“It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action and discipline that enabled us to follow through.” – Zig Ziglar
The first post of this short series explored the role which our values play in living a purpose-full life. Our values enable us to express ourselves with confidence and to live authentically, however they are not always so easy to identify and often operate at the subconscious level. There are a ton of offline and online resources that can help with finding out about the things that enliven you. To start living a more fulfilling life it is not necessary to finalise a definition of your values. Instead, I would encourage you to write down draft statements in the present tense and in first person where appropriate and compassionately observe how they influence your days, keep a daily journal to document how you live and embody those values, or otherwise. As you get further clarity through your observations you may need to refine or change your ‘value statements’ to better reflect the values which you live by. When you feel they are in-tune with who you are, the daily observation and journaling will strengthen your connection to your values and your ability to live life true to your essence.
In your observations you may notice that there are times when your behaviour does not align with your values. In fact we often behave and act in ways which oppose what we truly value! In these instances we might feel frustrated, confused, angry or misunderstood. This inner-conflict inevitably reveals itself on the outside, in engagements with people, in activities and situations. In turn people normally react according to your behaviour and actions. Their reactions can sometimes be thought of an invisible mirror which provides an indication of how your behaviour and values are misaligned.
Unfortunately rather than gauging a deeper understanding of this misalignment, we instead tend to adapt our actions and behaviour in order to validate or invalidate the “mirror”. For example, if the response you receive from an audience after giving a presentation is very negative, then you may take on the belief that you are no good at presentations and in turn you will try to avoid giving presentations in the future. In Behavioural Psychology this is called negative reinforcement and it involves a person taking up a behavioural trait to avoid pain or fear. Positive reinforcement involves a person taking up certain behaviours to which s/he links some pleasurable outcome; sales people might get into the habit of doing over-time to make extra sales calls if this often earns them a bonus. In another context positive reinforcement occurs in an addict who will repeat their addictive behaviour in return for the high or someone else may constantly get into arguments if they feel a release of anxiety afterwards. Other examples of negative reinforcement include someone who constantly avoids going out on dates due to their fear of being rejected or someone starts coming home late to avoid a stressful situation in the home. This rift between our values and our behaviour is a rift between our internal compass, thoughts, words and actions.
Do you know what your drive in life is? What gets you up in the morning? What specifically brings out the best in you? Are you embodying your values or is there a widening rift?
Connection and Direction
If we use the analogy of farming, then our beliefs and behaviour are akin to a farmer sowing the seeds. We get unexpected outcomes (or weeds) if we’re not careful.
As we explored earlier, our internal constructs, our beliefs about who we are may not be congruent with how we behave; a shy person may perceive themselves to be compassionate however, the lack of expressed compassion will make others see them differently and in turn others will generally respond in kind. Unfortunately this is a self-enforcing system; staying with the example of the shy person, other people will often feel uncomfortable or confused and respond by being apathetic, impatient, irritated or even with criticism. The shy persons’ sub-conscious mind processes this in such a way which reinforces the belief that they’re shy, and so the belief strengthens the shy behaviour. This may cause the shy person to become frustrated and unfulfilled with their life.
Now if the shy person understood that their behaviour was not congruent with their value of living compassionately then this self-awareness can provide the impetus to change. Our desire for happiness and meaning is so intermingled with our relationships that at a spiritual and primal level we have a need to feel loved and to feel worthy. This is true for both our personal and professional lives no matter what our aspirations might be.
Bridging the Inner and Outer Self
In one sense, cause and effect of behaviour are two sides of the same coin. Regardless of the angle from which you look at it, it’s the same coin. Yet, we can choose another system, another belief to guide our actions and related behaviour; beliefs that are aligned to our values.
Beliefs either form the bridges between our values and our actions or they widen the ocean between them. They dictate how we affect and engage with the world and the people in our world. Neuroscience explains this metaphor through describing the brains neural network and chemical reactions called synapses which build the bridge or widen the ocean between constructs of the Self. Beliefs affect how we approach our day, our vocation, how we make decisions, how we raise our children, what we consume, how we spend our time and money and how we see ourselves and treat others.
Do you feel unfulfilled in any part of your life? How might your beliefs be working against you? Which beliefs could you develop to support your values?
The process of picking and unpicking your beliefs may be a slow one and perhaps uncomfortable too. Though, we need not be critical of or judge ourselves because beliefs have the habit of forming without our choosing. Some beliefs are adopted through cultural and social norms, religion or our life experiences but it isn’t very important how they came about if they are limiting your life.
Getting clear on how any belief is limiting your life, whether in relationships, career, lifestyle etc. is crucial because clarity is going to provide you with the will and discipline to drop a belief. Getting clarity into what your values create when embodied through action is also important for strengthening new beliefs. The process requires reinforcement, a high-level of self-awareness and a dash of self-compassion.
When we’re able to align our values with our actions we start to see out into the world with a new perspective. The river of your life will start to flow in a new direction, meandering through places which bring meaning and vital energy to your experiences, relationships and to your lifes’ work.
I encourage you to look into your values and beliefs in order to dial into your inner compass, and I also encourage you to look at which of your values are in fact principles, i.e. truths which universally govern the nature of life and thus provide you with secure anchors. If one anchors their daily life with such principles yet acts through their values then their world will thrive no matter what the circumstances.
To follow up this short series on ‘Invoking a Sense of Purpose’, I will be writing about the link between your strengths and values and its significance. The role of stories in creating meaning and we’ll look into your unique edge, what it might be and what it may mean for your life.