5 Ways To Discover Your Personal Values (And Why You Need To Break Your Own Heart, Sometimes)
Decisions can be incredibly difficult to make. I often preach about how important it is for brands to know their values inside out before even thinking about creating content for social media. They have to understand who they are before they make tough decisions about who to respond to and how to frame their response. I recently wrote about whether or not a brand should enter the heated political conversations that are occurring on Twitter. One of my main points was that you need to know your values first and then ask yourself, as a brand, if your values align with entering political conversations. Some brands’ do, some brands’ don’t. You can read more about that here. Then I attended a lunch and learn yesterday where I had to choose two values that I use most when making decisions in my life. I immediately chose ‘authenticity’ and ‘faith/hope.’ It took me less than a second to know what my decision-making values were, however, as the discussion started I became even more aware of how these values affect the decisions in my life and often cause me to wrestle with tough decisions until my heart is bleeding.
I recently had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life up until this point. I spent a couple of years in a situation where my heart clung to something so hard, but my brain knew it did not align with who I was and what I wanted to accomplish with my life. I am sure you can relate to the ever-present war of heart vs. brain. The decision was difficult because I am a heart-led person and once I am in love, all bets are off. I want to help, I want to nurture, I don’t want to let go. So when my head knows that something is not right, my heart cries out that I must go with my heart first and my head second. I did that for two years. Then I found myself in an environment where all of my decisions seemed to be going against each other.
This summer I had a moment where I felt like I was in full on war with myself. I was clinging to what my heart wanted, knowing that it did not align with who I was as a person. It was one of the most heart-wrenching situations I have ever found myself in. I knew it would not work. I knew that who I had to be in that environment was not my ‘authentic’ self, and did not align with my faith. It also killed all of the hope that was so important for me, because while my heart was in love, my head knew there was no rational future there.
So, a couple of months ago, I decided to sever myself from what my heart wanted. While there are still hard moments where my heart wins the day, even last night as a few tears formed from absolutely nowhere, I am amazed at how much my life is aligning due to separating myself from something that did not align with my personal values. I have more energy; I am attracting more people that sync with who I am as an individual, I am stoked about my future and am full of so much love, hope, and faith. I am in complete awe of how clinging so tightly to something against my own values affected every facet of my life. While my heart is shattered and trying to piece itself back together, my head is clear and already making better decisions. See, what I didn’t realize, was my heart was breaking itself by clinging so hard to something that was toxic.
Yesterday, as I instantly knew my two values that influence my decision making, I realized just how important these values were in my decision to let go of a toxic situation. When my sky was falling and I could not see clearly through the pain, my values stood strong and helped me make the best decision for my life. As boundaries became blurred and thoughts became irrational during the war with myself, my values served as my navigation out of the storm. I am certain I would be drowning in a toxic situation if I was not already rooted in my values. That’s how important they are to our lives and the decisions we make on a daily basis.
So, here are five ways you can start thinking about your own values, so they are there to protect you when you are not sure of which way to turn. While they are critical to brand decisions, they are even more essential to personal choices and how we shape our lives.
Look At Your Bank Account Where are you spending most of your money? Are you donating to your church? Are you spending all extra money on clothes? Are you buying dinner for friends? Looking at where all of your money is going will help provide a benchmark of where your values currently are. This does not mean you need to keep them there! Spend some time reflecting on whether where the bulk of your money reveals who you indeed are as a person, or if you would like to be someone else that is spending more in a different area of your life. Then start making those changes in your budget.
Look At Your Time This is something I always use to argue with an old friend about. He refused to believe that where was spending most of his time had anything to do with his personal values. That is a dangerous disconnect to have in life. Whether you want to admit it or not, where you are spending your time is a true reflection of what you value and are prioritizing in your life. This is another exercise that will help benchmark your values more than anything. Once you know what you currently value, you can start making changes for your time to reflect what you want to value.
Look At The Qualities Of Who You Value In Your Life I always spend some time each week reflecting on who I value most in my life and what I like about who they are as a person. This helps me decide what values I want in my own life. For example, my youth group leaders at church were some of the most positive individuals in my life growing up. They were real and full of love and life. This is most likely one of the places my values of authenticity and faith/hope stemmed from. My mother has also always said to me since I was a child that I need to be completely honest and be myself with others, no matter how uncomfortable it might be at times. No doubt that influenced my value of authenticity. She is also a powerful woman of faith, someone I look up to more than anyone else, so I naturally want to express that own value in my life.
Decide Where You Want To Be In 10 Weeks, Months and Years I read this once a Forbes article, and it has stayed with me ever since. Before I read the article, I was a pure drama queen that thought every single decision was the most important decision in my life and would have dramatic effects on my life. Once I started applying this concept to my daily life, my life changed. I became a calmer person, able to make short-term decisions more quickly and focus more on long-term decisions. This also helps me think about what I value most. If it is something I value just this week to get me through some short-term obstacles, then it is most likely not one of my core values. When I think about what I want in ten years, I can find out what my core values are that will help get me there.
Rank Your Priorities Do this on a sheet of paper. Rank everything in your life from first to last, and then revisit where you are spending your money and your time. Do they match? Most likely not. Think about how you can change where you are spending your money and time to more accurately reflect your priorities. What values do you need to focus on to do this?
If you don’t know what matters most to you, you cannot make the best decisions for your life. Fair warning >> making the best decisions in your life does not always come with a celebratory parade and champagne. Often, it comes with growing pains that can hit you hard in the middle of the night when you least expect it. You’ll have to let go of things you love and trust your gut before you see the results of grounding yourself in your core values. I will tell you, though, that the results will by far outweigh the heartbreak over time. Your future self with thank you for saying goodbye to toxic situations that do not align with your values, and you will find yourself in the future you dreamt of during your ten weeks, months, years exercise. I promise.
- Marji J. Sherman