In Part 1, which appeared last Monday on June 4th, we explored the connection between mindfulness and intention to live by our values.
Before we consider focusing on values as a practice, let’s examine what values actually are and how they differ from goals.
A goal is something you desire to achieve. This can involve acquiring a material thing—a new car, for example—or it can involve achieving a certain quality of life, such as being free enough of pain or disability to be able to resume golf, tennis, dancing, or hiking. But it is always a thing or an end result; you will know when you have met your goal.
A life value cannot be achieved; it can only be lived. It is a way of being or a human quality you value. These ways of being and qualities are golden; when you identify them and then consciously engage in the mindfulness practice of living in harmony with them, you tap into a wellspring of health and happiness. The mere act of focusing on what you value can shift your entire experience of life.
Though they are different in nature, values and goals can intersect. You can base what you desire to achieve on your most closely held values, thereby ensuring that those values are always at work in your life, expressed through action.
Although focusing on values sounds simple, it contains a big challenge: how do you determine which life value to focus on at any given time? One approach might be to make a list of what you value, review it during the day, and try to make sure your most deeply held personal life values are covered in how you live that day. This would be a methodical approach, but perhaps not a very realistic one.
The alternative I have learned, used, and taught, which works very effectively, is to first identify your personal life values and then learn how to determine which one is most pertinent in any given moment. You can actually do both steps simultaneously by engaging in the mindfulness practice of observing your emotional reactions to people and events. You can also see your values reflected in the activities you choose. As Dr. Russ Harris points out, if you want to be happier, pursuing your values will get you there faster than pursuing happiness.
In part 3, I will provide some examples and continue this exploration.