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Identifying Your Values: A Pathway to Self-Discovery and Authentic Living.

As I sit here writing this blog post, I am reflecting upon the pandemic’s impact upon each and everyone of our lives. I find it difficult to begin discussing authentic living without first highlighting the pandemics role in changing the ways that we are able to live life to our fullest potential. Many of us have likely experienced a change in our daily routines, our abilities to connect with loved ones, to engage in our favorite activities, to explore new hobbies and interests, and for some, even the loss of opportunities, jobs, and loved ones. As I meet with my clients, I recognize that experiences of anxiety, depression, grief, adjustment difficulties, feelings of internal conflict, of being “lost”, and/or of lacking direction or motivation are at an all-time high. For this reason, I want to start off this blog post by reminding you that if you have experienced a shift in your mental and/or emotional well-being and are facing challenges showing up as your “best self” since the start of the pandemic, you are certainly not alone.

Within this time and space outside of our “normal” lives, an interesting trend has similarly arisen since the start of the pandemic. Now, more than ever, people are being left to sit alone with themselves, as we no longer have access to the various external distractions that existed pre-COVID. During these moments of solitude, you may have become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Maybe you have also begun to question yourself, who you truly are, and things that bring you true happiness. You might have even begun to challenge your behaviors, decisions, and things you want to change abut yourself. As we spend these moments alone and are faced with these various questions, we are being met with our internal voice. Within each of us lies an internal voice that guides us towards dictating what feels goodor bad. Sometimes people will refer to this as our “gut” or “instinct”. This internal voice is better known as your authentic selfand connecting to it is the first step to self-discovery.

One part of beginning to truly know and understand yourself is through identifying your core values. Our values are the basic and fundamental beliefs that serve as our internal compass guiding us towards behaving and decision making. Oftentimes our values are developed from messages we received growing up, and they can also be strongly often influenced by multiple facets of our identities, such as our culture, religion, and gender. Importantly, our values can certainly change over time, as we begin to question what we have historically known to be true or fitting in our lives in the presenting moment. Our values also serve to guide us towards our true-life purpose, and it is one of the best ways to finding personal fulfillment and a sense of empowerment.

One way to begin connecting with your authentic self is through value-based living. Value-based-living is the practice of consistently and consciously looking at your values to guide your behaviors and decisions. Value-based living is important because when we lead lives based on what matters most to us, we feel happier, more fulfilled, and truer to our authentic selves. However, when we lead lives based on the ideas that do not fit us anymore, we may experience feelings of internal dissatisfaction, distress, or conflict, such as feelings of shame, guilt, or confusion. In all, identifying our values is important because they allow us to live consistent to our authentic selves, and authentic living has been linked to greater happiness, more positive emotions, and higher self-esteem (Wood, Linley, & Maltby, 2008)

A guide to value-based living:

1) Identify your core values by asking yourself:

· What is important to me now and why?

· What are qualities of other people that I love the most and the least?

· What makes you feel good and bad?

Another great way to identify your core values is through the values card sort exercise:

· Cut out each of these values and categorize them in piles of “very important to me,” “important to me,” and “least important to me.”

· Next, rank your “most important” and “important” values from most to least important.

· Spread out the cards you have left and pick out the 10 most important values. 10 is not a lot but it gives you a place to start.

· From the 10 cards, pick up each one and think of one thing that you can doto live consistent with that value. (e.g., If generosity is a value, you can think about specific ways to give back in your relationships). Given limitations of the pandemic, I want to emphasize that you may not be able to pursue certain values to the fullest extent. Creativity, flexibility, and self-compassion will be important to practice as you think about ways pursue values that fit your current lifestyle.

2) Look at your values when making decisions:

When faced with a decision – big or small - ask yourself:

· What is important to me in this decision?

· What is the greater outcome connected to this choice I have to make?

· Is the action I am about to undertake in alignment with my values?

Value-based living is one to way to begin connecting with and showing up as your true, authentic self. Remember that this is a skill to be developed overtime, which means that it is ok to stumble a bit when first getting into this, like learning to ride a bike. Like all skills, it will get better with time and practice, and you may even learn new and better fitting ways to begin living consistent with your values as you continue this in daily practice.

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