WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
Find out your values
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
NOTICE THE SHIFT
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.
PAUSE AND CONSIDER
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.
RESOLVE INNER CONFLICT
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.
FIND YOUR RESILIENCE
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.