In order to live according to your values, you have to know what they are first.
Get to know yourself better and gain insight on why you are feeling unfulfilled with this simple exercise.
This exercise can be done in as little as 30 minutes but the results can expose the reasons why you are feeling stuck. My hope is that, by gaining clarity on who you are, and what you value, you can begin to see where to focus your energy in the interest of improving your life.
I love participating in this exercise with my clients and I find that it's relevant for most people regardless of what brings them in to therapy. Today I am providing information on how to do the exercise on your own but I encourage you to do the exercise with another person. If you are really struggling in your life, I would strongly recommend doing this exercise with a counselor.
It is helpful to do this with another person because identifying your core values is only half of the usefulness that this exercise holds. The rest comes from the process of deciding your core values.
Doing the exercise with another person allows you to share about what you are experiencing as you go through the steps. For example, you can learn something about yourself based on a strong negative reaction you have to a value card. You can learn something about yourself when you realize that a value you thought SHOULD be more important, doesn't make your top 10 list. Experiences like this can be useful as they may illuminate actual dynamics in your life that contribute to the "stuckness" you are feeling.
The idea is simple; if you are living according to your core values and your lifestyle gives you regular opportunity to do so, you will be substantially happier than if these values were blocked or if you are living at odds with them.
Of course, it's possible that you already have a general sense of what your values are, but one purpose of this exercise is to identify which values stand out. As you do the exercise, you may notice that there are many values that you resonate with, but the point is to figure out what means the most to you.
There are a lot of ways to use the value card deck. The process described below is largely taken from instructions created by John Veeken and Marie McNamara, but I have expanded on these in ways that I have found useful with my clients.
1) You need a deck of value cards. You can find an abundance of these online.
I prefer the deck created by the Urban Indian Health Institute of Seattle. Their deck should be one of the first results you get if you type in “value card exercise” into Google.
2) Find a large surface to do the work. A dining room table is ideal.
3) Sort through the deck and begin placing the value cards in 3 categories: Most important to me, important to me and not important to me.
(Note: if you are really struggling to decide which category to place a value in, it may help to create a “neutral” stack).
4) As I mentioned above, pay attention to what your experiencing as you go through the deck.
Which cards do you react strongly too? Which are the easiest to place in a category? Which are the toughest? Do any of them make you feel angry, happy, sad, scared?
5) Once you have placed all the cards in a category, reflect on the experience and the choices you have made. Are there any cards and/or placements that are bugging you? Take note of these.
If you really are feeling stuck, you can place the cards in question in the “most important to me” stack and proceed to the next step.
6) Take the cards you placed in the “most important to me” section and pick your top 10 out of these cards. This step is about reducing the stack to 10, not ranking them 1-10. Pay attention to your experience. Were there any cards that were difficult to “give up?”
7) Next, pick your top 5 (again, in no particular order). As the stack gets smaller it can get harder to make selections. One strategy to help with this is to think about which values are similar. Is there a card that can, in essence, represent both values (i.e. solitude can represent independence or love can represent connection).
Note: It is okay to select a value even if you feel you aren't good at practicing it. It can be useful to identify values that you are “striving” towards.
8) Next, pick your top 3. These are your “core values.” These are the things that are the most meaningful above all other things. These values are a big part of who you are and how you understand yourself and the world.
9) Next, select your top value. Which one of these core values stands out above the rest?
Remember, if this process is challenging, that is a good thing. The good news is that you don't actually have to let go of any value. This process is about finding the best of the best.
10) Reflect on your experience. How are you feeling? What was that process like for you? Are you surprised by the results?
11) Take a look at your top 3 values, these are the most important things to you. These values need to be cherished, nurtured and protected. When you think about your life now, to what degree is your characterized by these values. On a scale from 1-10, pick a number that best represents how much your life is defined by each value. Based on these numbers, are you discovering that there is a gap between what is most important to you and your everyday life?
Fee free to do this step for your top 5 values. It can also be useful to do this step for your “not important” stack. Is everyday life heavily defined by things that are not important to you?
12) Now it's time to put some of this information into action. Think of ways in which you can increase the presence of these values in your life. For example, if connection is one of your core values but, currently, you feel that your feeling of connectedness is a 3 out of 10, how could you make efforts to feel more connected this week? It is not necessary to identify life-altering actions. Small efforts or intentions that can be put in to practice this week are ideal.
13) Take a photo of your core value cards with your phone so you always have them with you as a reminder and for inspiration.
Note: During this exercise you may have experienced some strong emotions or found that your currently lifestyle is at odds with your value system. This could be do to your occupation, habits or a relationship. There may be no easy or obvious solution to your predicament. If this is the case, I would recommend finding a counselor to help you work through your situation.