This week, as in every week, I notice a theme, something that all clients seem to speak about, in my office. I’m not sure if there’s a particular reason for this. Perhaps the winds of Minnesota bring ideas and thoughts to all who come to my office. More likely is that each week I hear something common among those whom I see. Whatever the reason, I find it useful to think about these things and have decided to share some commonalities that all seem to experience.
The reason for this is that often times we feel isolated in our own thoughts. We assume that no one else feels this way. In a recent study researchers looked at how comparing ourselves to others contributes to feels of depression. Specifically, they looked at Facebook. But before we go further, I’m not saying Facebook causes depression only that it’s a place that can be studied as there are 1.7 billion users world wide. What they found is because people post mostly positive statements and photos about their life, others who view those posts often feel less than or down.
But why is this? Why should looking at other’s lives cause us to question our own life AND then feel like we’re lacking?
It’s a complicated answer, but one aspect of it is that we lack confidence and self-esteem, at least in some parts of our life. So let’s start at the beginning. In order to feel confident, you must have a solid core. I like to compare this to weight lifting. In order for us to lift weights, or even get up and out of a chair, we need a solid core. We need to strengthen our mid section, our stomachs, sides and backs. Without this strength we will struggle to lift even the lightest of weights, let alone our entire body. Once we have a solid core, we can then move to bigger weights and more exercises, and enjoy a full range of activities.
It’s the same in psychology. Without a solid core, that is a knowledge of our values and also living them, we will struggle with stress, feeling less-than, always questioning ourselves. Our core vales are our driving force. Just like in the physical sense, the core strength is what allows you to propel yourself forward and back. The same is true for our psychological core strength. It’s what allows us to make decisions and be confident in them.
The question I get at this point often is just what are core values? It’s a good question and one that most people probably haven’t thought about. When was the last time you were asked that? It certainly didn’t happen in school. Here’s a great definition from, of all places, the government:
“Core values are not descriptions of the work we do or the strategies we employ to accomplish our mission. The values underlie our work, how interact with each other, and which strategies we employ to fulfill our mission. The core values are the basic elements of how we go about our work.”
I would add, as this is specifically about work, that we can substitute the words life or relationship or things for the word work.
So now that we have a working definition of what core values are, let’s look at some words that might fit into that. Here’s a list of words, not in order of importance and certainly only a partial list, that might be helpful in figuring out your specific core values:
This is a long list, but not exhaustive by any means. You are welcome to come up with your own words, to be sure.
Okay, now we know both what core values are and have some examples of words that describe them. The next step is pick yours. Try to pick 5 to 8 core values, ones that really resonate with you. Try to be honest about what’s important, rather than what you would like to have. Once you have your words they will become the foundation of your life.
The last step is start living them. Let me explain by giving an example. A core value for me might be connection. If that’s the case, than in order for me to live the most authentic life I can, the decisions I make have to, at least in some part, stem from that word. So, if connection is a value and I choose to work in a field that is solitary, I will most likely not feel fulfilled or joyful (not to be confused with happy). It will probably not give me much meaning or purpose. However, if I choose to follow a career that is about connection, such as working as a therapist, I will most likely find that meaning and authenticity.
To sum up what has been said, there are essentially four steps to finding and living an authentic life. The first is to understand what a core value is, the second is to list some words that represent core values, the third is to choose the ones that are truly yours, and lastly to make decisions and choices that follow from those values.
I hope this helps to start to live the list you want!