplished, and what do I hope people will say about me?
6- What did I used to love when I was younger that I’ve gotten away from?
7- What makes me feel uncomfortable in life? (This helps you see what you don’t value.)
These questions help you enter your soul from different vantage points. One question alone might really help you see your values. All of them in conjunction with another might be what you need to get a full picture.
Why Knowing Your Values Matters
Once you start to understand what’s important to you and what you’re not willing to give up, the next step is to step out of your brain and into your actions. What are you doing (or not doing) every single day that makes you feel “off?” What do you think about at night before you sleep that fills you with regret, sadness, or jealousy?
This feeling of being “off” means things make you hesitate as they occur. They don’t feel right in your gut, and your gut is the internal detector of inauthenticity. For example:
It’s the partner who doesn’t laugh a lot like you do.
(You value laughter and fun.)
It’s the job where your boss talks down to you.
(You value feeling smart and part of a team.)
It’s how you don’t love the vacation you’re on in the city.
(You value quiet time in nature.)
All these things might make you feel out of sorts because they scratch up against your values. Does it mean you should break up with your partner, quit your job, or only go on vacations that match up to your list of desires? No. It does mean if the same things keep playing on a worry-loop in your brain, it’s helpful to take out your user's manual of your values to help you be the driver in your life and not a passenger who feels less and less joy every day.
What if My Values are Challenged?
Finding out what your values are does not magically solve your problems, and it doesn’t mean your goal should always be to get exactly what you want or expect everyone to be just like you.
We can’t expect everything in our lives to be beautifully aligned with our values wish list. The goal is not to never be affected by life or only ever be with people who are exactly like us, so herein lies the nuance of getting to know yourself and knowing what the deal-breakers are.
We can handle some discrepancies, and sometimes pushing ourselves out of what we value helps us grow and see the world in new ways, but knowing your values and continually checking in with yourself is an easy way to figure out (1) why something is bothering you and (2) how you might work toward a solution or acceptance.
Once you know your values and you examine your actions daily, you start to gather clues about who you are. Sure, we all know to some extent who we are, what we like, and what’s important to us, but when we take the extra time to dig in, we can find deeper truths that we hadn’t considered.
But once we start to dig in, and really see what makes us tick, we can see our future with different eyes and it can help us make well-informed decisions based on what we know to be true about ourselves.
Some things that I hold dear to my heart are my family, friends, nature, music, living simply, spirituality, and equality. Those are my lighthouses. When things in my life leave me feeling unsettled, I don’t rush to rash decisions and say, “Well, it didn’t match my values, so I’m outta here.”
I do the contemplative work with myself and my coaching clients and the patient excavating to figure out what’s underneath and what to do next. To stay. To leave. To have the hard conversation. To challenge myself to try new things. To allow myself the space to be me. To be empathic toward others who also have their own list of values and are navigating them.
There are no quick fixes or life hacks to avoid this necessary work. But this first step of uncovering your values is the small, easy step you can take today to start (or continue) building a life full of peace, contentment, and fulfillment.
Life Coaching in Dayton, Ohio (or anywhere via Zoom)
I am a life coach in Dayton, Ohio, coaching clients of all walks of life to get unstuck and gain an understanding of who they are, what they want, and how they'll get it. My approach and techniques are rooted in positive psychology and social science (not things that feel too "woo-woo" because that's not who I am). Sessions are always deep, life-changing, and fun. If you like a direct approach to help you transform your life, reach out to me for a free consultation to see if life coaching might be for you. If you just rolled your eyes at the phrase "life coaching," I want to work with you even more now.