Values describe how we’d like to behave in life, the qualities we’d like to bring to our ongoing behaviour – such as to be loving, caring, kind, honest, open, engaged, appreciative, sensual, sexual, enthusiastic, disciplined or active. We can think of a value as a quality of action: a quality we want to model or embody in our behaviour. We can use values as our compass. We can let them guide us as we travel through life.
Goals can be completed, achieved or ticked off a list as done where- as values can never be finished in this way. If your goal is to go for a
20-minute walk at lunchtime, you can achieve that: done! But if your value is self-care – taking care of yourself, looking after yourself – that value is never done; it’s there for the rest of your life, until your final breath, and in each moment you can choose to act on it or not.
Here are a few examples of values, goals and desired outcomes and how they work together to build an enriching life:
Desired outcome: To be fit and healthy
Values: Self-care and self-development
Goal: Go to the gym at 6 a.m. this Monday
Desired outcome: A good relationship with my friend
Value: Being caring and loving
Goal: Help my friend move out of her apartment this Friday
Desired outcome: Enjoyment
Value: Being playful and creative
Goal: Engage in my hobby this Saturday morning
Another important difference between values and goals is that you can fail to achieve your goals but you can never permanently fail at your values. You could fail to go to the gym, for example, or fail to help someone or fail to engage in your hobby.
But this wouldn’t cancel out your values of self-care, being caring or being playful. The goals weren’t achieved, true, but the values persist – and there are many, many ways, both great and small, you can still act on those values – today, tomorrow or a year from now. This is such a critical point that it bears repeating. You can never permanently fail at your values; in each and every moment, you can either act on them or not.
Values help us move towards what we want. First we identify and affirm our values. For example, just before lunch, we might remind ourselves of our values, by saying,
‘My value is self-care. I want to eat healthy food because it makes me feel healthier and gives me sustained energy to do fun and challenging work during the day [value affirmation]. I commit to having a salad for lunch [goal].’
Then, when we engage in the goal, we mindfully notice whether or not it serves our value.
Did we in fact feel healthier and have more energy during the day? Sometimes we will discover that the goal does not serve the value. Perhaps the salad left us feeling fatigued, and we need to think about modifying our lunch plans somewhat? To use an example in the physical activity area, we may want to live the value ‘improving fitness’ via the goal ‘riding a bike for an hour a day’. However, after a week, we may discover that we hate riding a bike.
That is when we need to consult our value again and choose a new exercise goal. If we keep reminding ourselves of our values, and experimenting with life, we will often find an activity that affirms our value and is also something we love or enjoy (or at least find easier to maintain than something we absolutely detest).
The Weight Escape by Dr Russ Harris, Ann Bailey and Joseph Ciarrochi ($29.95) is out now from Penguin Books.