People have a lot of misconceptions about values that make it hard for people to know and live by theirs. In particular, people imagine sticking to their values in challenging situations hard.
Misconception 1: It’s hard to stick to your values during crises, conflict, and ethical dilemmas
A lot of people think that crises, conflicts, and ethical dilemmas entice you to drop your values and just do what’s easy. I suggest those situations make it easy to learn your values — they’re what you do.
Everyone always does something in any situation. What you do, that’s your values. Some rise to the occasion, some avoid problems, some run from them, some sit and analyze them forever, some ask others for help. And so on. So you never lack data for what your values are or anybody else’s.
Misconception 2: It’s hard to know your values
If you want to know your values, look at the decisions you’ve made and the actions you’ve taken under such situations in the past. Same for other people — what they’ve done reveals their values, especially what they did under stress.
Note that looking at what you or someone else does means paying less attention to what they say. Or better, look at what you or they do and compare it with what you or they say.
Someone who always takes the easy way out values taking the easy way out. Someone who rises to the occasion and leads values leading. Someone who can’t figure out what to do and searches and searches for what to do values introspection and analysis over action.
When you get it, understanding your values is simple. Want to know your values? Just look at how you spend your time, money, and other resources. Do they become clear when you do?
All your choices reveal your values. Dilemmas force you to choose between closely competing values. Who you are today resulted from all those choices.
Do you exercise, play sports, and eat well? That’s why you have a healthy, fit body. Do you watch a lot of tv and not interact with people in person? That’s why you have the body and relationships you do. Do you work hard? That’s why you have the work ethic and bank account you do. Do you sacrifice some things for others? That’s why some things are in your life and others aren’t. And there are your values, laid out for you, clear as can be.
Anyone can look at my life and tell my values in a second. I value personal freedom, living in the West Village, learning, and exercise, to name a few. I don’t value working long hours or material possessions, to name a few non-values.
As an aside you know already, I’ll note you can tell a politician’s values by their behavior too, for example, much better than by what they say. If what they say differs from how they behave, you learn more of their values.
Misconception 3: Your values don’t change or changing them is hard
Changing your values can be harder than just knowing them, though not necessarily hard. That’s another misconception people have. They think values don’t change. Well, you can keep you values constant but you don’t have to. If you have enough past instances where you don’t like what you did, that means you don’t like the values you lived by. Maybe you quit jobs you could have persevered and learned from. Maybe you left relationships you could have made work and learned from. Or maybe you stuck with relationships you could have freed yourself from. That sort of thing. If so, you probably want to change your values.
Changing your values can be easy if you don’t dwell on the belief they have to be fixed. The Method talks a lot about being flexible with beliefs and behaviors, which will cause your values to change.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book