By Mai Elsayed
Stop and think for a moment – you spend every breathing minute of your life making decisions. These decisions are based on the beliefs that you hold dear to your heart. The choice you make to spend your time and energy on one activity over another reflects what your core values are. There is no doubt that the circumstances caused by the pandemic are giving us ample amount of time to sit with ourselves and re-asses our values. There are so many changes happening to the way we live and work, and that could also require us to revise our goals to become our ideal self. These goals should be in line with our values while at the same time being realistic with the conditions at hand.
Let’s define what values are
Psychologists define values as the “fundamental attitudes guiding our mental processes and behavior”. These are the same attitudes and beliefs that give meaning and purpose to our life. When we know what our values are, we can easily implement changes to our daily routine and align our activities to our core morals. This will help us live a more authentic life by being true to who we really are. In fact, there are two main types of values that human beings live by. The first type falls under the category of the ‘moving-towards’ values and these are the values that motivate us to do the things that are emotionally gratifying and pleasurable. On the other hand, the ‘moving-away’ category of values affect our decision-making process as they drive us to avoid feeling negative emotions.
The importance of self-concept
As children, we grow up to develop our self-concept, a perception of our identity as individuals. This entails a definition of who we are, what we believe in, what we want to achieve in life etc. Our values shape the impressions we hold for our ideal self and outline who we want to be. Often, we fall into the psychological discomfort of cognitive dissonance when our ideal self (the person we are) does not overlap with the identity that we want to have (ideal self).
These two schemas of the self never stay constant. With time, challenges and circumstances, our belief of what our ideal self should look like and how it should behave change. That does not necessarily mean that our values change as well. Instead, our mind tends to give importance to and glorify certain values – especially ones from the ‘moving away’ category.
However, we start to experience psychological distress when we live in conflict with our core values. Having a huge discrepancy between who we are and who we aspire to be is one of the ways we can get out of alignment with our core values. To ease the pain of cognitive dissonance, one needs to close the gap between the real and ideal selves. This can be done by either lowering the standards that you have set for your ideal self or working on your values to bring the qualities of the real self closer to the ideal one.
Find out what your core values are
Our values can be described as the catalogue by which we choose to live our lives. Our past experiences, to a large extent, shape these values and how we choose to implement them in our day-to-day activities. The first step to living an aligned life is to know the psychological rules by which you choose to live. Identifying what your core values are will not only help you live a more authentic life but will also help you easily make decisions especially during times of crisis. In addition, having clarity into your own core values will help you identify areas of your life that need more attention and understand what you should prioritize in the future.
A technique used by cognitive behavioral therapists called ‘Values Clarification’ can be very useful in helping you identify your value system. This approach is made up of five simple steps that you can practice in the comfort of your home. All you need is your mind, a piece of paper and a pen.
- Define yourself
Get in a one-on-one conversation with yourself and try to find out what your life stands for. Ask yourself questions such as – what are the qualities that you have as a person and what are the qualities that you wish to develop and why?
- Define what drives you in the different aspects of your life.
In this section, dissect the different aspects of your life based on your relationships, school/career, leisure, health, finances and personal growth. Some of the questions that you should explore include what are the types of relationships that you want to bring to your life, and why? What qualities would you like to exhibit at work/school? What is your relationship with yourself like?
- Identify what drives or triggers your emotions
Compile a list of actions or situations that could trigger a positive or negative response from you. These reactions most likely link to a core value that you hold dear to your heart. Once you identify what value your response could be linked to, write it down and explore it further.
- Practice mindfulness
Notice the values that you practice on a routine basis. When you find yourself having an impulsive reaction, stop for a second and think why you are behaving the way that you are. Write your thought down on paper and try to find your thinking pattern and what values it could represent.
- Find out where you are
There is always room for improving yourself and enhancing your life. Once you have implemented the first four steps, compare the values you have and the behavior you exhibit in your current time to the values and behaviors of the person you aspire to be. At this stage, you can choose to lower the expectations you set for your ideal self or change the perception and attitude of your real self so they both meet at a common ground.
Mai Elsayed is a clinical hypnotherapist with psychotherapy skills and a blogger at bittersweettalks.com