Living a Values-Based Life

What is a values-based life? A values-based life is a self-capable life free of doubt or fear; a life that allows you to take risks, fulfill dreams, capture goals and live to your fullest capacity. Sound wonderful? It certainly is. Too good to be true? Not at all. When you live a life according to your personal values all of these awesome options are possible for you. However, there is some work involved that is an absolute necessity before any of those amazing things can happen for you. That pre-work involves identifying and accepting your values as the guiding principles in your life. Only when you have chosen this self-responsible attitude are you able to live a values-based life.

So, what are values? Your values are your unique and individual essence. They identify who you are. They are what make you, you. The authors of The Lemming Conspiracy (Longstreet Press 1997) define values as 'what you hold most personally meaningful in your life'. I love that definition because it speaks to each of our authentic selves. When we honor our values by the decisions we make, our lives feel satisfying and full of possibility to us. Since our values are defined by who we are, we need to remember to make a conscious shift in our thinking from looking externally (what the world tells us we should do) to looking internally (what is important to our authentic self). Our values define who we are so we need to continually remind ourselves to look inside our authentic self to determine what is essential instead of getting dictation from the outside world.

It is easy to see the controversy involved with such a 'me'-oriented attitude. Take, for example, a societal norm such as attending college after high school. Where does that decision come from? For most of us, there wasn't a decision as to whether or not we would go to college but, rather, which college. Of course, we would attend college. That is what everyone does. Traditionally, at the end of college, we are told that we should know what we want to do for the next 50-odd years of your professional life. To the rational mind, does that mindset seem realistic? Not really. Currently, the average American changes job over six times in their career. Many of us didn't know what we wanted to do after college so instead of deciding, we kept going. More schooling in hopes this additional formal education might tell us what we should be doing. Additional schooling can occasionally help determine what we want to do but more often than not we are simply prolonging the inevitable-actually making a decision on how to live our life. All the while, we are generally not encouraged to look inside ourselves for the answer. Looking inside us can yield fuzzy, emotional or irrational thoughts that are usually easier to ignore and to choose, instead, the rational (read: what society expects) path. And, all the guilt over the thousands spent on our education doesn't help us take an honest look at our individual wants and needs.

But inside us is where the answers lie. When I work with clients to uncover their values, they ask themselves a variety of questions to help get at the crux of who they really are- what their desires are, what is essential for them, how/when they are at their best, etc. We call this process 'mining for values'. We are simultaneously uncovering and paring down our authentic self to get at our values. When we mine for values, we aim for a list of 5-6 values that we can clearly recall and articulate [when we get beyond this number, our values list becomes difficult to remember as well as there is a good possibility that two values can be combined]. Five values are a handful and can be remembered by counting off one value on each finger.

With values work, we strive to get specific. This is where my theory of values differs from other coaches or consultants. I don't believe that a generic term such as 'family' is powerful enough to count as a personal value. Since I contend that values are essences that make you uniquely you, unlike anyone else, then how would a generic term like 'family' ?with its meanings and various connotations--be enough to define an intrinsic part of who you are? So, I require clients to get specific when defining their values. Each value pair contains two words; an adjective or adverb paired with a noun as in these sample values: 'carefree mermaid' 'spontaneous creation' 'passionate faith' 'motivating influence'. You can substitute a verb for the noun in your value pair but I have found this to be less effective. Specificity in values mining will contribute not only to a greater personal sense of self but also to a clearer vision. Your values will be unlike anyone else's. Certainly someone may have a value around the 'outdoors' for example but the chance that they have chosen the identical words of your value around the outdoors is pretty unlikely. However, even if they happen to be the same, the meaning will be different for each of you. The knowledge that your values are as unique as you are is refreshing and empowering.

Keep in mind that your actions show yourself and the world what is important to you. So, if, for example, you think that one of your values has something to do with 'family' but you work nine hours per day and commute one hour each way to work, is 'family' really a value for you? Ask yourself what an outsider would think if they looked at your life as a case study. What would they think one of your values is? Quite possibly, a value around 'work' could be assumed. And, if there really is a value around 'family' for you and you are not honoring it, how do you feel about yourself? I speak from experience on this one. I spent almost two years living three hours from my fiancé and our dogs, traveling home on Friday evenings only to leave again Sunday night before I woke myself up from that exhausting life. When you choose to ignore your values, you choose a path away from your authentic self.

Everything in our life relates back to values. For example, how do you decide what exercise plan would work best for you? You want to be more physically fit but how? Knowing your values can help you decide what kind of exercise would work best for you. A client of mine, Vicki, was in this situation. She wanted to get in better shape but didn't know what plan to follow. We started to plan around her goal of increased physical fitness by looking at her values. Three had a possible connotation to exercise: flexible independence, common beauty and engaged learning. We started to brainstorm on activities that Vicki could participate in on her own possibly --where she would be learning about something different and something that she found beautiful. She came up with yoga. Yoga is something that she could do independently or with a group. She would be learning an entirely new language ?so to speak- by learning the Sanskrit words for yoga postures. And, lastly, Vicki had always found yoga very beautiful. She has been taking yoga for several months now and loves it. At age 42, Vicki is in the best shape of her life.

What areas of your life are you dissatisfied with? Have you identified your unique handful of personal values? If not, ask yourself what needs to happen before you begin to put yourself first. Don't wait too long. Many negative behaviors result from stifling your authentic self by ignoring your values: illness, addiction, anxiety, fear, self-abuse and loneliness to name a few. When you are ready, email me for three simple questions to get yourself started on mining your own values. Remember 'me' is not a bad word; it is a bold powerful word with an undeserved 'bad girl' reputation. Here's to a new values based life just for you!

Whole Life Coach Elizabeth Johnson specializes in women's empowerment through authentic living. Elizabeth helps women recognize that everything in their life is a choice and by putting themselves first, clarifying their passions and values and by building their self-esteem, women can have the life that they want. Her business, E. Johnson & Company, offers personal growth workshops & seminars, coaching for individuals and groups, life / work planning services, speaking engagements and facilitated retreats-exclusively for women.

Contact Elizabeth at [email protected] or at 860 435 6008 for more information or for a complimentary consultation. Visit and subscribe to 'In The Pink', Elizabeth's monthly ezine for women who want to build self-esteem and live authentically. Subscribe to 'In The Pink' and receive a copy of the special report: 'Women & Confidence 2005'!

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