Discovering Your Values Gives Your Life Meaning
Throughout their lives, people have to rethink and reflect upon their values in order to reach a true meaning: knowing what matters and doesn’t matter to you, to act accordingly and move towards it.
It doesn’t matter if those values are “a priori” superficial, difficult to reach or that they imply a sacrifice in the long term. These are simply the things that make you happy and at ease or content with yourself.
But some questions may arise. What happens when I’m not very clear on my values? Well you will probably feel very lost. Thus, we’re going to take a look at some experiential metaphors and exercises that will help you bring these values out into the light. Because discovering your values is to give your life meaning.
The metaphor of “The Tribute Act”
This is an intense reflection exercise and something that is simultaneously difficult, but very revealing and beautiful. So I urge you to do it whenever you think you can, paying very close attention. Let’s take a look at the tale of the metaphor so that we may later make certain reflections upon it:
“Imagine that there will be a ceremony or mass in order to remember you when you are gone. In it, are all of the people that have ever come into your life and have meant something to you.
They have to read aloud what you meant to them in life, what you represented for them and others. They will read aloud: “My sister, my friend, my mother… someone who was characterized by…”. Now, I want you to think about what you would like them to say about you, how you would like to be remembered.
You would surely dislike for them to read: “My friend, someone who out of fear didn’t dare to fight for what she felt”, “My mother, who didn’t have enough time for me”. I don’t think any of us would like to hear that. So, think about how you would like your past to be described.
If you would like them to say that you have been a good friend, someone capable of overcoming obstacles. Someone who fought for what they wanted and lived their life based on their own convictions. Reflect upon this and write it down. There you will find the first piece of relevant information, inferred and in a general sense… of what matters to you. And therefore, your values.”
This metaphor is used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and makes us connect with our most intimate me. Many people go through severe identity and existential crises, and they need to put what they feel and want in order so they can walk through life with purpose. Let’s take a look at another metaphor that will help you outline what you have already noticed with this one.
The metaphor about weeds and flowers
You may know what values you would like to instill into your life, in order to give it meaning and make it an enjoyable journey. However, sometimes it’s as if it were an impossible task to accomplish.
Your mind can play tricks on you, and memories, traumas and past disappointments occupy more time and space within your mind than your accomplishments and motivations. Let’s try to get you to clear some of this up so that you may walk lighter, with purpose but tolerating and accepting the discomfort that every vital path contains:
“Imagine that you have a garden. It is full of precious roses that you would like to upkeep. The garden is important to you and maintaining these roses and making other flowers flourish would be wonderful for you. But there are also weeds in your garden.
Sometimes you spend a lot of time plucking the weeds, but these always grow back even stronger and in more places. Due to your insistence in keeping your garden weed-free, you have neglected your roses, which is what gave your garden meaning and purpose. They have now withered.
The roses have withered and now the weeds are more noticeable than ever. Before, you could barely see them, because there was a time when you dedicated yourself to your roses and let these weeds bloom in your garden as they wished. They would grow in any garden, but the weeds seemed small in comparison to the grandeur and beauty of the great red roses.“
Reflect upon this metaphor, and compare it to what is happening in your life and mind. How long have you dedicated more time into eliminating bad thoughts and feelings, than into fighting for what you really want in life?
Because bad thoughts are like the weeds in your garden. The more you strive to eliminate them, the more present they will be in you life. If you simply let them be and tolerate the discomfort they sometimes produce, you will have much more time to dedicate to the important roses in your life: your independence, self-sufficiency, travels, passion, overcoming or tranquility.
You have to fight for what you consider important in your life, without comparing yourself to anyone else. Your roses, your values, they don’t deserve to have your time dedicated to paying attention to the weeds.
Designing the strategy and path towards your values
There is a Goals, Actions, and Barriers Form (Hayes et al, 1999) that can help you organize your strategy in order to achieve the values that you have detected through your reflections of the metaphors above, putting emphasis on what you can do from now on to accomplish it.
Identify the valuable parts of your life (family, friends, leisure, formation…etc.) and establish a valuable direction for each one of them. Write down the actions that you are willing to do to reach them and the barriers (environmental or psychological) that make it hard for you to reach this valuable direction.
If the valuable direction is to approve an opposition, establish specific long-term actions to achieve it (study, time management, agenda, resignations) and also the barriers that you think you have and which make this road difficult (insecurity, instability..).
And don’t forget to ask yourself another question. If you didn’t have this problem, what would you do in your life to be happy? Do you realize that your problems are tolerable when something else really makes up for it? Because “if you have a because, you can tolerate any how”.