What do you desire? What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like? [...] So I always ask the question, what would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?
– Alan Watts
In the western world we tend to equate who we are with what we do for a living. This is fine but it’s not exactly right for all of us. It implies we all have the same value sets and that’s far from the truth.
A few months ago I went through the exercise of identifying my values on paper. I wanted to clarify my decision-making and live more intentionally. I wanted the life I could carve, not someone else’s.
Below are the questions I answered to understand my value-set. I did this using a piece of paper and a pen. I recommend you try the same as it feels a little bit different than typing it out:
1. When have I felt happy, fulfilled, and proud of myself?
Ask yourself these questions: Who were you with? Why did you feel so happy? Was this related to any other events?
2. When have I felt the most regretful?
What makes you so regretful about that memory? Who was involved? What did you fail at or succeed in? What could you have done better?
3. When have I felt the most frustrated, unfilled, or annoyed?
Ask yourself why you felt so frustrated or empty. These can be big or small examples. Regardless of the size, they’re a very good indication of when you haven’t lived according to your values.
4. What activities put me in ‘flow’ state?
Flow is when you feel like you are fully immersed in something. List activities which make you forget about everything else in your life and beside them list why.
5. Who are my role models?
List all of your role models. It could be someone you know but it could also be someone you admire from afar. Ask yourself why they make that list.
6. What are my gifts and qualities?
What do people usually depend on you for? Are these traits something that you enjoy about yourself or do you do it because you know they expect it of you? Write these thoughts down.
7. Compare against a list of values
I pulled this list of values off the internet. You can likely find your own but this was pretty comprehensive:
Acceptance, Accomplishment, Adaptability, Adventure, Affection, Ambition, Authenticity, Challenge, Change, Compassion, Confidence, Courage, Creativity, Daring, Dignity, Environment, Excellence, Experience, Fitness, Freedom, Friendship, Fun, Gratitude, Growth, Health, Honesty, Humour, Independence, Influence, Integrity, Intelligence, Intimacy, Love, Realism, Recognition, Resourcefulness, Respect, Self-respect, Strength, Truth, Wisdom
From your previous answers find examples of these traits in your actions. Cross out the ones which don’t appear in your answers at all. I spent time relating each answer to a value.
You may find that you consider some of them included in the definition of another. For me, self-respect fell under the umbrella of respect so I crossed out self-respect.
In the end, you should try to aim for a list of five values.
8. Prioritize the values
Now that you have a list of your values compare them against each other. If you were to choose between two of the options, which one would you prioritize? Do this until your list is in the correct order.
I took a look at my daily actions as well as my long-term goals and made course corrections. No longer am I doing things which don’t align with my values and I feel empowered when I say no instead of guilty. It simply gives me more time to focus on what I care about.
Living this way has gifted me with a sense of peace. I no longer feel the need to chase whatever it is that others are chasing. It seems like a silly exercise, but a few hours of feeling silly for a few years of clarity is a fair trade.