Find out your val­ues

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents -

As a con­fi­dent per­son, I used to think I knew my­self com­pletely. But as I dis­cov­ered when I started hav­ing coun­selling, there’s al­ways more to learn.

I’ve been see­ing a coun­sel­lor for just over a year. It started af­ter I had a run­ning ac­ci­dent in 2016, re­sult­ing in the am­pu­ta­tion of my right leg. To be­gin with, the ses­sions fo­cused on the ac­ci­dent it­self. How­ever, we soon be­gan to broaden the top­ics cov­ered. My coun­sel­lor showed me the ben­e­fits of dig­ging deeper, dis­cov­er­ing more about what makes me who I am. That’s how I found out about core val­ues. These are our in­ner prin­ci­ples – the fun­da­men­tal ideas and morals we hold clos­est to our hearts.

My coun­sel­lor gave me a pack of cards show­ing val­ues, such as tol­er­ance, justice, in­ti­macy and knowl­edge. I grouped them into three col­umns: very im­por­tant, im­por­tant, and not im­por­tant. From the ‘very im­por­tant’ col­umn, I chose six that spoke to me most. These were in­dus­try, hu­mour, au­then­tic­ity, in­de­pen­dence, creativ­ity and friend­li­ness.

Hippy dippy non­sense, you say? Not at all. Un­der­stand­ing my val­ues has changed the way I think, ap­proach prob­lems and ne­go­ti­ate friend­ships and re­la­tion­ships. I’ve dis­cov­ered lay­ers of my­self I never knew ex­isted and I’ve con­vinced friends, fam­ily and col­leagues to try the ex­er­cise, too. The results have been en­light­en­ing.

Psy­chol­o­gist Dr Joe Oliver spe­cialises in ac­cep­tance and com­mit­ment ther­apy (ACT), a mind­ful­ness-based prac­tice that aims to help peo­ple live and be­have ac­cord­ing to their in­ner moral code. Here, he ex­plains the ben­e­fits of un­der­stand­ing core val­ues and how to dis­cover your own.

Use your core val­ues to help you face prob­lems


Our core val­ues are com­plex. To be­gin with, our par­ents teach us their own moral prin­ci­ples, some of which we up­hold. But as we get older, we de­velop into more in­de­pen­dent thinkers. This has an ef­fect on our val­ues. Big life events are the main trig­ger for a shift. Mile­stones such as univer­sity, ca­reers, re­la­tion­ships, hav­ing chil­dren and ill­nesses or ac­ci­dents all con­trib­ute to what we hold as most im­por­tant in life at any par­tic­u­lar time. All these things change how we per­ceive and ex­press our val­ues. For ex­am­ple, a new job may mean that val­ues such as ‘in­dus­try’ and ‘creativ­ity’ be­come more prom­i­nent, while hav­ing a baby will bring the value of ‘fa­mil­ial love’ to the fore­front of our mind. This doesn’t mean these prin­ci­ples weren’t im­por­tant be­fore – they’re just pri­ori­tised dif­fer­ently.


When was the last time you re­acted on a whim and re­gret­ted it? Whether snap­ping at a loved one or shy­ing away from some­thing that makes us feel anx­ious, it’s hu­man na­ture to let emo­tions de­ter­mine our ac­tions. By paus­ing and con­sid­er­ing our val­ues, we can make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence to how we act. We can be more mind­ful in­stead of re­vert­ing to au­topi­lot. It’s like hav­ing an in­ner com­pass – when you hold it out in front of you, the di­rec­tion it points to­wards will help guide your be­hav­iour.


Of­ten, not get­ting on with some­one means there is a clash of val­ues. Tak­ing the time to ex­am­ine this con­flict more deeply can lead to a new un­der­stand­ing. I once worked with a cou­ple who were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a prob­lem. He was cre­ative and ad­ven­tur­ous, but she was more shy and a real home­bird. On the sur­face, they seemed like chalk and cheese, and were strug­gling to make their re­la­tion­ship work. Yet, when we ex­am­ined their val­ues, we dis­cov­ered that they shared a deep-rooted cu­rios­ity – he had a pas­sion for ex­plor­ing and try­ing new ac­tiv­i­ties, and she was in­tel­lec­tu­ally very cu­ri­ous. Al­though they ex­pressed it in dif­fer­ent ways, cu­rios­ity was a bind­ing con­nec­tion. Once the cou­ple recog­nised this, they were able to work to­gether on what united rather than di­vided them. They be­gan to see the world from each other’s point of view and found more com­mon­al­ity than dif­fer­ence. And it saved their re­la­tion­ship. Most of the time when we clash with peo­ple, it’s be­cause they seem dif­fer­ent, threat­en­ing, or they an­noy us in some way. It’s not easy to share an­other per­son’s per­spec­tive, but mak­ing an ef­fort to un­der­stand where they’re com­ing from can cre­ate a pos­i­tive con­nec­tion.


Even when you know and recog­nise your val­ues, they will clash. Take ‘au­then­tic­ity’ and ‘hu­mour’ as an ex­am­ple. Even some­one who is de­ter­mined to show their true per­sona may use hu­mour to defuse awk­ward en­coun­ters. In this case, the two val­ues col­lide. This doesn’t mean au­then­tic­ity is less im­por­tant than hu­mour. We re­spond in the way we be­lieve is the most ap­pro­pri­ate. When we use our val­ues to make the best de­ci­sion for us at a spe­cific time, we will feel a sense of peace and sat­is­fac­tion – and we’ll know in­stinc­tively that we’ve done the right thing.


When you’re faced with a prob­lem, look in­wards as well as out. A study at the Univer­sity of Mary­land re­vealed that peo­ple who take time to con­sider what’s most im­por­tant to them are more cu­ri­ous, flex­i­ble and cre­ative as a re­sult. Con­versely, those who haven’t trained their minds to think in this way are more likely to feel over­whelmed or threat­ened by ob­sta­cles. When peo­ple step out of their com­fort zones and ac­knowl­edge their val­ues, it boosts re­silience to chal­lenges. They feel a stronger sense of self and, as a re­sult, are more ca­pa­ble of deal­ing with un­com­fort­able feel­ings.

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