How aligning with your values can lead to your ultimate success.
The New Year's Resolution trap
In a world of life coaches, therapists, social media and blog posts about the secret to success, we are often driven to set goals and work at them consistently and persistently. There are SMART goals, short-term goals and long-term goals. There are career goals, relationship goals, fitness goals, life goals. And as we enter a new year, the pressure to live our best life or make this our best year (especially after the losses of COVID) is strong. Goals are helpful in that they provide us with structure and routine. But the dark side of goals is that they can produce anxiety and depression if we feel like we’re not working at our goals or we’re not seeing enough progress.
Why goals shouldn't be the focus
There can be guilt and shame around our goals, especially if we’ve screamed it from the rooftops, and we can’t deliver to others or to ourselves. We see ourselves as failures and perceive success as something that eludes us. I will not offer another suggestion about how to set goals to find success, but I offer an alternative way to look at success that may be helpful.
Goals are an end result and focus very little on the journey and the process. Goals limit us to one way of doing things and often don't make accommodations for life as it happens in real time. We tell ourselves that we are going to 10 pounds in 3 months by going to the gym 4 days a week, but we rarely ever ask ourselves why we are setting these goals and how they relate to our lives and the enrichment of it. We don't ask ourselves why it has to be 3 months and what happens when the entire family comes down with the flu or the gym closes for whatever reason. Goals suggest that once you have achieved the thing, you can go back to old habits.
Values on the other hand, ask us to identify what is important to us and make choices that help define who we are, to ourselves and the world around us. I would argue that if you valued health and decided to become a runner, the journey towards health would be much more fulfilling than a person who says that they are going to lose 10 pounds in 3 months because they want to fit into their skinny jeans. Nothing wrong with that, but ask yourself, who is more likely to succeed in the long run? Who would you want to hang around and seek out for guidance and/or support?
I submit that success should be a deeply personal definition, one that expands your purpose, supports your overall well-being and connects you to your sense of self. It should align with your identity. But so often we do not know who we are, so we look to others to define it for us. As children, we have no choice, but as adults, we get to choose what our values are and what our definition of success is.
But is your pursuit of success something that has been defined by others (i.e. you know Jim is successful because he has the Senior VP job and lives in that neighborhood)? Is it material (having the “it” bag or driving the most expensive car in the parking lot)? Is it fame (number of likes and having people worship you)? Or is it something more complex? Success can be all of these external things, however, they are fleeting and subject to the whims of society, trends and other people’s opinions about you.
Real success lies in finding what you value and living according to your values. When you determine what those values are, how those values relate to your purpose and make choices based on what YOU value, you live in a greater state of overall well-being and less subject to the anxiety and stress that comes with living up to someone else’s expectations.
Let’s be honest, many of our values were influenced by those who raised us and/or outsiders who have things that we want. If we value hard work, it’s because someone in our lives either spoke that or lived them. If we value money, it’s because we saw how money impacted those around us. Maybe we value money because a celebrity we admire has lots of it and seems to have a great life. In choosing our values, the caveat is in understanding that many of these values were instilled in us by others with their own agendas and ideas.
As an adult, ask yourself, are they truly your values or something in others that if you had would make you famous or popular or accepted by those around you? Can you instead look at the qualities and characteristics of another person and seek to model your behavior after that?
Assessing your values requires you to reflect on your own life and decide what is important. You now choose to live a life that you can be proud of, not what someone else expects of you.
Once you do some reflection on what it is you want, what identity you want to have, what you want your life to look like, look at your values and ask yourself if you are living up to those values and how?
So, for example, if you value honesty and loyalty, but are working for a company who cheats and lies on fiscal reports, or chooses not to stand by its’ employees when they make a mistake, how do you think that impacts your well-being and sense of self? Anxiety and stress abound because you are living up to someone else’s rules and not your own. But you justify the contradiction by saying you need the job or it doesn’t affect you. Life is not perfect and we all live in a world of gray, but ask yourself how much of your life is gray, and how much are you living your life aligned with your values?
The hardest part of values is determining how to align your choices with the reality of contradictory relationships and responsibilities. Recognize that some of your circumstances are out of your control, however, some are in your control. You have choice in some things and I suggest that you focus on those. Focusing on your behaviors, your lifestyle, your relationships, and your mindset, you can ask yourself what you can do different to better align with your values. As you incorporate some of those things, other opportunities to align increase.
Begin by doing an assessment and ask yourself certain questions. Included is a list of a few values. Review the list, circle all of the items that you value and identify how you are living according to these values. There are more extensive lists online go seek it out. But for the sake of this post, I have included a few popular ones.
Accountability Acceptance Authenticity Beauty Choice Community Creativity Dependability Education Entrepreneurship Faith Family Flexibility Freedom Fun
Happiness Health Honesty Independence Intelligence Integrity Intuition Joy Justice Kindness Knowledge Leadership Love Loyalty Money
Power Privacy Resilience Respect Responsibility Resourcefulness Safety Self-control Self-development Self-respect Service Simplicity Spirituality Well-being Wealth Wisdom
Questions to ask:
1. Where did these values originate? Who are the people that inspired/instilled these values in me?
2. Why are these values important to me?
3. In what ways am I living according to my values?
4. In what ways am I ignoring my values? Why?
5. What are some things that I can do to be more in alignment with these values today?
Success for you will be found once you begin to live more in alignment with those values. Figuring this out is a lifelong and fluid process as we change over time. Taking the time to truly reflect and implement ensures that you get to live a life that you envy and enjoy instead of focusing on others.
I would love to know what insights you have discovered about yourself and what steps you are taking to better align with your values.
In my next blog post, I will go deeper and tackle the other important side of values – shadow values.
My name is Edwige and I am a therapist who specializes in mom issues (stress and anxiety) and trauma. Find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.