As many of you know, I’ve been writing about rightsizing for several years now. The concept of rightsizing constantly helps me to focus on designing a meaningful life journey—not a particular destination I’ll ever fully experience. So when I recently came across an article about how values offer a similar perspective, it caught my interest. I’ve since learned that values, like rightsizing, are a direction. Sort of like getting in the car and heading north. You might be more north than you were yesterday, but you’ll never arrive. Once we discover how to live our values or how to rightsize our life, we are better able to appreciate the road we are traveling, regardless of whether we hit a few road bumps or we ever even reach a final destination.
In many ways, values are the opposite of goals and demonstrate why so many of us have a difficult time reaching them. In most cases, goals are all about the outcome. Sometimes we reach them—sometimes not. Values, on the other hand, are not something you can own or even “find.” We choose our values and allow them to direct our path. So goals are like a target we aim at, while values are the actual bow and arrows that we use to aim and motivate ourselves with along the way. Most of the time if we miss the target we aren’t happy. But if we master the art of archery, the very practice is a pleasure in itself.
Of course, goals are beneficial too. But far too often they remind us of what we don’t have, rather than what we do. And if the end destination is our primary focus, then we never feel satisfied and are always striving for more. Values, on the other hand, give every step of the journey meaning and purpose. Like author and professor, Steven C. Hayes says, “Values get you to enough; they make this moment about something that you hold dear.”
It is the same with my version of rightsizing. While many in the sustainable or minimalist view promote tactics and goals a person needs to reach to find fulfillment, I believe that the act of moving towards rightsizing is rewarding in every moment. I’ll never live in a “tiny” house and instead strive to keep my current house as rightsized as possible. I won’t ever only own just 100 things (as is sometimes promoted) but the things I do own are important to me. I still work (I’m not retired) but the work I do fills each of my days with purpose and meaning. Rightsizing to me means stripping away those things that don’t matter, and aiming towards those things that do, every single day.
Like I said above, Steven C. Hayes says much of the same about values. A foundation professor at the University of Nevada, he is the author of 44 books and nearly 600 scientific articles. His work is primarily focused “on the nature of human language and the cognition and application of this to the understanding and alleviation of human suffering.” With his study of behavioral sciences, he has developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It is from this study that he has begun to recognize the importance of values to aid in all of us becoming thriving individuals.
What does it matter? I believe the bottom line is that when we know the direction we choose our life to go, we can handle everything that lies ahead. In some ways, values are the tools we use to design what we feel gives our life meaning. What matters to me, what makes my life fulfilling, is likely different from yours. But once we know what ours are, we can use them to head in that direction regardless of what pops up along the way. Sure we have good days, hopefully lots of them. But even if things aren’t going as planned, we still hold on to the meaning behind our direction.
Recent politics offer a great example. When I started writing this blog post it was before the election. Hopes were very high in many ways—a good goal for sure. But now that the election is over if all our hope was tied to one particular outcome or one particular candidate—we are either happy or sad. Instead, when we focus on our individual values, we can still feel that our efforts had meaning and we can feel fulfilled with the experience. Values like 1) connections with other like-minded people, 2) compassion for underprivileged people, 3) community involvement, and 4) greater understanding about the world around me that allowed me to wake up feeling good this morning regardless of who did or didn’t win.
So how do we know we are focused on the process (values) rather than the outcome (goals)? According to Hayes, there are several things to ask yourself?
#1 Do I have a sense of enough, rather than a need to measure whether the outcome was more or less than I hoped for or expected?
#2 Can I readily name my heroes and do they stand for the qualities I believe in most?
#3 Am I in touch with the sweetest and most rewarding moments of my life?
#4 Do I recognize where I am most vulnerable and why? Hayes believes that “we hurt where we care.”
#5 Do I spend a lot of time just entertaining myself or dulling the pain of my life instead of striving towards what matters to me?
#6 What would I do, what do I do, even if no one notices or knows whether I was the one who did it?
#7 What is it that makes me get up in the morning?
#8 If I only had ten minutes to write about something that really matters to me, what would I write about?
#9 Do I care more about what other people care about, or more about what really matters to me?
#10 Are having things (like a big house, a new car, lots of money in the bank) more important to me is what I can do with my mind, time, money and energy?
In retrospect, it is easy to see how each of these questions asks us to focus on what really matters to us. Obviously, that is a key to values as well as rightsizing. But according to Hayes, it isn’t just a matter of determining what matters to us, it is then consciously choosing to make those values our lifetime roadmap as we travel through life. However, as Hayes points out, today’s world is very good at distracting us into blindly following the herd in just about every area of life. If we were raised to believe that happiness only comes by graduating from college, getting a high paying job, buying a big house, having 2.5 kids and a big screen tv, then it takes conscious awareness to pull back and decide that living our values are more important. As with rightsizing, the temptation to want more, more, more of anything, at any cost, is high.
It doesn’t take a giant leap of understanding to recognize why so many people in today’s world are bewildered and without hope. Hayes makes a powerful argument that without a clear understanding of our values we are rudderless in a vast ocean of information supplied by technology and the marketing industry. Like standing open-mouthed before a fire hose, we can literally drown in the flood of toxic information being directed at us. It is difficult enough as adults, can we imagine the bewilderment of our children today?
Hayes believes that all humans strive toward connection, compassion, and communication, but it takes the right values to guide us in those directions. Like rightsizing, determining our values helps us to focus in on what really gives our lives meaning and purpose. They also help us get through the tough times. Like Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how.”
Values and rightsizing keep us on course no matter what is happening in the world or our individual lives. As Hayes says, “There are many ways to walk a valued journey.” The SMART perspective is to use the best nudges to keep our life on course.
Okay, your turn. Have you ever taken the time to consider what your values are? Did you arrive at them from your own guidance or because someone else told you they were important? What are some of the values you hold dear that remind you that your life has purpose and meaning, no matter what the circumstances? Please share in the comments below.