When we talk about burnout, it’s the physical exhaustion piece that most often comes to mind. But, when I reflect on my own experience with burnout, it’s the values piece that I think we need to pay more attention to. Our values motivate us, give us direction, and are essential to our mental health.
When you set goals that align with your values you will maximize your ability to be engaged, productive, and energized. When your goals are not aligned with your values, you might perform in the short term (maybe because you think ’you have to’) but you will certainly not do so over the long term.
In fact, it could lead straight to burnout. Why? Because your emotional stress will substantially increase when too much of your time is spent on something that is out of alignment with your values—what’s truly important and meaningful to you.
The Values Dilemma
Most of the people I work with who say they are suffering from “burnout” are actually suffering from something very different: A lack of clarity about their own unique values. All too often, they have let someone else set their priorities for them. Here is how you can tell when you have allowed another person, or society at large, to set your values for you: Your life is all about more money, more status, more possessions, and not about people.
When I ask clients suffering from “burnout” to tell me their unique values, their answers are often focused on “things“. There is nothing inherently wrong with money, status, and possessions, but if those things are what’s motivating your actions and guiding your decisions, then you’re probably more off-course than you might think. Things can be a goal but things can never be a value.
Values are different from goals in that they can never be reached or finished. Goals can be consistent with values, but values are things that cannot be attained. For example, many people want to lose weight because they value health; while weight loss (a goal) indicates that one is moving towards health (a value), one can never reach the endpoint of “health“ and be “finished“ with that value. Because of that, values represent the direction in which we are moving but not a destination.
Choose Your Values & Choose To Live By Them
To live by your values, you first need to understand what they are. There are 2 types of values to be aware of here: fear-based and conscious-based values. Values based on fear cause us to take action to avoid something; they are the “have to’s” and are stemming from fear, lack, or insecurity. An example would be: “I have to value achievement or else my family will think I’m a failure.” Conscious-based values on the other hand allow us to take positive action; they are the “choose to“ and “want to’s” and are coming from a place of trust within ourselves.
Looking at the previous example, here is what that might look like: “I choose to value achievement because I get satisfaction from setting ambitious goals and meeting them.” It’s important to understand if you’re choosing your values from a place of fear or passion. Want to get clear on your core values? Download a free values assessment here.
If you’ve done the work of identifying your core values, you may be wondering how to bring your values to life. Or how to bring more of them into your life. You can follow the three steps outlined below to bridge the gap between the values you aspire to and how you currently behave in your personal and professional life.
1. Remember your values
If you want to live up to your values, you need to remember them. It seems obvious, but many people don’t pay enough attention to it. Just putting together a list of values is barely the beginning. Here are some suggestions to keep your values front and center:
- Set up reminders to pop up on your phone.
- Print out your values and keep them close to you.
- Make a habit of reading your list of values every morning.
- Make them the background on your mobile phone or computer.
- Visualize the day ahead and plan out how you’ll be living by your values.
The point is that in the first days after compiling your values list, you should revisit them regularly.
2. Use your values for goal setting
Are you living your life according to your values? Does your career choice reflect your values? How about your activities outside of work? If your goals are congruent with and allow you to live your most important values, you are more likely to accomplish your goals. In order to establish goals based on the foundation of your values, you can follow the steps below:
For each of your values, make a list of things you could do to put those values into practice. For example, if one of your values is “Personal Growth“ you could commit to reading a book every month on a subject that you care about. Or you could take an online course, learn a new language, start meditating, etc. There are so many possibilities. Just write down all the things you could start doing to live by each one of your core values. The next step is to make them into goals for the next week, month, year, or longer.
3. Make decisions according to your values
Living your values is about more than just your big goals. It’s also about the small decisions you make on a day-to-day basis. Frequently ask yourself why you made this decision and not a different one. Or why you are currently doing this activity and not something else. This way, you will often verify to what extent your actions are in line with your values.
If you feel inconsistent with your values in certain areas, it’s time to think about what changes you can make. You don’t have to change everything at once. It is enough to make small changes regularly. For example, if you feel like you’re not paying enough attention to your family, planning a trip together once a week could be a small step forward.
Next, you want to evaluate the effects of the changes you implemented. Pay attention to what works, drop what doesn’t, and keep moving forward, one step at a time. Think of it as a trip, where every decision that is guided by your values will take you closer to your desired destination.
Roy E. Disney of Walt Disney Co., once said, “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.“ When we hold our options up to the mirror of our values we can identify what is causing dissatisfaction in our lives. Only then can we address these imbalances and avoid the emotional stress that results.
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