All of us wish for our lives to be super fucking awesome. Whether we actually make the effort and turn it into the best version or not, it’s safe to say that part of the allure in life is knowing that the future is unexpected and free to be what you make of it.
None of us actually want to know what our future looks like ahead of time. Right now, as we sit here, we all have expectations about how life is supposed to go. We want that big house, that great partner, and the awesome job doing something we love getting up on Monday mornings for (shout-out to Mondays, we love you).
So let’s stop for a second and play our favorite game as a kid – imagining (I think it’s our favorite game as adults, too). Imagine that you’ve dreamed of owning a home in Tuscany, Italy. Now fast-forward 15 years. Come to find out, instead of that lake house off the Italian coast, you ended up with a house off the coast of Maine. Well shit, it’s not quite the same as that rich Italian waterfront property. Sure, that’s true…but maybe in the future, you may not want a house in Italy because some Italian girl you dated screwed you over. But right now, you don’t know that. So if you were to find this house situation out ahead of time (minus the Italian girl who screwed you over), you’d probably get pretty pissed that you got shorted with a house in Maine instead of Italy. But then you factor in something called daily life, the Italian girl taking you for a spin, yada yada, and voila – opinions change. Anyway, get my point?
So if we don’t know how life is inevitably going to turn out, what do we do in the process of living life? Life, at the end of the day, is what we make of it. We have the choice to enable ourselves to achieve dreams and success beyond our wildest imagination. It takes effort though, an effort that most people don’t put in.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you want to know what you need to do in order to stop floating around aimlessly and start applying yourself. Having a well-paying or good job, a decent relationship, and maybe a few material things isn’t enough. So what do you need?
We always hear about how we need to protect our boundaries. How do you know your boundaries? Values. We always hear about those becoming successful (success being defined by your standards). How do we start the path to become successful? Values. We always hear about those lucky few who find their passion and live a truly happy life. How do we start to find our happiness? Values.
See a theme here? Your values are your guide – without at least an idea of what your values are, you’ll always be a step behind. Before you set your goals, you need to know your values. Otherwise, you run the risk of falling short and feeling unfulfilled, because you have no idea what you’re really trying to strive for. Start the process of finding them, and here’s your how-to guide.
How to Find Your Values
Describe Yourself Today
It’s important to take stock of who you are as a person today and some of the things you’ve accomplished or how you come across to others. This isn’t the time to write out how you WANT to be, this is the time to write out who you ARE. Take the time to sit down and write out how you’d describe yourself today. What would people say about you? What would you say about yourself? Remember, this exercise won’t be pretty sometimes. Think of it as a reality check. If you can’t do this, it just means you’re in denial. Denial?! Shit, most of us are at some level. It’s time to break that plateau.
What Do You Want?
Now, take a bit of time to think about the things you want. Is it money? Power? Fame? A healthy lifestyle? A big family? Forget how this translates into actual values right now; you have a pretty good idea of what it is you want. Write it all out, withholding judgment on yourself. Remember, this is for you, not someone else. If you want to own your own company selling men’s rompers or Snuggies, write it down.
Tony Robbins calls these things you want your means values. Ok dude, but I just heard you say a second ago how this doesn’t have anything to do with values. True – that’s because these aren’t your end values. The difference is that one affects your emotional state (your end values), while the other (the mean values) is just a way to trigger the emotional state you really want. Example please, you’re fucking confusing me.
I’ll use one that most people want: money. Money is something you want. When you’re put on the spot and asked why you want money, you start peeling the layers back and get to your real values – in other words, your end values. Continuing with the example, why do you want money? Freedom, security, adventure, contribution (giving to other people/causes)? These are all end values.
So now that you know what we’re after, it’s time to….
Write Down Your Actual Values
Head online and find a couple websites that list out what are called “core values”. These are the base ingredients in the recipe of your life.
Here are a couple good sources for that:
Shorter list to get you started: http://jamesclear.com/core-values
Exhaustive list in case you’re feeling dangerous: https://scottjeffrey.com/core-values-list/
A word of caution: try to focus on no more than 10 to 15 total values. Any more, and you’re going to just confuse yourself. Any less than 5 though, and you might need to re-evaluate why your list is so short.
Inevitably, this is the biggest question that comes up: Why not only have just a few? More than that, and it’s impossible to know which ones to focus on. I’m not trying to overwhelm myself here. If I list 10, then I feel all 10 are important. How am I supposed to order them and give priority?
Valid point but here’s the catch: you want to write out a fairly decent list so you’ve got something to work with later. In the next part, I’ll explain why…
Organize Your Values in Order
Once you have your list of 10 to 15 core values, it’s time to begin the process of organizing them in sequential order.
Cue the freakout…
Trust me, I was there too. And I still am. Tasked with organizing your values means you’re basically forcing yourself to prioritize. What a stressful exercise, man. Problem is, if everything was easy, we’d all be rich, happy, successful, and full of zest. Unfortunately, that stuff is usually reserved for those who have the word “effort” in their vocabulary.
Give organizing your values your best shot. Chances are you know your top ones pretty well. Let the rest flow behind them. All of your end values are important, but we need to prioritize in order to allow ourselves the biggest chance to take a couple steps forward.
You should always be revisiting your values list every few months. Whether you change it up or not, see if things are lining up and you’re moving towards them. If you find something is missing or lacking, try placing another value further up.
The idea behind the values list is to have every decision you make in life, big or small, line up with your top values. If you place growth or achievement at the top, then make the daily decision to take steps to reflect that value being so high on your list. If you put adventure up there, I’d assume you’d want to travel more and experience the world at a level that someone else (who doesn’t have adventure even on their values list) wouldn’t. If so, make the choices to take the trips you’ve been thinking of, or joining friends who are also seeking adventure. If you put freedom at the top because you desire to get out of the 9 to 5 rat race, what are you doing on a daily basis to get you there?
It’s not good enough to just say you want something.