Monday, March 3, 2014

Live Your Values ...

It's not hard to make decisions when you know
what your values are.

Roy Disney

I met my dear friend, Lin, at university a number of years ago. One of the things that first attracted me to her was her integrity. Her inside and her outside matched. She had been consciously thoughtful about what she valued in life and her actions revealed those values clearly to anyone who met her. 

Lin believed in trying to become as fully human and fully alive as possible and that belief led to deeply held values including stillness, faith, respect for others and the environment, connection, hospitality, wellness, and learning. In turn, her values led to actions such as practicing a life of inclusive contemplative faith, communicating in intentionally respectful ways with others, organic gardening, making her own environmentally-protective cleaning supplies, nurturing longterm close relationships, generously sharing her home and belongings, taking daily strenuous exercise in the outdoors, and deeply investing in motherhood and in her teaching vocation. (Now, she wouldn't want you to think she's Little Miss Perfect. Her language does occasionally reflect the passion of her emotions and there are certainly days when divorcing her family and running away seems a reasonable choice - just like the rest of us.)

I do remember being quietly amazed the first time I saw her using her values, intentionally, to guide an important decision. (At that time in my life, I'd done little of my own work and I was still living in reactive vs responsive mode. It hadn't occurred to me that I could be that consciously value-driven in making decisions.) I gradually came to realize that much of my friend's resilience (she'd not had an easy life) was rooted in knowing what mattered most to her - her values - and how she used those values to give continuity and guidance to her life. 

When we know our personal values, they can become strong anchors in any storm whether illness, injury, job loss, bereavement, natural disaster or other trauma. While relatively stable over time, our values are not necessarily static - different ones are more important at different stages in our lives. So, it can be useful to reflect, from time to time, on what really matters to us right now.

One way you can do this is to put some quiet time aside and, in your journal, (or in your mind if it's sharper than mine), do the following exercise, adapted from Danea Horn's, Chronic Resilience:

1.  Values are reflected in our actions. Sometimes there can be a disconnect or dissonance between what we think are our values and what our actions show. Think back over the past week. How did you spend your time? What values do you think your actions represented? Make a list of the activities and the values they stand for. (eg slept in, showered, got dressed - values = comfort, cleanliness; walked to work - values = health, connection with nature, thrift;  family dinner - values = family time, good nutrition, relaxation)
Remember that there are no right answers - only those that reflect your personal values. (eg family dinner might be about valuing family connection or it might reflect the excitement of trying a new recipe)
What do you notice from your list? Do your activities reflect the values you hold dear? Are you shocked by what your activities are revealing? Is there something you want to adjust?

2. Answer 3 questions to help you determine your values:
a.  What's important to you? Activities. People. Projects that bring you joy and satisfaction. What makes you feel fully alive? What makes time pass quickly? What would you choose to do if you had free time? What do you feel fully committed to? What can you not live without?
b.  What do you want to be remembered for? What will your legacy be? What do you want your work to stand for? What do you want others to receive from your work? How do you want others to feel after they interact with you?
c.  What lessons are important for you to learn during your lifetime?  Where do you want to grow? What do you need to learn about relating to yourself or others? What do you need to learn about love? About trust? What areas of life feel essential to explore?
The answers to these questions - the themes, ideas and hopes - will point you toward what you value. Try to distill each value into a word or two. (eg If you feel fully alive when watercolour painting, your value might be "creativity").

3.  List your top 10 values in order of priority. Then use them to guide your decisions, the projects you pursue, how you fill your free time and what to do in a crisis. When you know your values, you can look at your calendar repeatedly and ask, "Do these activities, this schedule, support my values?" 


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