What are Values in a Socially Distanced World?

May 18, 2020

It’s hard enough to live your values at the best of times, but when you’re being forced to socially distance yourself from the rest of the world, it can feel downright impossible! How do you connect with what matters to you when you’re not allowed to connect at all? While the world is in a locked-down state, it may feel like everything is on “hold,” including your values. But, with a little planning and a lot of flexibility, we can still find ways to connect to what’s important to us.

A Quick Review: What are Values?

Values are the guideposts that help you to make decisions about your life. In the good-old days, when going out was a thing, how would you decide what you want to do: go out to the bar with your friends or come home for dinner with your family? While one part of you says that you should go out with your friends, because that’s more fun, there’s another part of you that says that your family really matters to you a lot and that’s where you “should” be.

Here is an example of your values playing out in your life. They are pointing you towards what matters to you. Values are different from goals because they are not something that you can achieve, rather they are ideals that you strive for in your life. You can’t check the off a check-list (for example, you may value spending time with family, but you can’t say that you’ve achieved spending time with them, there’s always more time to spend!), rather you’re always working towards your values. And every decision you make has the ability to move you towards, or away from, your values.

Why Values Matter

Choosing to live your life according to your values can have some real benefits. This is best exemplified when you look at someone who lives life according to the goals, and not their values. Living life based on your goals means that you’re only rewarded if and when you achieve your goal. If you are planning to run a marathon, then you’re only truly rewarded if and when you finish the marathon. Each run that you take in preparation can then become a chore, something that only has value based on if you are able to complete the marathon. So, if the marathon got cancelled, then all of those practice runs were for nothing! What a waste.

Let’s contrast that with someone who lives their life based on their values, in this case the particular values of health and fitness. Now, each practice run is, in itself, a victory – a movement towards your values! With each run, you can focus not on how this will help you in the big race (even though you know it will!), but rather on how you’re getting more fit, or healthy, and how you notice that you’re progressing in this arena. Even when the race itself got cancelled, the whole journey was a success, and moved you in the direction that you wanted to go in your life.

Values in a Distanced World

While it is pretty hard right now to think about marathons and going out with friends, these can also be important ways for you to think about your values. To live life according to your values, you may have to be more clear about what your values are than you had to be when many more options were at your fingertips.

To do this, begin by asking yourself this question: what matters most to me right now? Does it matter to me that I don’t get sick? Or maybe that I don’t get anyone else sick? Or even that I am just doing my part to help “flatten the curve” and I stay at home because I value civic duty more than I ever realized. Or perhaps what I value has nothing to do with illness or wellness, and is more focused on connection. I value connection with others. Take some time to think about what matters most to you and write down your values. Try to think of somewhere between 5 and 10 values that matter to you in this moment.

Next, think about the many ways that you could live out those values. Sure, there are going to be a lot of ways that are not available to your right now (no going to the gym for those who value health!), but if you can be creative, you could come up with some alternatives (setting up a livingroom gym). Creativity and flexibility are the names of the game here, as you might need to think through unique solutions that will work for you, and be flexible enough to try out something that isn’t exactly what you would normally want to do.

Finally, don’t spend time reinventing the wheel. One of the biggest benefits of this time has been the amazing amount of creativity that people are sharing all over the world via the internet. Whatever you want to do, there are people out there who have been coming up with ideas and solutions about how to do what’s important to you from your own home.

This period of time is hard on us all. Living your values will not change the reality of just how difficult it is to be socially isolated from friends and family. But it may help you to feel like this period of time is much more tolerable, and that you’re coming away from it with a deeper connection to the life you want to live.

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