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What are Personal Values and How do You Change Them?

To know yourself, you have to know your values

By Jamie JacksonPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
What are Personal Values and How do You Change Them?
Photo by Fortune Vieyra on Unsplash

Do you have issues around worthiness? Do you think you’re not entitled to success and money? Do you feel like you hold yourself back, and self-sabotage, that fear often talks you out of striving for more?

I’m sure the answer to most of these questions is yes.

And have you worked on these limiting beliefs with self-help, journaling, with coaching, perhaps even with psychotherapy?

Again, I’m sure the answer to most of these questions is yes.

What if these limiting beliefs is down to the one thing you probably haven’t worked on: your personal values.

Your values are the driving force behind every decision you make. They’re the logic behind your gut feelings, they’re steering the ship when you don’t even know it.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” — C.G. Jung

If you want to understand and change the trajectory of your life, it’s time to talk about values.

What are personal values?

You might think you know values you hold, but if someone asked you to write them down, could you? Maybe one or two, but all of them, clearly and concisely? I doubt it.

I’m not being mean, I couldn’t either. At least not before I realised how much my values dictate my behaviour.

I’d like to explain my epiphany around values as it’s a great starting point to illustrate their power over you and your life.

Values drive habits

A while ago I was wondering why I do crazy things such as fast for 16 hours a day, visit the gym so much and cold shower each morning. Where did I pick up these habits? Why do I have them? Despite years of personal development, I couldn’t explain my behaviour.

After some soul-searching, I realised it’s because I value suffering-on-purpose.

I’m not sure why, all I know is this is a powerful and important value of mine and it drives all of the activities listed above.

If a single value controls this much of me, what other values are lurking beneath the surface that control my relationships, my life, my happiness?

Values, as it turns out, are super important. Yet we don’t think about them much because of two reasons:

  • We believe we already know what we value
  • “Values” is a hideously overused buzzword, so we ignore it

We hear about values iat work, in emails from Amazon and Facebook and from the politicians campaigning for our votes. These values are always about trendy concerns such as sustainability, inclusion and collaboration — meaningless lip service to look virtuous.

Your personal values are not these things.

Ignore the noise and tune back in to your core beliefs, it is these values that drive your behaviour and emotions even when you don’t know it.

How values control your life

Here’s a great example of a personal value influencing a relationship.

I have a close friend who works hard, earns well and is a good father and husband. He’s one of my best friends but I spent an inordinate amount of time needlessly judging him. I didn’t understand why. He’s a great guy, so what was my problem?

It wasn’t until looking at my values I realised his avoidance of hardship clashed with my value of suffering on purpose. He chose comfort over exertion, he thinks exercise is ridiculous, if there are doughnuts on the table he’ll always eat one.

So what, right? The reality is this was my problem, not his, but it took me a long time to find the root cause of the problem and address it.

Are you at odds with people on your life because there is a clash of values?

Negative values might be holding you back

It isn’t enough to just to know your values, you have to assess if they are good or bad for you.

Mark Manson pointed out Hitler knew his values and was single-mindedly focused on pursuing them. Is that a good thing? Of course not.

“If our definition of success is horrific, like, say, world domination and slaughtering millions, then working harder, setting and achieving goals, and disciplining our minds all become a bad thing.” – Mark Manson

Recently I watched the post-apocalyptic drama The Walking Dead. Protagonist Rick led his group to a settlement with secure houses, electricity, showers and a friendly community. No one could settle. The biggest worry of the group was the place would make them soft.

It was a moment of revelation. This too was one of my values — to stay hard and battle away in the working class trenches. This is a value holding me back, masquerading as a limiting belief but in reality, is a core value; a negative core value at that, stopping me from growing.

The working-class-hero crap made me embrace financial struggle because it felt good. Why? It was meet a core value. Crazy, huh?

“Your playing small does not serve the world.” — Marianne Williamson

Many talk about imposter syndrome and worthiness, but perhaps you’re not an imposter at all, perhaps you’re authentic as fuck, it’s just your authenticity is driven by negative values that don’t serve you in the long run.

How to change your values

There are three steps to any change:

  • Awareness
  • Acceptance
  • Action

The crucial question is can we push against our core personal values or are we stuck with them?

Of course we can change. Your values have already have changed many times over. Consider your political values at 16 compared to now. Think about the value you put on music or fashion as an adolescent compared to being an adult.

We all change, we are all meant to change. This is good news because it means emancipating yourself from limiting negative values is more than possible. It's natural.

Gandhi, yes, the Gandhi, echoed this sentiment. He said:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, and your values become your destiny.” ― Gandhi

To change a value, to adjust a core belief, one must first change their thoughts. One must actively “do the work” of change by conditioning the mind.

Gandhi puts values last in the list of behaviours, not first. For him, they are not the root but the fruit at the top of the tree. Thought is the root.

Final Thoughts

The same friend I talked about earlier wants to leave his well-paid corporate job to open a record shop. I asked him why. He couldn’t answer. It was a gut feeling he had. But of course, the answer will be revealed in his values —values he hasn't got to grips with yet.

Your values are revelations about problems you may have been lumbered with for years. People often fail to progress as they simply value fitting over learning and looking foolish.

Identifying your values is a tough dig, but it’s worth it to improve your relationships and realign your goals and behaviours.

Remember, all inner work comes with a side order of congruence and peace, so start digging.


About the Creator

Jamie Jackson

Between two skies and towards the night.

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