What you value, you become.

Values guide your life — if you know what they are.

Most people don’t know what they don’t know. Psychologists Rozenblit and Keil coined the term ‘the illusion of explanatory depth to describe this phenomenon.

We all believe we know more (about ourselves) than we actually do.

My point is not to make you feel bad, but to invite you to reflect on your values. Even if you’re clear on what you stand for, read on. Take a few minutes to revisit your values.

Please, know your values

We all have something that we stand for. However, most values were ‘imposed’ on us. We inherited our religion, our political affiliation, our idea of building relationships -even our favorite sports team- from our parents.

Most people stick with the framework they were brought up. They keep those values forever. Others realize, at some point, that certain choices no longer work for them. And choose a different path.

Then come school and work — the push to adopt values imposed by others keeps influencing our lives.

That’s the problem with values. We usually act without being truly aware of what we stand for. Especially because, like it or not, most of our values were inherited rather than a choice we consciously made.

List all your values. Take your time to go beyond the obvious. Consider all the different aspects of your life: you, family, work, friendships, relationships, religion, money, etc. Build a list that is as comprehensive as possible.

Divide them into three groups: the ones you inherited, the ones you chose, and the values you adopted without consciously knowing.

What surprises you? What are the tensions or contradictions? What will you change?

What are you willing to give up?

Living up to our true values hurt. There’s always a crossroads in which we are forced to make tough decisions. We have to say “no” to something tempting if we want to stay true to our core values.

Like it or not, we’re social animals. We’re hardwired to worry about the impression we make on others, as a Harvard Business School study shows. This desire can sabotage our choices.

Are you doing what you really want, or what pleases others?

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

— Bernard M. Baruch

Most people and teams have a hard time establishing priorities. They want to achieve too many things and fail to focus. The act of prioritization is about making sacrifices; we must say “goodbye” to something that we appreciate.

Establishing clear priorities using ‘even over’ statements is an effective way to learn to make tough choices. This exercise is a declaration of priority. You are choosing one good thing, even over another good thing.

Sacrificing something that doesn’t matter is easy. Living up to your values means saying “no” more often — especially to things that you appreciate, too.

Integrate opposing values

We were all raised to view values in black and white terms. You’re either a good person or a bad one. You’re either selfish or generous. You’re either one of us or one of them.

Unfortunately, values tend to divide people.

Yes, values should force you to make choices, but that doesn’t mean viewing life through an “either/ or” lens.

Integrating values that seem opposing is a powerful thing — something most people fail to achieve.

Leda Glyptis wrote a compelling article about how we’re forced to see values in binary terms, thus creating a false choice between two options.

Take your job, for example. You either work in something you love or you work for the money.

Wrong thinking.

The author explains her own challenges facing that dichotomy. Do we have dreams or ambitions? Do we have a backbone or a wishbone? Do we know the difference?

“Turns out I do. And knowing that is to know that’s a trick question: I have a backbone. I have a wish bone. And I can tell them apart.”

— Leda Glyptis

Let’s stop thinking in binary terms and embrace a “yes, and…” mindset.

We can do what we love and make money, too. We can choose not to be religious and still do good. We can be generous and even take care of our interests. We can protect the environment and still live comfortably.

Viewing values as opposing ideas is the result of our upbringing. Sometimes, this is because we’re not self-aware. Most of the time, it’s because we are being manipulated to think in “either/ or” terms.

Reflect on your own values; which feel like opposing ideas? See what happens when you adopt a “Yes, and…” approach.

Your core values change and evolve

When facilitating leadership development workshops, this is one of the hardest exercises for people to experience.

We tend to stick to our values as if they were rigid beliefs; we don’t think our values should change.

Sure, we are not supposed to continually change our beliefs. They’re meant to drive our decisions in the long run. However, that doesn’t mean that some values can’t change over time.

I was a religious person (born and raised Catholic) until I turned 18 years old. At that point, I felt Catholicism was too rigid. Most importantly, I couldn’t stand the “us versus them” approach that most religions preach.

Each creed talks about tolerance, acceptance, and doing good. However, sometimes, it feels like as being part of a political party. Rather than joining forces, each side sees the other as ‘wrong.’ Instead of looking for common grounds for collaboration, we focus on the differences.

That’s the problem with values; they’re supposed to bring us together, not push us apart.

After exploring various paths, I adopted Buddhism — not as a religion but as a set of guiding principles. Buddhist philosophy shaped my life’s perspective for the better. It also helped me to become more tolerant and accepting of others.

Many other values in my life have changed. Others were lost along the way. Reflection helped me reconnect to what matters to me.

Your values will change too, and that’s okay. Rather than having a rigid approach to what we believe (or not), let’s accept our fluidity. Reflect on how your values have evolved.

Practice this exercise to reconnect to what matters to you. Refresh your values. See which changed, or what values you want to update. Learn to integrate opposing values.

Above all, you are how you live. Keeping your values present will help you practice what you stand for. What you value, you become.

Must-Read Articles on Values

How to Define Company Values (And Why It Matters)

What Do You Stand For? An Exercise to Define Your Values

A Purpose That Costs Nothing Is Not Worth Having

It’s Not Who You Are, But Who You Become That Matters

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