Do you ever struggle with inner conflicts? For example, maybe you have a particular passion, and you wish you could make a living by pursuing it full time, but your need for security causes you to stay with a job that is not your passion. Or maybe you say that you want to be healthier, but you’ve created a stressful life even though you know that isn’t good for you. Or perhaps you’re in a relationship that isn’t fulfilling, but you stay because you don’t want to hurt your partner and go through a breakup.
Welcome to the club of humanity. People are complex. We have multiple needs and desires, and some will conflict with others. When the conflicts are superficial, it’s not a big deal, but we can torment ourselves when we have deeply held values that conflict.
What Matters To You?
Your values come from the ideas and beliefs that matter most to you. For example, maybe you believe in living with integrity and being honest—those are your values. Some people value adventure; others value safety. Some people care a great deal about their reputation; others care equally about their freedom. Our values guide our behaviors.
For twenty-five years, I’ve helped people identify and change their values. But I believe that I was missing a key piece in this puzzle—one that can make a significant difference in reducing internal conflict.
To explore your values, I recommend you make a list of your top five values. If you aren’t clear about what “values” are and how they affect your behaviors and life, click here to see a list of 62 values. You can use the values on this list or come up with your own—the point is to pick your top five.
After you have your list, consider whether you live your life by the values you put on your list. Ask yourself, “If an astute observer followed me around for a week and paid close attention to how I behave, what would that person say are my values?” Was I kind and patient, attentive to others, or was I focused on myself? Was I relaxed and present, or ambitious and determined? If the list your observer created is very different from the list you created, then you’re not living congruently. In other words, you say your values are x, but your behaviors tell a different story. If that’s the case, it’s a wake-up call. Maybe you can change your behaviors, but the first step is being honest about your values—how you live your life.
What Do You Want?
The next thing to consider is whether the values you listed are the ones you want to have. Most of us have some outdated values; they no longer make sense. So, ask yourself, “Are these the values I want to have? If I made a list of the values I would like to have, what would that look like?”
So far, so good?
If you aren’t living according to your stated values, you have two choices. You can change your list of values to reflect how you behave, or you can start to behave in ways that reflect your values. First, I recommend that you identify the values you would like to have and then describe how you will conduct yourself to be true to each value on your list.
But here’s the thing I didn’t realize until now—almost everyone’s values contain inconsistencies. I’ll share a list of my values to provide an example:
- Enjoy time with Hannah
- Live healthily
- Practice the paradigm that I teach
- Write a bestselling book and help thousands achieve their potential
Items 1, 2, 3, and 5 are all consistent. In other words, I can pursue all of those without any conflict.
But just a couple of weeks ago, my co-author and I signed a book deal with one of the biggest publishers, and I’m motivated to write a bestseller. That’s where value #4 comes from. So, on the one hand, I’m very excited about this opportunity. But, on the other hand, I feel an internal conflict because writing a bestseller might prevent me from spending as much time as I would like with Hannah, relaxing, and living healthfully.
When we have conflicting values, we can justify a wide range of behaviors, and some of those behaviors may conflict with some of our values. This causes internal conflict. Do you see how placing “writing a bestselling book” as one of my top values conflicts with my other values?
Aligning Your Values
The answer for me has been to craft my top 5 values list to have no conflicts. To pursue any one of my values will not conflict with any of the others. This has proven to be a powerful step. In my case, I changed my ambitious value from writing a bestseller to creatively expressing my ideas. I can do that without putting unnecessary pressure on myself.
This process doesn’t have to be hard unless “things being hard” is one of your values. I’m serious about that. Many people hold onto the idea that “relationships are hard, change is hard, life is hard.” Is that one of your values? Do you want it to be?
The Live Conscious orientation makes it easier to change our values because we believe that meaning is made up. In other words, the stories we tell ourselves about our values are just that—stories. And our stories are often self-justifications we use that make it harder for us to change. Once we create a story or a belief, we’re very good at going out and finding evidence to prove we’re right, but that doesn’t make it the Truth.
So, I’ll close with three suggestions.
First, be honest with yourself about your values. No judgment. Just notice what they are.
Second, think about your values in relationship to the Three Levels of Consciousness that we’ve written about in other articles. Most of our values come from Safety consciousness. This tends to keep us stuck at that level of consciousness. I encourage you to access Heart consciousness and Spacious consciousness as part of your process in reevaluating your values.
And third, pay attention to your nervous system. The goal is to develop a list of values that allows you to feel relaxed and energized—like wearing comfortable clothes, but ones that you believe are complementary.
If you have questions or want to show us your values list in the comments section below, we will respond.
Aloha Jake and Hannah-
I am coming to the big island very soon with my partner who will be on assignment. I am so excited.
I had a fun time exploring the values list.
I became aware of my top 5 as:
1) personal growth – I adore doing inner work and have done / continue programs, reading, coaching shadow/individuation work
2) self care – for me this is resting, meditating, listening to music, taking walk/ hike, go to beach
3) foster healthy relationships – express and share love and connection with partner, friendships, colleagues, family. Kindness.
4) Happiness – choosing to follow my bliss and be me
5) Meaningful work – enjoy working with individuals in a holistic way – mental health – excited to start graduate school to become a psychotherapist.
I noticed that I also gravitated towards balance. I think my values have evolved with me. Life has been a struggle when I was more in safety consciousness and running old stories/ tapes. Not living congruent to my values due to fear or habit caused me pain in the past. An invitation to adventure and curiosity create the dynamic tension to move me forward. It’s been a wild ride this far ( maybe freedom makes my top 10)
Any thoughts / suggestions would be so helpful!
Aloha Tracy, I delighted myself to read your values list, which feels very congruent to me. I like the way you specified what you mean by “meaningful work — enjoying working with individuals in a holistic way.” Your list feels quite balanced, forward-moving (sympathetic part of your nervous system), and also a focus on presence (parasympathetic part of your nervous system). “Freedom” to be yourself is how I interpret your mentioning of freedom.
Grad school to become a psychotherapist? What school? Some schools focus more on pathology; others focus more on health. I prefer the latter. No matter, I believe your values will serve you, and others, very well.
Enjoy the Big Island. Let us know if you are up our way —— in Hawi.