What is most important to you in life? Once you know that, you can start making decisions and take actions that feel solid, centred, and right.
The cornerstone of a balanced, purposeful, and fulfilling life is a solid understanding of your needs and values.
- A value is a principle or standard of behaviour – your definition of what is important in life.
- A need is something essential or necessary for you to feel happy in a given situation.
In this post, I've included some basic exercises that will help you define your particular needs and values, so that you can more easily find your centre and re-adjust when life starts to feel ‘off.’
Note: the following list from one of my favourite bloggers: Core Values by James Clear provides some example needs and values. Here is another one as well. Don’t feel limited by these lists, however – it’s important that you find the right words for you.
Defining needs and values
Exercise 1: Take some time to identify the top three high points, and top three low points in your life.
Write each of them down on a separate piece of paper, and for each moment you’ve identified, ask:
- What was happening that made me feel good/bad?
- What environment was I in?
- Who was around me?
- What aspirations did I have?
- What work/habits/recreational activities/etc. did I have in place?
- What positive aspects of myself was I connected with? OR what important aspects of myself were being ignored?
In other words, explore in detail the factors that contributed to your feelings of positivity or negativity at those critical points in your life.
Exercise 2: On another piece of paper, make a list of three things that are important to you in life. E.g. Family, travel, money, a nice environment, etc.
For each one, ask:
- When I have this thing, what does it give me?
For example, if travel is important to you, then explore the internal feeling you get from travel. Does it give you a sense of adventure and freedom? Does it provide you with inspiration and ideas? Does it give you a sense of individuality? Does it bring you a deeper knowledge of the world? Write these things down for review.
Exercise 3: Write a list of three things you often spend your free time doing or thinking about.
Get curious as you explore how these life choices reflect what is important to you. Allow yourself to set aside any old judgments of yourself as you do this.
For example, you might spend a lot of your free time daydreaming. Depending on what you daydream about, it might be reflecting that you value new ideas, finding meaning, creativity, freedom, or something else entirely …
Bringing it together
1. On a new piece of paper, take a stab at listing your 5-10 most important guiding values in order of importance.
- I value …
Importantly: Don’t feel you have to get this part ‘right.’ Simply consider this list a first step towards a better understanding of who you are.
2. Next, list your 5-10 most pressing needs in order of importance as well.
- I need …
Now for the fun part! This is where you get to make space in your life to explore and honour the unique needs and values you have outlined in these two lists ...
Review your lists of values and needs. Involve your mind and your intuition.
- Notice whatever physical sensations might come up (tightness, relaxation, deep/shallow breathing, tapping foot, etc.) and pay attention to what that might be telling you.
- You might need to change or remove something, or pull several together under another term … let your understanding of who you are and what is important to you evolve over time.
- Use these lists to make decisions and set priorities in life. Use them as a filter to help with anxiety or worry. Let them be your guide so you can be confident in your decisions. And update them when they don’t reflect how you actually feel.
The following questions will help get you started with this …
- Look at your values and needs from the perspective of balance. Are you living a life that is able to balance the values that are most important to you, while still providing what you need?
- If you were your best self, living completely from your values, how might your life be different?
- What conflicts exist around your needs and values? Do any of your needs or values conflict directly with one another? Do you hold a value that is not being actively expressed in your life right now? Do you hold a need or value that conflicts directly with the needs or values of someone else in your life? Or with your current work or environment?
- Think of a pressing issue in your life. If you were your best self, coming from your values, how would you respond?
- Decide for yourself how you want to support yourself in reconnecting with your needs and values daily and in times of stress. e.g. you might want to print out a list to place on your bathroom mirror or in your wallet.
A final note on Self-support
Living a life that is deeply aligned with your core values and supportive of your core needs will, in the long run, feel absolutely fulfilling and empowering. On the short-term, however, it is likely that you will feel a certain amount of overwhelm starting out.
In those moments of doubt or overwhelm, it becomes extra important to offer yourself compassion, patience, and support. And since I know this is sometimes the hardest part, let me give you a sense of how an internal monolog of support might sound like in your head:
- 'Aligning my life with my core values feels really hard right now, but facing this discomfort is the most important thing I can be doing with my time.'
- 'Everyone struggles to live well, I'm not alone in feeling overwhelmed.'
- 'It takes time and effort to change. I promise to be patient with myself, even when I make mistakes.'
- 'If I can't do this on my own, I can always reach out for help. I wonder who could support me?'
One of the most important things while doing this work is to avoid judgement or pressure. Nothing will rob this process of it's fun and excitement more than turning it into a 'have to' or a 'should.'
Finally, do get in touch if you need any support in starting to live a life aligned with your core needs and values.
With love and commitment,