Defining Your Values as a Key to Living with Purpose

It can be easy to feel stuck in life. Especially, when things feel overwhelming, it can seem you are trudging through the day. You know what you “have” to do, but you’re not sure what it is you want. You may find yourself working hard, trying to make everyone around you happy, but constantly feeling that something is missing.

Unfortunately, when we live this way, it can make life feel empty. Doubts may emerge. 

Defining your values step one→ Ask yourself “What’s my purpose?” 

You know you want more, you just don’t know how. This can make all the effort you’re putting into your life feel meaningless. When we live this way, we start to feel stuck or even hopeless.

When new stressors emerge, you may feel trapped in your worries. What will the future look like? You may find yourself trying to “solve” your feelings, but this just leads to more of the same.

Eventually, the sense that something just doesn’t feel right starts to creep up throughout your day. You may start feeling more like a bystander in your life than an active participant. It can feel as though you are going through the motions rather than truly living.

The truth is with life’s inevitable fluctuations, stressors, and to-do lists, it can be difficult to feel a sense of purpose and control. Periods of monotony or overwhelming stress might have you wondering, “where am I going?” You may feel a lack of direction in your life.

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Connecting deeply to your values can be the “compass” you are looking for.

When you are able to define the values you find most important for your life,  it can give you a new sense of direction. It’s very easy to stay focused on the struggles that are right in front of you that day. But by shifting your focus deeper…to what’s most important for your life it can start to live with a deeper sense of purpose.

What does it mean to define your values?

Think about what principles are the most important in your life. Even if it feels missing right now, what do you want to be guiding your choices? Don’t just think of what sounds nice, that list can get endless. Instead, think of what are the most important values you hold. Is it family? Compassion? Success? Stability? Be careful: a list that is too long is just as good as no list. The point is to reflect and explore what is most important to you. Try to make a list between 3-8 values.

Here are some things to consider while you are creating your list.

What brings you the most happiness in your life? For example, if it’s when you’re enjoying time with your wife and kids, “family” might be on your list. If it’s when you do something new and exciting, “adventure” might be on your list. Think about what makes you happy, and how this ties to your values.

When do you feel the most proud? Try to think of why you feel proud. What is it leading to that sense of pride? As you are able to answer-that ‘why?’ it will tell you what value this touches on. If it’s how easy you are to get along with, maybe “socializing” is an important value. If it’s how you are able to help others during difficult circumstances, “empathy,” might be on your list. Perhaps it’s the incredibly challenging circumstances you have overcome in your life—well, “resilience” may be an important value for you. Exploring what makes you proud can help you determine what values you find most important.

What makes you feel accomplished? Think of what helps you feel that you’ve accomplished something important. Perhaps it’s when you’ve had an opportunity to serve others. Maybe it’s when you’ve completed a project at home or at work. These examples may tie to values such as “service” or “productivity.” Exploring what makes you feel that sense of accomplishment will help you define your values.

In Anxiety Therapy at Simi Psychological Group, we help you explore meaning in your life. Self-reflection and self-exploration can be uncomfortable processes. By working through the discomfort, you can find what it is you truly find meaningful.

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4 benefits to defining your values:

Benefit One: A healthy dose of self-assessment:

Determining your values can help you assess how things are going and areas to address. I want to be careful here. “Self-assessment” is not about negatively judging yourself or being self-critical. Instead, really knowing your values can help keep you on track. Once you define what those values are, you have somewhat of a personalized ‘rubric’ to determine what’s going well and what may need to be addressed.

A big part of this is being able to validate yourself. Asking yourself questions like “what did I do today that lined up with my values?” or “how does the path I’m on line up with my values?” are likely to produce lots of good examples of how you may already be living up to those values. Unfortunately, we tend to overlook those positives and hyper-focus on what’s missing. Being able to define your values and ask these types of questions can help you tune into what you are already doing, which can then help you face challenges more confidently.

Our team of therapists and psychologists at Simi Psychological Group work with you to learn ways to feel accountable and in control of your life. Learning to validate yourself as well as explore areas for growth can be a rewarding and fulfilling process.

Benefit Two of defining your values: Recognizing the emotional barriers in your life:

Once you know what it is you find most valuable, it can be easier to identify what is getting in your way. For example, if family is one of your top values, that may mean being present and engaged with them. Perhaps you’re finding your mind wandering elsewhere or that you are becoming irritable at home. Well, that’s a good indication that there is something getting in your way of living the way you want to be living.

As you are more aware of the emotional barriers in your life, you can start feeling more in control of addressing them. Barriers such as stress, worry, and feeling as though you are “not enough” can all seriously impede living life with a sense of fulfillment. 

Knowing what you are pursuing in life can help you recognize what needs to be addressed to get you there.

In therapy, we work with clients to recognize barriers in their life that are often unnoticed. We guide you to recognize how these may be impacting the way you want to live. As this process continues, you can start to learn tools to address these barriers and start feeling more in control of your life.

woman sitting along a wall holding a coffee cup

Benefit Three: Guiding your decisions.

Another benefit of defining your values is the guidance it can lend to making tough decisions. Whether it’s about something like changing jobs or  having a difficult conversation with a loved one, reflecting on how these choices connect to your values can help in the decision-making process. For example, the new job’s increased hours may impede on your value of “family time.” Perhaps you will choose to face the anxiety of bringing up a difficult conversation because of how important the value of “honesty” is in your life. Whatever the decision, connecting this choice to your values can help you feel confident in your decision regardless of the outcome.

At Simi Psychological Group, we are here to help you explore difficult decisions. Finding the courage and confidence to make changes in your life that connect to your values can be an empowering process.

Benefit Four of defining your values: Providing yourself a sense of purpose despite circumstances.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of defining and connecting to your values is that it can help you feel a sense of purpose no matter what life is throwing your way.

Life’s stressors are inevitable. But they don’t have to dictate your sense of control.

By knowing what is most important in your life, it gives you a way to redirect your focus from the stressors to your values.

Usually, even in the most difficult of circumstances, you can connect to your values. Things like “family,” “adventure,” “growth,” are all accessible even in rough times. Whatever your values are, they are also likely accessible no matter the circumstance. By focusing on these during trying times, it can help you feel a sense of purpose and a sense of direction when you need it the most.

During therapy sessions at Simi Psychological Group we help you learn to cope with the difficulties in life. Being able to connect to something deeper when faced with difficult circumstances, can help ease overwhelming feelings. Discovering you can be in control of difficult emotions can help you live the way you would like even in challenging circumstances.

If you are feeling in need of more direction in your life, defining your values may be a valuable first step. These values can help you feel on track and guide your choices. Being aware of your values and committing to them can increase purpose and engagement in your life.

About the author 

John Danial, Ph.D. 

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I am dedicated to going through the changing process with you and your family, working together toward the goals and aspirations you have for yourself, your child, or your family. I encourage all clients to challenge their negative thoughts and recognize harmful patterns and start by helping them develop meaningful goals and areas in their life they would like to see change. Learn more

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At our therapy practice in Simi Valley, Ca we offer Child therapy and family counseling, Teen therapy, Anxiety Treatment, Depression Therapy, Marriage Counseling, and Neuropsychological Testing