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The Value of Values

Try asking the average person on the street what their values are, and don’t be surprised if they struggle to answer. The truth is, most people don’t have clarity on what their values are and how these values impact on them every single day of their lives.

Given that your values are the foundation of your life, trigger what makes you happy and unhappy, form the basis of your decision making and indeed are lie at the route of your judgement of others, I think it’s about time we started a values revolution – giving everyone the gift of knowing and understanding their values and how to use them in daily life.

So let’s explore this vital yet often unclear topic in more depth.

So first of all, what exactly are values?

Hyrum Smith defines values as

“what we believe to be of the greatest importance and of the highest priority in our lives”

The truth is, nobody can really prove in the scientific sense what values are, but it makes sense to see them as hard wired pathways in the brain – which are linked to our beliefs. Whether they are innate or develop due to our culture and upbringing is also unclear. Common sense says it is likely to be a combination of both. Sure there are some studies with identical twins who appear to have very different values (suggesting our values are innate), but it is also hard to believe that our environment through our childhood years does not influence our values.

The way I explain values is as follows:

Values form and are pretty much decided by teenage years (nature or nurture or both)
Beliefs grow from those values
Those beliefs and values trigger emotions, thoughts and actions

So, for example, let’s say a friend asks you if you want to help her for a new sports club for young people and one of your top values is “Health”

You subconscious mind, where your values are hard wired, hears the question, and this “triggers” your “health” value pathway.
Connected to that general value of health you have lots of beliefs, and two of those beliefs are “sport is good for children” and “kids should get more exercise these days”
This triggers a positive emotion to the question, and you feel engaged and interested.
This triggers a thought: “Sounds interesting”
This triggers your behaviour and you ask your friend “I like the idea, so what exactly do you have in mind”

And you feel happy about this process because all of this is aligned to your value of health and the beliefs that are connected to it

And then later in the same day another friend, who works for Coca Cola, asks you this question:

“I want to do an event for kids to encourage them to drink more Coke, will you help me?”

Now you heard that the average half litre bottle of Coke contains about 24 teaspoons of white sugar – so you get a very different response to this question. You feel irritated by the request, which triggers a thought “no way” and leads to the response “actually I am pretty busy at the moment”

If you went ahead with this and helped the second friend, your value of health would always be in conflict with the action and you would just feel not quite right.

So this is just one example of how our values impact on our feelings, thoughts and behaviours every day. The next question is how can we learn more about our values and be clear on what they are?

Well, simply taking a logical approach to this and attempting to write a list or, even worse, choosing your values from a set list, won’t be effective. Why? Because values aren’t logical and they don’t exist in the logical part of your brain – they are hard wired in your limbic system (your subconscious brain)

So let’s late a less direct approach – try asking yourself these questions:

What do you love to do?
Why is it important to you?
What does it give you?
What else do you get from it?

Chances are you might have come up with a value there. For example:

What do you love to do? “Read books”
Why is it important to you? “Because I love to explore the world of fiction”
What does it give you? “It’s about learning
What else do you get from it? “A change to imagine and create – yes it’s about creativity for me”
So the values of learning and creativity are important to you?
Yes they are

So just by asking the right questions, you can help another person to become much clearer on their values.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you have a value, you can then go on to explore how you interpret that value – what does it mean to you in everyday life?


May 2014

Steve Neale’s online programme, the Limbic Performance System for Outstanding Leadership, contains a comprehensive, step by step guide to understanding your Values, how to coach to help find Values and how to apply Values in your daily life.

Just click here for more information…

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