Is it time to tweak your values?
Updated: Jul 25
A LOT of my work focuses on values. If we are able to identify our values, then make choices to live intentionally and consciously according to them, this seems to be a very positive approach to personal development, resilience, and even a pro-active approach to minimising stress (ie. we don't invite things incongruous with our values, in!)
BUT what if our values are the problem!?
First of all, I don't want to get into a debate as to whether what we identify as a value is a value or a personality trait eg: Kindness, as it's not really that definition that matters - it's how we're approaching the behaviour itself!
So what do I mean?
Well, I have previously identified my values as "Kindness", "Loyalty", and "Positivity" - BUT I have found myself in situations where I am torn between asserting boundaries and my sense of loyalty...leaving me a little stuck. I have clients who are similar - they value "Reliability", and "Dependability" - BUT those are the very behaviours that are keeping them "stuck" in a job which - although has many benefits - is ultimately sapping their energy.
Can we apply values as "horses for courses"?
One solution may be to say - OK, I value "Reliability" and "Dependability", but only where it comes to my family...but the truth is, it's not as if they want to leave anyone struggling in the workplace, but rather they want to set stronger boundaries when it comes to picking up after others or giving up their free time to help their teams meet deadlines at the point of panic.
Similarly for myself, "loyalty" is something I recognise and appreciate, BUT a sense of it has drawn me back time and time again to try and help others who perhaps don't value me, but their "control" over me...or their control over my sense of loyalty.
So, I believe we need to be more nuanced than that.
What do we understand our value choices to mean?
Identify what your three top values are
Reflect on the active behaviour that falls within it (the "lived values" or "values in action"
Ask yourself if this has always served you in the way you hoped (OR if that value has at times brought you into a situation where you are applying it, but feeling resentment.)
When we start applying values just for the sake of doing so, or because we're just hoping that someone will validate or acknowledge them, they are no longer serving us. Therefore we might need to tweak the words we are using.
Dependable or Reliable can perhaps become "Being a good investment"...in other words, if we choose to collaborate, I will do my utmost to deliver at a high standard on time or before. But the key is in your choice to collaborate. An "investment" is more interactive or two-way. Perhaps something like "Meeting all my commitments with excellence" would also work...anything that reminds you that you have a choice in where you apply your values, they are not just "something you are" that people can use (and sometimes abuse) at will.
For me, I have decided to change "loyalty" to "Principled", because loyalty is part of my commitment to you, but I have agency over what I choose to commit to.
Similar tweaks can be made to words like "Kind" or "forgiving" or "generous".
It is likely that our values - especially if they have morphed into personality traits - are wonderful things that we can all be (rightly) proud of, but if they are draining us, it is time we took a look at making their application more discerning.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt