While I was away in Byron Bay on retreat recently, I revisited my personal values. If you’ve never worked on your values, a fun way to define them is by creating a mind map. Grab a large sheet of paper and lots of coloured textas or pencils. Put on your favourite music and allow yourself plenty of uninterrupted time. You may like to listen to a guided meditation before you begin to make a connection with what really matters to you.
What exactly are values?
Your values are your heart’s deepest desire about how you want to live your life. They can describe the person you want to be, the personal attributes you want to focus on or simply how you want to behave in your life. The wonderful thing about values is that you can live in alignment with them even when you’re not achieving your goals. They give our lives purpose and meaning and help us to be the person we want to be, regardless of what’s going on in our lives.
You can choose any words you like as your values but you might find it helpful to begin with some suggestions such as those included on Russ Harris’ values list. Russ is the author of The Happiness Trap, a book that describes how the mindfulness-based therapy, ACT can help you live in greater alignment with your values even when you’re experiencing difficult feelings.
Note your top values
Note your top ten values and on your mind map, write the word ‘Values’ in the centre of your page. Create a branch for each of your individual values. As you complete this exercise, try to resist the urge to overthink your choices and instead, simply trust your instincts.
It can also be tempting to choose values that you think others would approve of or that will make you feel credible in some way. The most important aspect of this exercise is connecting with what really matters to you.
Add any other words that come to mind
On each branch of your mind map, now any other words that come to mind that might help you define how you can live out those values. There’s no right or wrong way to do this – just keep being guided by your intuition. If you feel inclined, you may find it helpful to journal and describe in greater detail how each of these values will be expressed in your life.
Grouping your values
It’s often helpful to group your values into around five categories to make them easier to remember in everyday life. For example, under the value of Integrity on my mind map, I added Honesty and Loyalty. Under Kindness, I added Patience and Fairness.
Are you aligned with your values?
Once you’ve refined your top values, check in with each of them and see if you’re currently living in alignment with those values. You might even want to give yourself a score out of ten as to how aligned you are with each value right now (with 10/10 being completely aligned). See this as a starting point for creating meaningful change in your life, rather than an opportunity to be self-critical.
Once your mind map is complete, choose at least one small action step you can take this week that will help you align with one of the values you’d like to focus on now.