When you say to yourself, “I want to feel good!” What does the “good” part mean for you? Does it mean, “I want to put on my fluffy sweater. Turn off all the noisy equipment in the house and emerge in reading a book.” Or, something more common, like: “I want to find the most extravagant travel destination. Book a flight and go there, so I can show Jenny from the accounting department that I’m more adventurous than she is!”
You can’t expect to improve and become a more disciplined person. You can’t self-improve if you don’t define what this better state should look like first.
We obsessively focus on being happy all the time and running away from activities that are slightly out of our comfort zone. Not realizing that where we end up being is a nasty place. A place of more discomfort and more harmful sensations. All of this, because we never took the time to determine our personal core values and realize the importance of values in our daily life.
Because no one ever taught us about values. Contrary to what you consider logical. While it’s important to have good values – more about that later. People consider talking about them unimportant. As this is something you somehow need to know and talking/thinking about it is a waste of time.
The topic of values is a complicated one, indeed. However, just because you already have some sort of values. This doesn’t mean that they are good and serving your life.
Actually, based on my experience, I’m quite confident they are the opposite of serving you – harming you. Not because you are a bad person – well, I hope you are not. But because you never took the time to consider what is important for you and what is unimportant. I know I didn’t for more than 20 years.
In this article, my plan is to give you a complete overview of what are values, and why they are important in our daily lives – plus how you can go ahead and define your values. Along with that, I’ll share my personal journey of self-discovery.
What Are Values?
Values are internalized beliefs about what are the most important things in our life. They serve as a yardstick by which we can measure the alignment of our actions with what we hold dear. Help the individual decide what’s desirable and worth pursuing.
Values provide us with a means of introspection. Allowing us to reflect on whether our choices and behaviors align with our core beliefs. By examining the degree to which our actions align with our values, we are able to make more mindful and intentional decisions.
Values are like a standard. Like a roadmap we follow. Like a compass steering us, guiding our actions.
For example, if you value personal growth over entertainment – a desire to doze off in front of the TV at every possible moment.
You’ll likely arrange your life around activities that are aligned with this value of yours. You will read books. You will register for seminars. You will use social media to gather insights about your projects, not collect more ideas about how to spend more money on items you don’t need.
In short, values are extensions of ourselves.
How Values Are Formed?
Or troubled relationship with values arises largely from the lack of understanding. We are unaware of how we form our values. Thus, they are formed in the background without our acknowledgment. You grow up valuing certain things over others, not knowing exactly why.
Based on my research, values are shaped by the combination of the following three:1
- Life experiences: The process of living shapes our value system. Most commonly it happens unconsciously, but it surely happens. Our experiences leave an indelible mark on our character. These can be both good and bad. And as you can imagine, a large part of our experiences are based on the people around us.
- Outside influence: From an early age, we are heavily influenced by the closest people around us. They become our role models. The people we look up to. These connections have a significant impact on what we eventually start to value. This happens through both direct teachings and indirect examples. Meaning that if your father is lecturing you on how you should not waste money on crappy stuff and at the same time you see him all the time bringing more and more crappy stuff. Well, then, you’ll most probably start to value crappy stuff – not saving money.
- Personal reflection: While the previous two are mostly passive ways for value-gathering – i.e., you gain values, but you don’t fully understand how and why, they simply happened to you. To ensure that your actions align with your values from now on. One should spend some time considering what are his current values and why. Then, decide what will be his new values and why. The process of self-reflection puts you in control because it’s you who decided if something is significant to you or not.
Though I’d been largely unaware of it, publishing more than 400 articles on my site has been largely based on my values.
My exposure to people running websites convinced me to start a site. The outside influence demanded to create my site a certain way plus also want it to grow. Eventually, reflecting on this allowed me to realize that writing is a form of self-expression and creativity. A core value to which we all, in some way, strive towards.
And while all of this was powered by my values. My values changed along the way.
When I started initially with my site, I valued money and fame. The sole reason I wanted to be online was to get recognition and shower in cash. In time, and as my values evolved. I was less interested in the latter and more intrigued by the opportunity to develop as a person – improve my skills based on my writing.
My site become not a project solely for money-gathering. But more a project of skill-improving.
Why Values Are Important?
If you play stupid games. Don’t get surprised when you win stupid prizes.
Precisely because we play stupid games. We win and keep winning, stupid prices. Yet, we don’t quite realize we are involved in a methodically idiotic contest until it’s too late.
Let me tell you a short story about why this is true in relation to values. The story of the young Fizzbin…
Fizzbin was a dork.
