Imagine that you are driving down a dark windy country road. As the driver, your goal is to stay in the lane. You might deviate from the center of the road but as long as you stay in your lane you are safe and no adjustments need to be made. At some point though, we all inevitably take our eyes off the road and drift into the other lane.
When this happens we immediately swerve back and re position ourselves. The natural reaction is to instantly correct this problem as soon as it is identified.
On a day to day basis many of us all try to follow this metaphorical road to be the best version of ourselves. The path we follow and the road we create is designed by our own individual values. When we engage in behaviors that take us out of our lane we enact strategies to correct this misalignment between how we perceive our best self and how we are currently presenting ourselves.
Values create the framework for how we want to behave and how that behavior creates a path to the person we want to be. Values also guide our evaluation of behavior and help us create goals.
It is a lot easier to live up to our values if they are identified and activated on a daily basis. Because you are the architect of your own ‘value road’ it is a lot easier to stay in your lane if you can turn the lights on and straighten out the road.
Several months back, while dealing with one of my semi-annual life crisis, I had to sit down and think about my own personal values and determine if I was living up to the person I wanted to be.
This process involved a fair amount of introspection. I had to honestly answer questions about myself:
“Do I engage in any behaviors that are based on poor values?”
“How am I acting in congruence with the values that I do hold?”
“Are there values I have that I am not living up to?”
My Screwed-Up Values
Why is a great question; it helps us navigate directly to the rationale behind our behaviors. The question why helped lead me right to one of my most screwed up values.
Look at your regular behaviors and ask yourself why you do them.
On a daily basis, I try to improve physically and intellectually, which is great but I’ve always felt that this was done with a sense of vanity which isn’t healthy.
Why do I ‘want’ a lean muscular physique?
Why do I ‘want’ to have published writing?
Why do I ‘want’ to be highly educated?
Why do I ‘want’ to teach at a college?
Sure, a large part of the answer was that I wanted to push myself to be a better version of me. That was the healthy part; the unhealthy part was that I also wanted to be better than everyone else.
Why do I want to be better than everyone else?
In his book the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@$% Mark Manson writes:
“Self-awareness is like an onion. There are multiple layers to it, and the more you peel them back, the more likely you’re going to start crying at inappropriate time.”
Self-evaluation can be a psychologically painful process. My screwed-up value that was guiding a part of my behavior was ‘be better than everyone else’.
I realized I was engaging in some unhealthy inner experiences such as judgement.
Okay, so why am I judging people? Why do I need validation through accomplishments and physical appearance?
Well… If I am being completely honest with myself…I guess… (about to talk about feelings…gulp) I have some insecurities. This judgement of myself and comparison to others led to some nasty internal experiences such as jealousy, frustration and anger.
Maybe it goes back to being a trombone toting young teen who was chubby and cut from the basketball team multiple times.
Or maybe because I totally sucked with the ladies.
But in all honesty, the origin story of my little messed up insecurities is irrelevant. What was relevant was its recognition. My screwed-up value was that I wanted to be better than other people partially because I had insecurities living in me.
BUT the thing was, I could be under 10% body fat, crush personal best in powerlifting meets, get papers accepted into high impact journals, host successful conferences, complete a master’s degree and get accepted into a PhD program but I would still unnecessarily pass judgement and I would still would have thoughts about not being good enough and doubt myself in several facets of life.
*Decent abs, still ridiculously unphotogenic
After identifying this screwed up value I was able to ‘turn the lights on’ for my ‘value road’ and examine behaviors more objectively. Now, to be clear this value (thank god) was not the only reason why I was engaging in my daily behaviors. Most of my behaviors were actually pretty healthy and rewarding.
The goal wasn’t to stop these behaviors, it was to extinguish the attachment of my behaviors to insecurities and link them with positive life values.
What are my Positive Life Values? Am I Acting in Congruence with Them?
After lots of thought which involved months of a revolving list, I came up with eight life values which included (1) maintaining my personal boundaries, (2) physical improvement, (3) career performance, (4) managing positive relationships, (5) patience, (6) financial responsibility, (7) intellectual improvement, and (8) honesty.
Based on these values I created a chart to examine the alignment of my behaviors to these values on a weekly basis.
|Very poor||Neutral||Very good|
|Maintaining personal boundaries||1||2||3||4||5||6||7|
All of these values boiled down to one of my most positive core values; service to others.
