For many people, some space exists between their values and their decisions. Mia may value honesty and openness but find herself telling “white lies” to protect a friend’s feelings. Quinton may value freedom and spontaneity while working a 9 to 5 job. It’s not uncommon to discover that one’s everyday decisions may not align entirely with one’s values due to necessity or circumstance. So when does it become an issue?
Psychology has a term to define the pull between our thoughts and actions, our values and decisions, particularly when they don’t align. Cognitive Dissonance. A more colloquial term might be “double mindedness. “ As dissonance increases so does stress. A person may even begin to experience anxiety symptoms or depressive feelings over the inconsistencies. This is often when individuals find themselves seeking out therapy.
Marta comes to therapy and identifies that many of her actions and conversations center around attitudes she is exposed to on social media that have little to do with her actual values. She lives in a state of constant anxiety and feels unstable in her own identity.
John seeks out therapy to deal with general feelings of unhappiness related to his career. John is able to identify how his parents definition of “success” pushed him into a field he has no passion for.
So where do Marta and John (and maybe even Mia and Quinton) begin to address the dissonance? By examining their own values first. Before Marta can make decisions that align with her values she needs to define for herself what these are.
Maybe you identify with one of these situations or are able to see how your own values and behavior don’t seem to be lining up. Maybe you are experiencing stress, unhappiness or challenges in your life that don’t seem to have a root cause. Maybe this is a great time to do a value check.
Step 1: Start by identifying your top 5 values. Identifying what is most important to you will help you create a basic structure for your decision making and attitudes. If you aren’t sure what counts as a “value” you can use a list like this one to give you some ideas:
Step 2: Examine your current life choices, attitudes and maybe even relationships. Which of these supports your values and which of these are in opposition. Ask yourself if you are more willing to change that choice, attitude or relationship or to give up a value. The choice is yours.
Step 3: Use your list of values as a “litmus” test for your life. As you face a decision, before you take an important action, ask yourself “is this bringing me closer or further away from living out my values.”
Values clarification is not an overnight fix but a life-long practice in become the person you want to be. Your values and priorities may shift over time, so check in with yourself and be sure you are being genuine to who you truly are.