He had friends. But his friends were, unsurprisingly, dorks as well. They didn’t go out much partying. They rarely dated girls. The only thing they did in relation to girls and parties was talk about these things while sitting on a bench in front of their huge grayish block while eating chips.
Fizzbin, as his teenage genes grew disproportionally in his body. Realized that there should be another way to spend his time. A better way. So he started watching what other kids – cooler kids – did. They dressed in expensive clothes. They were drinking. They were smoking. They act carelessly.
What did young Fizzbin do? He started drinking, smoking, and spending the bulk of his savings on new clothes. Oh yes, he also started using a different set of language, so he can impress the cool kids and integrate himself into the lavish life of partying and dating.
Obviously, this young Fizzbin was me while I was young. I was that dork who later pretended to be a cool kid.
Not that it was all bad. And after reflecting on this. I can’t say that the worst part was drinking, smoking, or going crazy at parties – and doing all of these things for a couple of years.
The worst part of all is never taking the time to define what I value and what I consider important in my life.
What I did mostly while at the cool camp was to copy what other people considered valuable and incorporate this into my life without giving it a second thought.
I was playing a game of liking. I dressed to impress. I always said yes to every invite. I spend money like crazy. In short, I valued the interest of other people without constructing my own set of values and thinking about what I wanted.
As time passed, I figured that this type of living is not working out for me. Hell, this type of living is not suitable for anyone who eventually wants to have a family and wants to maintain sanity in our mad world.
Basically, I realized that I no longer value instability and the sensations associated with this – going out every week and spending a fraction of a fortune to feel good for a couple of hours.
I value stability. Things that can make me feel good for years, not hours – a cozy home, a couple of good friends, a good book, enough money in the bank account to not worry when something happens.
Values are important in our daily lives because they guide our behavior. They influence how we think, the decision we make, the habits we incorporate into our lives, and the people we hang out with.
Values provide a foundation upon which we can build our character and guide our actions. Without values, we are left adrift in a sea of chaos, subject to the whims of circumstance and the desires of others.
Moreover, values allow us to decide what is worth investing in. Plus, as you can imagine. What’s unimportant and not worth investing in.
Having said that, during your day-to-day life, you can be either moving closer to your values or away from them.
Once values are established, you begin to act in accordance with those values. This is called valued living.
When you’re presented with a choice. You quickly measure the potential outcome based on what you value. The end result is you acting in accordance with what you consider important.
The more you end up in situations that are putting you in a position where you are forced to do something against your values. The more you’ll try to escape this oppressive environment.
A recent example of a life that is the opposite of value living is during the global pandemic in 2020. Since people were temporarily outside the office environment and more inside their home environment. They realized that they don’t quite value the office – or their current job. What they value is their mental health, their families, or working on a more noble project that can make the world slightly better – not work for another startup that only exists to get funding and exit.
What this realization led to?
When you are not living in line with your own values. When what you do doesn’t align with who you want to be. This usually leads to a crisis of meaning. There is an inner conflict that eventually shows itself – you are in a constant gloomy mood and you verbally attack your dearest people every time you feel on the verge of a mental breakdown.
Most commonly, the problem with value living is, firstly, that we are blindly imitating rather than constructing our own value system.
Secondly, we believe we have certain good values while we actually have other not-so-good values.
The first problem emerges because we seldom pause to reflect on what we consider important – something we’ll discuss in the final section below.
The second problem is how good values are camouflaged in mediocre actions.
To explain this, let’s discuss briefly the reason people use the evil social media platforms and why they end up overwhelmed with closets full of clothes they don’t wear.
When you ask a regular person why he uses social media. The common answer is, “To stay in touch with friends and family.”3 This means that they value family and friendship. Which is awesome.
Is that the case, though?
No. Not at all.
What people actually do when they are online is simply scroll and interact with content that is just there.
Which, as you can sense, is not staying in touch with friends and family members.
A study observing the topic found that people who spend excessive time on social media explain that they don’t feel satisfied with their relationships and have lower levels of social support from their friends.4
What happens here?
People say they use social media to connect with their family, but they don’t actually chat with their mothers or that weird distant cousin. They repeatedly click on funny memes, watch cat videos, involve themselves in pointless arguments, and all of this eventually leads to depressive thoughts and wasted time.
To explain why there is a disconnection between what people say they use social media for and how they actually use it. We need to turn to must-read psychology books and mention the cognitive dissonance bias.
Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort or tension that arises when we hold two conflicting thoughts or beliefs at the same time. It can also occur when our actions do not align with our values.
As in the above example, you believe you use social media for interacting with your friends and family, but you find yourself brainwashed by the never-ending pile of stuff to watch and buy.
To resolve this inner conflict, you occasionally send links to the videos you found most interesting to your friends and comment under their posts, thinking this is enough to keep the broken relationship intact.
