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Values - Nicety or Necessity?

Many people believe that values are nice, but not necessary. Science, however, tells us that values are essential to living a life with less regret, more well-being, meaning, and energy to accomplish your goals.

This is the first of six blog posts on values. As an employer why would you care about the values of your employees? Isn't your main focus to encourage them to live by the corporate values? As is often the case there is not an either-or answer. In order to achieve any goal you need both a beginning point, and an ending point. The end point is company values, but without the beginning point of each individuals values it is impossible to navigate there. Helping your employee's build the foundation of personal motivation, starting with their personal values, creates staff who are more capable, connected, and balanced. The benefit tends to be enduring as well.

This first post considers what values are and why they matter so very much. The next five posts provide some fun exercises that invite you to further explore your values. This first post is by far the longest, and as my editor noted is, “pretty dense”. Please take the time to read it slowly, realizing there is a lot of content in a few words. I hope it is useful to you and that as you review the concepts you find additional insights into this critical topic. Please also note that the topic is your values, not values generally. Generally, values are interesting, specifically your values are essential, insightful, amazing, and useful.

I designed the six posts to help you think about, better understand, and make explicit your values. They could be considered a preparatory step to the more formal exercise in chapter one of my book, “New You Who Knew?”.

What are Values?

Values are deeply held beliefs about what is important. They are personal and can change over time as you change, learn, and adapt. Every person has values, yet very few have taken the time and effort to make those values explicit. Greater power in your life will come from knowing your values, making them explicit, and living consistent with them.

Why do values matter?

In my book I talk about how we purposefully place barriers to be safe, have more fun, avoid regret, and have more confidence. We see physical examples of this in concrete barriers between lanes of the freeway and barriers along steep drop offs. In our own lives values create similar barriers for similar reasons.

You might be thinking, “Why create barriers when I just want to go faster, do more, and expand my horizons?” The answer is the same as in the physical world. We learned long ago that if you have two opposed lanes of traffic driving 70 miles an hour with no barriers in-between, we have more accidents, deaths, anxiety, and in fact slower traffic. The barriers increase the speed at which we can travel, the amount of traffic a road can handle, and the confidence of the drivers.

Similarly, you may decide that winning at the cost of your honor, trust, and freedom is not worth the potential gains, so you adopt and live a value of honesty. You may decide that you are sick and tired of all the gamesmanship, hidden agendas, and confusion caused by a lack of transparency and so you adopt a value of transparency.

It is these kinds of questions, observations, and reflections that help put you in the captain's chair of your life. Ignorance of your values is not healthy. Your values are still there, you just don’t understand why you feel so uncomfortable in certain settings. Making your values explicit frees up motivation, energy, and focus. It helps you avoid regret and creates greater clarity in your vision of your best possible life. They can also create some discomfort, as I show next, but that is healthy.

Discomfort and Values We all have different domains in life, such as personal, family, work, school, et cetera. It is common to have different values in different domains. Productivity might be an important value at work, but much less so at home. Being macho might be important around your friends but a disaster at church. My personal suggestion is to have as close to a single set of core values as possible. These are your deeply held values that apply to every domain of life. If you participate in a domain where the values are in conflict, I encourage you to ponder if the conflict is worth the cost. I met someone recently who told me that in his last job he had to, “lie to customers every day.” At some point that became so inconsistent with his personal values that he left. You need to make your own decisions but recognize that if there are severe differences between your values and any domain of life the conflict and dissonance will take a serious toll.

More Reasons Values are Important

  • Values can help you justify your actions and make more sense of your life. This helps you feel your life has meaning and purpose.

  • With values you are well served by writing down what living that value would look like to you. It makes it more explicit and easier to apply to daily life. This sense of meaning creates strong resilience and helps you make wiser decisions.

  • By keeping your values in mind and tying your goals to them you unleash motivation to accomplish your goals.

  • As you make your values more concrete, you have greater motivation to stick with them even when there are uncomfortable feelings or outcomes. As an example, you might have a friend who wants you to violate one of your core values. By refusing to go along you might experience some conflict with that friend. Having made your values explicit, however, you understand why you erected that barrier to certain activities and can draw on that to help you make the best long-term choice.

  • Living your values increases your wellbeing. Wellbeing can be considered a sense of you are doing OK and your life is on track.

  • Knowing and living your values can help you avoid indifference, detachment, and apathy (indifference or lack of interest).

  • If you don’t know and understand your values, it is common to feel your life is being led randomly and largely by outside sources.

  • Finally, tying decisions to your values can prevent emotion-led behavior. You should be led by your values. In my book, I talk about the necessity and beauty of emotions and your awareness of them. Be aware, but not led by them. Values and emotions aligned unleash even greater power and motivation.

Conclusion This first blog post on values sets the stage. I hope you can see the utility of understanding your core values, making them explicit, and trying to live consistent with them. Do you start to get a sense of how frustrating life likely is without going through these steps? As an employer can you see how helping your employees make their values explicit they will be stronger and more capable? The next five posts are shorter and provide fun exercises, you know, like doing sit-ups (just a few, I promise) but with your mind. Some of these will appeal more to some readers, and less to others. That is on purpose. We are all unique and different angles or perspectives will have more appeal or insight. They all ask you to think. They are a great preparation to following the values process outlined in my new book, “New You Who Knew?”. Have some fun on this path, think, and enjoy the vital benefits of understanding and making your own values explicit.


David R. Edwards is the author of the new bestseller, "New You! Who Knew?". You can find out more on his web site. HVASF is his consultancy to help organizations help their staff become more capable, connected, and balanced (motivated).

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