A woman I was talking to recently confessed that, rather than working at her current job, what she really wants to do in life is help people. “I need to feel as though I’m making a difference in the world. I’d love to volunteer at a nursing home—or maybe the hospital. Or a youth center.”
“So why don’t you?” I asked.
“Oh, I can’t,” she said. “I just don’t have time.”
“Run through a typical day for me,” I suggested. “Tell me what you do.”
It turned out that most of her days looked pretty much like this: She went to work at an office job where she spent most of her day sitting in front of a computer. She usually worked late, and she often brought work home with her. At night, she was too tired to do anything but collapse on her sofa and turn on the television, snacking on junk food while she watched. Before she went to bed every night, she always had a bowl of ice cream because she said, “I deserve to have at least one thing I look forward to all day.” Then she’d do it all again the next day.
If you listened to this woman talk, you would hear that she really values things like kindness, helping others, making a difference in the world. But if you looked at her life, you wouldn’t see those values present. You’d think her values were work, television and junk food.
Does your daily life align with your values?
She’s not unique. Despite our best intentions, we don’t always live our lives in a way that aligns with our true values. When that happens, we feel as though we’re missing something important in our lives. We instinctively know something is wrong, and that cognitive dissonance leads us to try to fill the hole—with a bowl of ice cream or TV.
But those things are never going to give meaning to our lives. Best-Day-Ever lives match up values and action. They’re built, piece by piece, by aligning the things we choose to do with the values we hold most important. Does this mean you’re never going to enjoy a bowl of ice cream or a mindless TV show? No. But it means those things do not become the steady diet of your life.
To make that happen, we must be willing to change. The woman whose life is too busy for anything but work, television and junk food needs to reassess how she’s spending her time. It doesn’t mean it’s all bad, but it does need refining to match up to her values. Maybe she needs a new job—but even more importantly, she needs to consciously align her values with what she does every day. For example, even the most boring office job will provide opportunities for her to demonstrate kindness to others. She might begin looking for occasions to help someone—her colleagues, her neighbors, her family—in small ways. She also might find that if she did volunteer work one evening a week, it could energize her instead of making her more tired.
Living our values isn’t always easy. Often, we’ve fallen into habits—deep ruts in the way we use our time—that lead in opposite directions from the “why” that would give more meaning to our lives. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”
Don’t let habits choose your values for you. Think about what you believe is most important—and then be willing to change your life, routine and habits so that the two match.
Make it personal
Want a quick way to assess how well you are living your values? Check out the Life Balance Wheel exercise to get a visual representation of where you shine and where you need to put more attention.
Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash