If you’ve ever used a compass, you know that the little metal pointer inside is always pointing north. This is how people throughout time have been able to find their way through the wilderness. If you know where north is, you can orient yourself and get where you want to go. Even in the most treacherous terrain, knowing how to locate North means that you know where you are going, and how to get there.
In our own lives, the compass we use to help us find our way are our values; those things that we hold most dear, that drive us and direct us about how we want to live our lives. We have discussed the importance of values when it comes to behavior change in the past, and encourage everyone we work with to think about their values and how they can be working towards a values-driven life.
But something has happened … magnetic north has moved! That’s right, that magnetic force that pulls our compasses to the north, the guide that helps us through the wilderness, has shifted from a spot in Northern Canada and is moving quickly towards Siberia. Is “North” supposed to shift? And does that mean that a values compass is no longer an apt metaphor for our lives?
Actually, the opposite is true! The movement of magnetic north makes this metaphor even more accurate to our lives. You see, values are not static ideas that hold steady throughout our lives, values are things that grow and change with us. They flow, they move, and they change over time as our priorities and our lives change. Our own true north is different at different times in our lives, and it is important for us to take a moment to re-evaluate our values and how they relate to our lives.
Some people may be wondering how to think about values in the first place. Sure, they are there, and you may even know some of them, but do you really feel like you know your values well enough to determine if your behaviors are moving you towards your values? If you’re not sure enough about what your values are, or if you feel like it’s time to check up on them, try the following:
First, take a look at the following list of values words. This is not a complete list of values, it’s just a sampling of words that you might relate to, or that might give rise to some other ideas. When you’re looking at the list, don’t get too caught up in the exact meaning of the words, rather think about what they mean to you, and see which ones catch your eye. Our goal is to end up with three to focus on. Why three? Because more than three can feel overwhelming, and less than three can be limiting. You can always pick different ones in the future, so these are just a beginning.
Next, think about specific behaviors, people, and thoughts that move you towards each of those values, and behaviors, people, and thoughts that move you away from them. For example, you may have put family as one of your values, and a specific way to move towards that value could be spending more quality time with your children. Something that moves you away from that value could be going to drinks after work, which is fun, but then you miss that time with your kids. Listing what moves you towards your values and what moves you away from them can help you clarify not only what is important to you, but also what gets in the way of you staying on your values-driven path.
Values help guide us in our lives, and they help us change our behaviors by showing us what is most important to us. And, values change over time! Periodically checking to see what values are the most important to you in this moment can help make sure that you’re on the path you want to be in your life.