"It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are."
Roy E. Disney
Over the years, I've run into students who are frustrated. No matter how hard they try, how many processes they do, how many goals they set, how many barriers they overcome, they just can't seem to create the life they think they should have.
They'll say things like, "I should be much further along in my career" or "I should be in a terrific relationship by now." It might be their physique they're complaining about or that they haven't traveled, adventured, produced, learned, fill-in-the-blank enough.
Although there could be a number of reasons why the student isn't satisfied with where they are in life, and there could be a number of ways they could improve their situation, I often key in to the word "should." And I ask them, "Can you tell me who thinks you should be different than you are?"
"What do you mean 'who'?"
"Well, is it really your vision you're following or somebody else's vision for you? In other words, does the thing you think you should be, should do or should have really align with your values today?"
We come up with our unique personal set of values from a number of sources: our parents, our culture, others we experience, even our weather in the place we grew up! As young children, it's natural to buy into all of these influences and adopt the values of others.
But as we get older, if we're staying conscious and awake, we start weeding through the values we've been exposed to. We embrace some and discard others. We mash values together to create a unique combination that fits who we are. We even prioritize our values in a certain order, from most to least important to us. And largely, we're not that conscious of doing this.
It doesn't happen all at once. In fact, for most of us it takes decades to really sort it all out. But it's our deepest values that will determine our success or failure. More precisely, if we are aligned with our own values, we'll be powerful. If we are not aligned with our values, we'll stumble on the path. And whatever success we achieve will feel dissatisfying.
Unfortunately, not everyone goes through this process of determining what values are really true for them. They try to hold on to old values from their religious upbringing or glom on to the values of their generation or culture's latest trends. Basically, they try to play out a life of someone they no longer are or never have been.
As Bryant McGill points out, "All discomfort comes from suppressing your true identity." I'd add to that, "All lasting change comes from aligning what you want with your personal values with your personal values -- and vice versa."
Let me give you a couple of examples of inherited or "borrowed" values that can be tripping you up: Take the successful businesswoman who was told as a child, "You'll have to work harder than everyone else to prove yourself." In some ways, that value of "working harder than everyone else" helped her climb the career ladder. But at a certain point, that value may drive her to burning out, not giving her relationships enough priority and even creating physical issues.
What happens when she decides, "I need to slow down, take better care of myself and improve my relationships."? Odds are, she won't be able to stick to it. That "work harder" value will drive her to keep up the pace that is no longer healthy.
Take another example: How about a young girl who is told, "Watch out that you never get fat." If she doesn't somehow gain a positive body image, she'll be so determined to "avoid getting fat," and though she may be determined to become healthy, that underlying value will keep her from healthy eating habits.
How about someone who grows up thinking that it's cool to be a rebel like his older brother? It might be fun for a while, but what happens when that same person tries to get promoted within a company? Few organizations reward someone who feels they have to consistently rebel against the status quo.
In the examples above, old inherited or "borrowed" values undermine current goals. On the flip side, goals that you think you "should" have -- not based on your real values -- are also doomed. Your parents may have insisted that you become a scholar. But if underneath, you really value art over academics, you'll probably have trouble becoming what you think you "should" be. If one of your main values is safety and the gang you hang out with is into extreme adventures, you probably won't enjoy taking those risks and maybe question why you're "such a coward."
The trick is to unearth your current values and see which are aligned with who you are becoming and which are at cross-purposes. In the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), we call this "values solicitation." We use value solicitation as part of the Mental Emotional Release process (MER) to make sure that any changes we make are supported by our values.
A simple way to discover your own values is to make two lists: one of everything you desire (maybe health, peace of mind, love) and another of everything you don't want (like sadness, poverty, loneliness). Next, take look at your lists, and if you could only have one of your values, which would it be? Mark that one as no. 1. Then, if you could have two values, which other one would you choose? Continue this way until you have six or seven really important values.
Now looking at your lists, especially your top-rated values, compare them against your goals. Are there any values that are in conflict with your goals? If so, does that value no longer serve you? Or should the goal be modified to fit with what you truly value?
Whether the glitch is in the value or the glitch is in the goal, we have several techniques in NLP to reconcile the two. When your values and goals are in alignment, you'll no longer feel frustrated as you pursue what you desire.
About the Author: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where students learn Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna and Hypnosis. To find out more about SMART Goals, access Dr. Matt's free webinar SMART GOALS: Combining NLP, Energy, and Goal Setting to Maximize Your Success.
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