It wasn't until I defined what mattered most to me that I finally got out of the mentalscape of feeling like something was missing in my life. Before fully defining what mattered most, I found myself clinging to outside circumstances hoping they'd bring more happiness. If they did, it was fleeting, and I was back to experiencing lack.
The first time I was introduced to the concept of what mattered most to me, I was reading The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. I came to a chapter where he instructs defining our values. "What do you value about what you want in life?" was the reflection question that changed how I experienced meaningful connections, the part of life that seemed lacking.
WHAT DEFINING MY VALUES DID FOR ME
I no longer felt like I had to earn love. I no longer felt like I had to control situations to feel connected. I learned that my values about the situation were my anchor, my constant, my eye in the storm. Regardless of external circumstances, my values kept me in check with what was meaningful to me. If my sons used a disrespectful tone, my values of being a levelheaded, nurturing mom helped me to 'check-in', not react, not take it personally, and instead, I addressed the tone with a kind voice. I found that when I changed, the world around me changed. My son would not be in the defense, corrected his tone, and by holding the space (another value of mine), the situation was realigned with my values.
My values helped me define my boundaries, not only with others but also with myself. They help me decide what's most important to prioritize and make time for it. They helped me focus on the goals that mattered. Plus, along the journey of the goal, my values helped me to connect with the moment, the everyday happenings along the journey of life. I was no longer chasing goals or chasing happiness in the end goal. I focused my mental and emotional energy on a value-focused life versus an accomplish-focused life.
A value-focused life gives us meaning in what we do. We have deeper roots within ourselves for cultivating happiness rather than trying to get the world around us to create happiness. It doesn't mean we will feel happiness and peace all the time. What it means is that when we don't feel it, we deeply know what matters most is still within us. We can respond and take action according to our values regardless of how the situation feels. In such, we are creating a life we love by honoring our values.
WHAT LIVING OUR VALUES LOOKS LIKE
When I first created a list of things I'd like to do more of, I added travel. I chose to travel to Seattle to visit a friend. I had never been on a flight by myself, and even before this, I had rarely ever flown anywhere. I was in unfamiliar territory, feeling nervous and apprehensive. I asked my friend for help to book the flight. We chose a direct flight to help me with my first solo. No matter how much anxiety and second thoughts popped up in my mind and body, I chose to focus on my values: friendship, meaningful connection, travel, exploration, and independence. My values gave me the willingness to try something new that aligned me with who I really wanted to be.
During my travels, every time anxiety would well up in my throat, make my heart pound, and create a vulnerability on my skin, I would practice being in the moment. I breathed deeply and had a conversation with my mind and body. I would remind myself I was nervous because this was new, not because it was threatening. I'd tell my body, "This is like an adventure." I tell my mindbody that this feeling could be associated with adventure and exploration, not fear. I'd say, "Remember the anxious excitement before roller coaster rides when you were young? That's what you are feeling. This is what anticipating excitement and adventure feel like."
In these conversations with my mindbody, and allowing the feelings to pass through while anchored in my values, I was teaching my mind and my body how to reassociate with the feeling. I was learning again the difference between true fear and anxious anticipation. I was relearning the feeling of doing something new and adventurous.
In the moment, I still felt uncomfortable. However, I didn't let the anxiety get carried away. I used my mindfulness skills to recenter to what was actually happening in the present moment. The uncalm that I still experienced in my body was accepted and allowed versus fought and resisted. The "mind stories" that would pop up about the event or anxiety were "caught" and not allowed to create more anxiety. Instead, I redirected my thinking to my values. I'd say, "We want adventure and exploration. We want the fun of travel. We want to visit our friend. Let's see with curiosity the adventure and exploration. Have fun. Wonder."
VALUES ENHANCE WILLINGNESS TO DO WHAT WE REALLY WANT
With my willingness to stick to my values and not become the thoughts and feelings of resistance, I have opened my life to greater possibilities and joys. I still experience fear and apprehension about new things. My mind still creates the mindstory to change plans or quit. Yet the intensity of the voice of the mindstories has become less urgent.
The value-driven action taking has created results I love. I am willing to feel what comes up because it's worth it. The feelings of previously interpreted anxiety when I do something new are now a mix of that anxiety with some wonder. The wonder and curiosity of what is on the other side are greater than the urge to quit.
I learned to use my values as a compass to take action in what matters most. My values give me an understanding of my feelings and thoughts. They also help me process my feelings from a place of acceptance and assurance. My values are a guide that shows me where to redirect my thoughts. This process not only helped me to trust and love myself more, but it has also helped me retrain my autopilot thinking and feeling that my past self unintentionally created. This process has led to my physical healing and emotional freedom.
My mind awareness anchored in my values helped me define what mattered most. My life is now along a new trajectory for fulfillment and abundance. I am living the life of my dreams, finally climbing over the wall that separated me from them all along.
HOW TO DEFINE YOUR VALUES
Make a list of 5-8 areas in your life. For me these areas are: health& body, career/vocation, finances, friends & family, significant other, personal growth, home environment, fun & leisure.
In each area of your life, brainstorm what you value. In personal growth, I value self-expression, authenticity, self-love, connection with my intuition, spirituality, journaling, and meditation. In health & body, I value vitality, energy, good sleep, & movement.
In each area of your life, notice or write down ways that you ALREADY connect with these values. Often we miss what we already do well. Recognizing how we already connect with our values helps us to cultivate meaning and purpose with what we do in the present moment and along the journey of our goals and our life.
Now, write down many new ways you can connect with your values in each area. This is the part of my life areas where I detail the activities I can do to connect more deeply with my values. If, for example, in my health I value vitality, an action step I take is to listen to my body. If the body is tired, I don't over run it. Another action step I took during my healing journey was to nap when needed, without guilt. Now, for vitality, I do things that lift my spirit, like going on hikes, yoga, cleaning the car, play board games, or travel.
As you write your actions, you will see that actions also interconnect with other areas of you life. Playing board games and travel enhance me vitality (area of health in my life) and also cultivates relationships, a value I have for family, friends, and significant other. In both playing board games and travel, I am also having fun, another area of my life I want to cultivate. Value-focused action creates a ripple effect in our life as a whole.
You can get a step-by-step walk-through to defining what matters most to you. See what a difference your everyday life can be when you have a value-focused life.
Writing my values in every area of my life helped me to decide what was most important to me. I discovered what I REALLY enjoyed. I had a compass for what I wanted to do in life with meaning and purpose. If it were not for living a value-focused life in travel and friendship, I would have been limited by discomfort and fear of trying anything new and unfamiliar. I would not have taken my trip to Seattle. Little did I know then that I was cultivating the practice of living a life I love.
Defining my values has given me a compass, a true north for decision making, feeling calm in the storms of life, and experiencing deeper connections with myself and others. My values help me create a fulfilled life: mind, body, and spirit.