Do you know what your top values are? Do you know why you make decisions to do, or not do certain things? Do you have any idea what it is you’re really reaching for?
Recently I found out that I really didn’t know what values I lived by.
I had been talking with my psych about some unhelpful ways of thinking (that I am learning not to use) and she said, ‘Yes, that’s unhelpful, but that’s ok. You notice, you tell yourself that you understand why you’re thinking that way, and then you go back to your values and live from them.’ Which is very helpful information. Unless you have no idea what your top values are.
So I asked her about that, about how to find out your top values. She gave me the following exercise, which I did on my holidays.
The first thing I did was google ‘list of values’. I copied off two lists and ended up with about 150 different words or phrases that described things that we can value. Some of them doubled up, that’s ok.
I printed off the lists and cut up the pieces of paper so that a different word or phrase was on each piece.
The first thing to do was go through the pile of values and divide them into three piles:
- Definitely me
- Maybe me
- Not me at all
After that, I got rid of piles two and three and concentrated on pile one.
It became much harder now.
I needed to take that pile and divide it again into:
- Definitely me
- Not quite so much me
It was important to me to note that all the statements in this pile are things that I value. Getting rid of one out of the pile didn’t mean that I no longer valued that thing, it just meant that it wasn’t part of the group of absolute top values.
I repeated this step until I was left with a list of five values.
It was simple, but not easy.
I had three nights away. It took me two and a half days to cut my list down to five.
When I journaled about those five values I found something interesting. There were two in that five that could be incorporated into the other three. Which brings us to another important point. Words, like Humpty Dumpty says in Alice Through the Looking Glass, can mean whatever you want them to mean. This list of values, it is supposed to clarify things for you. Not to lock you into a box. Not even to broadcast to others (like I’m doing now) so that they can lock you into a box. They are to help you live your life with clarity and purpose.
What the words mean to you, might be very different from what they mean to another person.
My top five values were:
But as I journaled about them I realised that Wellness to me means peace in my body. So that comes under the value of Peace. And I value excellence in my work because it enables me to keep my job. So that comes under Security. (Also, my year theme, the Year of Order, comes under the value of Peace. As I bring order to my life, I get more peace.)
So I ended up, after three days, with three top values:
These values can be lived out in two ways. They can be selfishly grasped, or they can be lived for yourself and others according to God’s will. They are not morally good or bad in themselves, it all depends on how we live it out.
For example, I can approach the value of Security in two ways. I can save up all my money, work harder and harder, trust in my money, my investments, my work to give me the security I long for. If I do that, the Bible calls me a fool. I could be as ‘secure’ as I could possibly be and the stock market might crash, or even worse, I could die (like the rich fool in Luke 12). What would my security gain me then? Nothing.
But if I place my security in God then I will be ‘like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither’ (Psalm 1).
Your values are your great strengths and your great weaknesses. It depends how you live them.
I think this is an excellent exercise to prayerfully undertake. I don’t think you need a week’s retreat to do it, but I suggest you do it over a few days. I did not find this an easy undertaking. But I have found it super helpful.
And if you would like to share your top values with me, I’d love to hear them. Leave me a comment, or head to http://ruthamos.com.au and use the Contact Me box, or find me on Facebook or on Twitter @amos_rj.