Align with your Values
By Justin Wright
So many positive changes can be made in our lives if we take the time to assess how our current actions align with who we want to become. If you have never taken the time to define your values, it is a useful exercise that can help you figure out exactly what it is that matters to you. There is so much noise in life that it can become easy to get distracted by what is constantly going on around us. Taking the time to stop briefly and reflect is invaluable and necessary to long-term growth.
Without taking the time to do this, we are merely wandering through life aimlessly. More important than goals is our ability to understand the qualities and characteristics we wish to possess. These things act as beacons to guide our thoughts and actions. Furthermore, our overall happiness can be greatly increased if we simply stop to reflect on who we want to become in the future.
Define your values
When is the last time you looked in the mirror and truly saw who you are? There are countless moments each day where we react thoughtlessly to our environment. Whether someone cuts us off in traffic, sends us an angry email, or confronts us in some other fashion, we often instinctively react to these situations. Instead of acting in line with our true selves, we react with anger or frustration.
If we instead took time to consciously act instead of subconsciously react, we would learn to alter our actions and thought patterns to be more in line with our ideal self. The problem is that we must define our ideal self first! If you have never gone through this exercise before, work through the following steps. It may seem difficult right now, and you might not have all the answers just yet. The benefits, however, lie in the process; embracing the challenge and discomfort will serve you well!
- Start by reflecting on individuals in your life whose actions have inspired you. These can be people you have met, or simply people you have read about or seen in the public eye.
- Use these individuals as reference points to identify the qualities and character traits that you admire about them. Focus on traits that carry a visceral response — you want to feel these characteristics on an emotional or spiritual level. Identify what sets these individuals apart, and why you admire them.
- With these traits in mind, draft out a list of character traits you yourself wish to have. Keep them as simple as possible and utilize fewer than 3 words to describe each. For example: honest, loyal, loving, compassionate, hard-working, etc. This list should be concise and easy for you to understand at a glance when you reference it in the future.
- Afterwards, create a list of traits or characteristics you want to avoid at all costs. These can be traits possessed by those who have left a negative impression in your life, or simply things you otherwise feel strongly about. The key is, just like the positive traits, these should elicit an emotional response. For example: anger, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, etc.
- Once these lists are complete, and you have identified the traits you wish to possess and wish to avoid, you must now go through the hardest part of the process!
Reflect and redirect
After you have completed your lists, you will have a strong sense of the type of person you ultimately wish to become. While this process may be uncomfortable on its own, the true discomfort comes when we must face our actions up to this point. It is crucial that you reflect on your life currently and, most importantly, reflect on how your actions align with your values. Do your repetitive actions align with the lists you created, or are you currently living in a way that is pulling you away from those values?
It is imperative that you are humble and honest when going through this assessment. While many of us may want to believe that we rarely fail and are wonderful people, the reality is that we all make mistakes and we often do things we aren’t proud of. The goal is not to beat yourself up over your mistakes, but to understand how to better align your actions with the values you have written down.
From here, we must redirect our thoughts and actions so that we can more closely align them with our lists. If you wish to be compassionate but find yourself constantly frustrated with those around you, force yourself to say something kind the next time you feel frustration building. If you wish to be loyal but find yourself blowing off commitments, double down your efforts to help those around you. If you wish to be honest but find yourself telling half-truths, take time to confess your shortcomings with a close friend you can confide in. The goal is not perfection, but if we make conscious efforts to align our actions with our goals then we can vastly improve our lives.
The journey is the goal
What is crucial to understand throughout this process is that there is no true end or finish. The journey of improvement is itself the goal. This entire process should be done on a regular basis, as our values may change with differing life circumstances. Understand, however, that you must go through this process regularly. If you don’t concretely define the characteristics and traits that you aspire to possess, the winds of life will prevent your values from taking root.
Fight to act instead of react. Focus on defining who you want to be and who you want to avoid becoming. Create your lists and reference them often; the more you view them, the more you will be reminded of the traits you admire. Use these definitions to act as guides on your life’s journey, and always be willing to take a good, hard look in the mirror. The things that matter to you today may change in the years to come. By embracing the challenge of self-reflection, you will ensure that your thoughts and actions grow with you instead of being left behind in the dust.