The nuts and bolts of personal values
Before exploring different aspects of personal values, let’s have a deeper look at what personal values really are.
What are personal values?
Often times when we think about personal values, our mind might make up a meaning such as, 'my values are equal with how much I’m worth as a person'. Since the world in which we are living is mainly material, we might even come up with a specific measuring unit such as money to attach to our worth. Values have very little to do with money or any other obvious stuff. A value is a rather abstract concept with huge importance to each human. One’s values are the driving force for their actions and choices, and they indicate the level of self-satisfaction or how we view others.
In a nutshell, our values reflect who we are or who we might want to become. It is important to know that having a specific value is neither right or wrong and that the combination of values people have is almost endless.
How are personal values formed?
Our values are formed early on in our childhood up to the age of six. The elements that contribute to shaping those values are our cultural background, religion, teachers and our family members. As children, we notice the behaviours of adults around us, their preferences and ideologies, and learn how to obtain personal rewards by implementing specific behaviours. As humans, we can self-actualise meaning that, throughout our life, we will change some of our beliefs and values according to our lived experience and lessons learned.
Personal values are not set in stone and can change over the years as we go through different stages in our life and evolve. However, just because we have the ability to self-actualise, that doesn’t mean that every human will challenge some of their beliefs to form a new reality and potentially gain a new personal value. This is very similar to potential; every human has great potential but not everybody would choose to access it.
How might personal values show up in the day to day life?
Let’s say that one might value fairness. It is most likely that this person will take into consideration their own needs as well as the others' needs in a given situation. They can also be treating others with respect and view them as equal, as opposed to superior or inferior. The same person who holds fairness as a value can be triggered when a perceived situation might not be fair, for example when someone is blaming or accusing them of something they didn’t do or when a manager is disrespecting a colleague through the way they are talking to them. When someone is not fair, this person might experience greater friction within themselves as opposed to someone who does not hold this value. This person might choose to speak out for him or on behalf of his colleague or not, depending on what combination of values this holds.
As you probably noticed, one of our personal values can activate both pleasant or unpleasant emotions, depending on the situation and how we might perceive it.
Personal values conflicting with the existing reality
Let’s say one might value freedom of choice and creativity and is working in a fast-paced and competitive sales environment. This person is not a competitive person, but somehow he manages to perform well in the workplace. Even though this person achieves great results and is earning good money, internally he is experiencing constant friction that cannot be explained. At the surface, there are no obvious reasons that could’ve caused this internal conflict.
Not knowing our personal values can make our life a little complicated. With no internal compass to give us a sense of direction, it’s easy to get lost and guide ourselves by someone else’s ideas or visions.
How to understand our personal values
A simple way to figure out our personal values is to take a pen and paper and start breaking things down by answering the following questions…
- What is it that I value most? (freedom of choice, excellence, connectedness, fun, curiosity, acknowledgement, trust, fame, success, love). We can have a combination of five or more values, but one of our values will be the main driving force.
- What makes me value x, y, z?
- How are my values reflected in different areas in my everyday life?
- What are the examples of when I have not made decisions using x, y, z value(s) and how did I feel?
- What are the examples of when I have made decisions using x, y, z value(s) and how did I feel?
Going through this practical exercise will help you identify your personal values, make better decisions moving forward and navigate challenges a lot more smoothly!
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