27 Sept 2022

Our internal compass – personal values

Prof Eddie Murphy

Our internal compass – personal values

Write the tribute that you’d want that friend to write about you

Values play a significant role in our wellbeing. What are values? Our personal values are a set of beliefs and qualities that we strive to live by. They are key qualities and psychological concepts that are deeply important to us and our sense of the world.
When we live in accordance with our values, what we do and how we do things match the internal qualities that are most important to us.

Positive Psychology
Among the constant stress and activities in our daily lives it is easy to lose track of what we truly care about and value. Identifying and working to further incorporate personal values into our lives can not only be fulfilling but also deepen our sense of purpose and meaning. Prof Martin Seligman known as the father of positive psychology talks about a life of pleasure, meaning and engagement. Indeed if you are a regular reader of my column you will know that I see engagement as a dynamo that constantly replenishes our wellbeing.

Values & happiness
When our behaviour is consistent with our values, we feel contentment, satisfaction, ‘flow’. happiness and internal strength. When our behaviour is misaligned with our values, we feel lethargic, purposeless, depressed, frustrated and even angry. We might also experience uncomfortable or ‘negative’ feelings when our values are quashed by external situations or people.

The importance of values
Why are values important? Our values are an internal compass that guide our direction in life. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of what they are and use them to make key decisions. Values arise influenced by our social background, family, birth order, generational factors, and genetic inheritance, to mention just a few contributing factors. Values serve as your personal guide, acting as a garda, judge and doctor, psychologist and social worker.
Psychologist Steven Hayes describes values as “chosen life directions” that are “vitalising, uplifting, and empowering”. A value is not merely a goal, but can be thought of as a continuous process, direction, and way of living that helps direct us toward various goals and live a meaningful life.

Identifying your values
Time now for you to do a bit of work. This always reminds me of what I say to clients in the therapy room “change doesn’t happen in the hour in here, it happens by incorporating that learning and bringing it through for the rest of the week and its helped by homework. I always give homework!”
Here’s yours. There are various ways to identify your personal values including choosing which domains or areas in your life are most important to you, and specifically what you value within each domain.
Which areas of your life and how many you choose can vary. They can include relationships, work/career achievement, parenting, self-care (health, leisure, etc.), spirituality, community involvement, and education/learning.

Finding Your Values
- Take some time to reflect deeply on what areas of your life and ways of living give you the most meaning, interest and sense of fulfilment.
- Pick an area relationships, work/career achievement, parenting, self-care (health, leisure, etc.), spirituality, community involvement, and education/learning.
- Next, closely and honestly examine how present this value is expressed in your current life, including daily activities, lifestyle and relationships.
- Begin to brainstorm and list any concrete ways that you can make your chosen value more prevalent in your life. These do not need to be major life changes but can be small actions or activities. For example, if you value spending time with your family, perhaps making an effort to have family dinner together at the table 3 times a week, or play or read a bed time story to your children every other night.
- Imagine that you’re 80 years old. You’re in good health and have fulfilled your life dreams and goals. Your family and friends are planning a testimonial party for you. Your childhood best friend has been asked to write and read a tribute to you.
- Write the tribute that you’d want that friend to write about you. It may be short, long, nostalgic, humorous, biographical, or visionary, but it must be responsible. It must capture the spirit and essence of the ideal life you hoped to have lived to.
- As you write this tribute refer to the list of values. Incorporate the essence of these values into the story you convey.
You might find that the Life values best describe the end-state you are striving for and values best describe the means by which the end-state will be achieved. Be as realistic, specific—and as honest as possible.

Eyes open
Going through life without a sense of our key values is like walking into a store and buying a new pair of shoes with our eyes closed: chances are they’ll be the wrong size, the wrong style, and not at all what we wanted.
Equally, we end up with a life that doesn’t suit us, leaves us feeling uncomfortable, dissatisfied, awkward (even in pain), and a life that’s more something that just happened to us, rather than something we consciously chose.
Discovering our core values is one of the first and most important steps involved in living authentically. Find your values and re-find your purpose in life.

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