If you haven’t read the first and second part of ”How to Live Your Values” series, then I recommend you go and read them first.
Reexamining Your Values
Now comes the really interesting part. You don’t have to continue living by the same values. You can consciously change them – even radically if desired. You can go from a person who values peace most highly to one whose top priority is success, or vice versa. You are not your values. You are the thinker of your thoughts, but you are not the thoughts themselves. Your values are your current compass, but they aren’t the real you.
Is it really possible that you can consciously change your values? Yes it is. That will become clear in Part 4 of this series when we explore how to consciously live by your values. But for now, let’s tackle this question first: Why would you ever want to change your values?
You may want to change your values when you understand and accept where they are taking you, and you realize that what you appear to value right now will not enable you to enjoy the “best” possible life for you. Your “best” life is your vision of all the destinations you wish to reach – the greatest ultimate destiny you can possibly imagine for yourself. But your values are just a measure of the current direction you’re headed right now. And in most cases these two things are incongruent, meaning that your current values are not aligned with the course of your best life.
I want you to take a moment right now to get in touch with what this really means to you personally. If you keep living by your current values, then you can expect to get similar results to what you’re already getting, possibly a little better if you apply them more consciously. But most likely there is some part of you that isn’t satisfied with where you’ll end up if you keep following this same course. What are the “airports” where your planes will merely pass over but never land? Will you never experience an intimate, loving relationship? Will you never have children? Will you never become wealthy? Will you never develop an outstandingly energetic physical body? Will you never travel around the world? Will you never be able to help your favorite cause? Will you never feel that you’re living in total accordance with your spiritual beliefs?
Now what if all these “nevers” could suddenly become possible for you? How can they? They can become possible for you by shifting your values. And here’s the key: You don’t need to maintain the same values throughout your entire life. You can change them as often as you like. I recreate my own values list every 3-6 months.
When you change your values list and consciously act on it, you change your behavior and therefore your results. And this can lead to incredible new experiences. For example, if your top value is health, and you’re already in outstanding physical condition, what would happen if you changed your top value to wealth? You would cut back on your workouts for a while and invest tremendous energy into becoming wealthy. Your investment in health would slide a little, but in the short-term, it probably won’t make a huge difference. Health may still be one of your top values, but it just isn’t number one anymore. So now by focusing intently on your new top value of wealth, you eventually succeed in becoming wealthy. But eventually as you become very wealthy, making more and more money beyond a certain point may no longer serve you. Now you decide to shift your top value to compassion, so you go out and use your healthy, wealthy self to compassionately help others. Through this process of consciously shifting your values, you’ve changed from a gym rat to an entrepreneur to a philanthropist. You’ve lived an amazing life. But if you always maintain your original values, you’ll only experience being a gym rat for your entire life. And most of your true potential would remain untapped.
Changing Your Values
So how can you decide how to change your values? You go through a very similar process of listing and prioritizing, but now you do it with your destinations – your goals. I’m not going to repeat the process in as much detail here because it’s exactly the same as above. You just repeat the above steps with your goals instead of your values. Here’s a sample goals list:
- Reduce weight to 150 pounds
- Become a millionaire
- Move to San Diego
- Become a real estate investor
- Travel through every country in Europe
- Fall in love and get married
- Give a speech in front of 5000 people
- Go skydiving
- Get a part in a movie
- Visit the moon
- Run a marathon
So again, write out your goals. Decide which ones are truly most important to you. Prioritize them. And in this case it’s fine if you have more than 10-15. More than 100 is even OK; it will just take longer to prioritize.
These goals represent the experiences that you feel are part of the “best” life you could live. I don’t mean a good life or even a great life – I mean the best life. If a life where you never traveled through Europe wouldn’t be the absolute best for you, then you’d better include that goal on your list.
Returning to our airplane analogy again, this goals list represents your list of airports. Now do you see the problem with having a static list of values throughout your entire life? How is a single list of values going to allow you to hit all these different stops? The values that will make you a millionaire probably aren’t the same ones that will get you married. And the values that will send you skydiving aren’t the ones that will help you become a real estate investor. At some point in your life, you’ll need to focus intently on one of these goals while letting the others slide.
If you fail to focus your energy on the goals that are truly important to you, some of them will slip away, and that’s a heavy price to pay. You may succeed in your career and never get married. Or you may get married but never enjoy a state of physical fitness. Think back to the big, meaningful goals that you’ve already accomplished. Didn’t you have to go through a period where achieving that goal became your top priority for a while? And in the process, you (probably unconsciously) shifted your values to accommodate that goal. I remember that for the six months before we got married, my fiancée went into wedding planning mode. Her top values during this time became things like organization and preparation, but after our honeymoon, those were no longer her top values. They were no longer needed to such a degree.
Now that you have your goals hierarchy, pick the top one or two goals, and consciously devise a values list that will lead you to achieve them. Let’s say your goals list is prioritized as above, so your #1 goal is to reduce your weight to 150 pounds. To achieve this goal, you might make fitness your #1 value. Then you might make self-discipline your #2 value, so you’ll stick to your diet and exercise program. And then learning might become your #3 value, so you spend time educating yourself about proper diet and nutrition. You must design these values based on your own personal circumstances. Like any skill this takes practice, but over time you’ll become better and better at designing your values to adapt to your goals.
Whenever you achieve a major goal, that’s a good time to select a new goal and update your values list to accommodate it. Once you’ve run the marathon, if you feel ready to move onto something else, like becoming a millionaire, then you can knock health down a few notches and go into maintenance mode there while you push values like wealth, success, and courage to the top of your list to help you meet the next challenge.
Most books I’ve read that cover values suggest that you derive your goals from your values. I recommend the exact opposite approach – that you derive your values from your goals. I’ve spent years trying to use the first approach, and the result was a lot of frustration. I always felt I was missing something because my static values list never seemed to allow me to achieve certain goals. Eventually I figured out that goals come first, and then values can be adapted to fit those goals; when a goal is reached, then a whole new values hierarchy can be created. The airplane analogy makes this distinction very clear – before you can set a course for your plane, you must first determine the airport where it will land. If you set the course without knowing the destination, then you will experience tremendous frustration trying to get your planes to land where you feel they should.
In Part 4 of this series, you’ll learn how to consciously apply your values list to make decisions and achieve your goals.