- If I maintain my personal boundaries people will respect me and I will respect myself. Positive relationships with others are based on respect.
- I enjoy pushing myself to see where I can take my body. Training keeps me mentally healthy. I can’t help anyone unless I can take care of myself
- Career performance boils right down to making a positive impact on students and the world, through future research.
- Managing positive relationships means recognizing the important people in your life. I created a list of people I love (thanks to advice from Mark Fisher) to help prioritize who will always come first. Yes, you’re on it Mom.
- Patience means helping people understand or change while being in a non-judgmental state. I need patience to be an effective coach and teacher.
- Financial responsibility: If I am worrying about money I’m not taking care of myself ipso facto I can’t help others. Having money will also allow me to go on little adventures here and there which helps manage my mental health.
- Intellectual improvement: I want to be professor, coach, and researcher, I’m a nerd for life. Reading and writing mentally recharges me, helps me learn new ways to help others, and gives me an opportunity to share my voice.
- Honesty: Just like maintaining personal boundaries, this boils down to respect and trust. If I am honest with people I might hurt their feelings but this is okay though because it builds trust.
Notice how none of these values are goals, meaning there is no end state. However, these values did drive the creation of some goals. These goals needed to be in alignment with the eight core values that I held. I wrote down nine goals at the beginning of the Fall Semester that I wanted to accomplish by the end of the Summer.
If you can’t read my chicken scratch
- Squat 500 (this was originally 450, I hit 470 in my last meet)
- Deadlift 600 (still chasing)
- Be Batman*
- Get into a PhD program (moving to Boston in August!)
- Be respectful to yourself and others; UPR (unconditional positive regard)
- Accept the uncontrollable, control the unacceptable *
- Host an incredible conference (best one yet!)
- Debt free (work in progress)
- $10,000 in savings (recently achieved)
I’m happy to say through the identification of my positive values I was able to generate some good yearly goals to focus on.
Are There Values That I Am Not Living Up To?
There are some values I feel that I live up to almost each day, physical and intellectual improvement being the two that come to mind immediately. For others, I find it exceedingly easy to drift out of my value lane. These values needed to be identified and trained whenever possible.
I’m in the weight room over winter break and a team is about to come in. They had asked for that time and I said sure. At the same time, some members of the another team came into the weight room.
Someone was going to get the boot; team 2 didn’t schedule it with me so it was going to be them.
Naturally the coach wasn’t happy and he started pointing the finger at me.
I don’t enjoy conflict, my heart starts to race, my palms get sweaty and an uncontrollable urge to say:
“YOU’RE RIGHT I’M SORRY!”
wells up inside of me. If I was to blurt that out the conflict would end my heart rate would slow, and in time my arm pit sweat stains would dry out.
In psychology, there is a concept called ‘experiental acceptance’ which explains how people deal with unpleasant emotional states when attempting to live a value based life. Submitting, rolling over and showing my belly would be in direct conflict with my value of honesty and respecting myself. So, was I willing to experience this discomfort or would I let myself swerve into the other lane and ignore my values?
I explained to the coach that I respected his opinion but explained that he was the one who was responsible for asking me about the availability of the gym over the winter session. We are on the same team and I didn’t appreciate him attacking me when I am trying to help.
We all engage in behaviors that are not in alignment with values we hold. I want to express honesty about how I feel and I want to be respected. We need to embrace situations in which our value-behavior congruency is tested. For me, it’s embracing conflict. It is often an initially uncomfortable experience but if we want to stay on the path to the best version of ourselves we need to accept the bumps in the trail that come along with it.
My life has improved through identifying values and subsequently working to live up to those values.
I challenge you to identify any screwed-up values that you may have, identify positive life values and create goals that are in alignment with them, and work on behaviors that may make you feel uncomfortable at the time.
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*When Bruce Wayne was a kid he watched, his parents get gunned down in front of him. No one would have blamed Bruce if he grew up to be a screwed-up adult (I guess he kind of still did). It would have made perfect sense if Bruce squandered his money on alcohol and cocaine fueled parties. But he didn’t, he took his struggles, found purpose, and became Batman. Let your struggles develop your strengths.
*I consider emotions a generally uncontrollable thing. Even my snap instinct to judge is essentially uncontrollable. I can accept when this happens but also take responsibility for how it contributes to my behaviors. If I am not happy in controllable situations such my job, my relationships, and how people treat me it is my responsibility to change it.