A similar situation occurs when you feed your wardrobe with new items all the time. You tell (lie) to yourself that you want to express yourself through the clothes you wear. In reality, you are lonely and still haven’t figured out what you should value. Thus, you value superficial things. You get more stuff. You post them online and you feed from the comments only to repeat this process the next day.
Our mistake with values is that we focus more on how rather than on why.
As in my case when I was younger.
I was mostly concerned with… How to make others like me more… How to present myself as more attractive… How to make more money…
Instead of being more interested in… Why I want to impress others… Why am I not satisfied with who I am without needing others to like me… Why money is all that I want…
How To Reinvent Your Values
The process of value creation is a creative process. You are in dialog with yourself. You pause for a moment. You block the chaos trying to pull you again in directions you are not convinced that works for you to finally figure out what actually works for you.
You are like an artist painting a picture.
On your canvas, you are placing what you should do and naturally leaving out what you shouldn’t do.
An artist, when near the canvas, is concerned with the production. With the next move. Surely this is important. You need to paint to finish a painting. But it’s more important to first figure out what to paint and why you should paint it.
So, you occasionally need to take a distant approach.
When you are far from the canvas. When you distance yourself from your daily duties. You are able to see what should change. You enter a mode of criticism where you judge the degree of benefit a certain daily behavior, or a habit, has on your life.
That’s why you hear about people all the time quitting their jobs and going to a remote country to “find themselves.”
People are not really finding themselves as if they are lost geographically. The reason they travel half of the globe is to gain a new perspective. To get a far view of their canvas – their life – so they can review their current values and potentially find new things to value.
An artist, when close to the canvas, asks himself “How” questions. How to make this line? How to make this darker? Etc.,
When he steps back, he raises “Why” questions. Why am I painting this? Why did I decide to become an artist?
Sadly, the “Why” part – the value creation part – is usually neglected, because the “How” part is more easily achieved.
It’s easier to answer, “How to get more people to like my post on Instagram?” Than to try to answer, “Why am I still on Instagram?”
In fact, dozens of people and products online will want to help you with the “How” part – if you are willing to pay with your money or with your attention, or with both usually.
The whole economy is tailored around “How to get to X?”
- How to lose weight…
- How to get more people to like you…
- How to create a seven-figure online business by working 10 minutes per day…
Yet, if you take a moment to reflect on this. A subtle realization occurs. Nothing should start with “How?” Rather, it should always begin with “Why?”
When you take the moment to define the “Why” part – e.g., “Why you want to be this type of person not that type of person.” When you define what should be your values. You can finally start moving in the right direction.
If this is left unaddressed. You will continue to be in the same depressing state, thinking that more likes and more products will cure your inner agony.
Some Closing Thoughts
As I hopefully convinced you above, values are important.
If you never take the moment to consider what you currently value and what you should start valuing more – things that are usually drastically different. You will continue to live in the shadows. Continue to mimic values you picked along your journey that are typically not helping you get to where you ultimately want to be.
The reason I’m stressing on the importance of values is because they play a crucial role in our lives. They guide our every move. Shape our actions and influence our decisions.
Plus, unlike goals, they can never be achieved. They are not meant to be reached, only followed.
If you value learning, it’s stupid to say that you can read every book on the planet or learn everything. Yet, you keep your good reading habit because you realize how reading is helpful for reaching your goals.
What I want to leave you with is the following…
When we live in accordance with our values, we experience a sense of fulfillment that cannot be found in material possessions or fleeting pleasures.
So, somewhere on a piece of paper, write down examples of personal values. Write everything you can think about. Then, take a canvas. Outside, state everything you don’t value. Then, inside, place everything you do value. Hold that picture dear till it needs changing.
If you want a more sophisticated way to determine what is valuable to you, check the following:
Core Values Exercise: A Scientific Method for Achieving Life Goals
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- Kohlberg, L. (1984). The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages. Essays on Moral De- velopment (Volume II). San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers. On the web: https://www.scirp.org/(S(351jmbntvnsjt1aadkozje))/reference/referencespapers.aspx
- Parker, Kim. Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected. Pew Research Center. On the web: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/03/09/majority-of-workers-who-quit-a-job-in-2021-cite-low-pay-no-opportunities-for-advancement-feeling-disrespected/
- Kemp, Simon. Digital 2022: October Global Statshot Report. Data Reportal. On the web: https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2022-october-global-statshot
- Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., Park, J., Lee, D. S., Lin, N., Shablack, H., Jonides, J., & Ybarra, O. (2013). Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLOS ONE, 8(8), e69841. On the web: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0069841