I write about Mindfulness a lot, and why not?
It may be one of the easiest, most available ways to improve your general well-being. It’s certainly helped me a lot. The act of putting distance between myself and my thoughts, in recognizing the stories I tell myself and in learning to detach have all been amazingly useful. I now know that thoughts are not facts. I now no longer live as much as I used to in my head. And I take time, for example, to appreciate the birds in the sky.
Yet, it’s not enough.
Mindfulness is just part of what is needed to generate the resilience and flexibility needed to face life. It may be a great part, say two thirds, of what’s needed, but alone it’s not enough. There are also two other things. One is values, the other is action. Let’s start with the first.
Values are our heart’s deepest desire. They tell us how we want to be, what we want to strive for. They tell us how we want to relate to the world around us. Moreover, they are leading principles that can guide us and motivate us as we move through our lives.
Values have two amazing powers. They provide a framework for us to set goals that will be meaningful and they allow us to weather the ups and downs and vicissitudes of life. Stephen Covey wrote of them as one of the Severn Habit’s of Highly Successful People. Numerous other authors have identified them as a central pillar of a meaningful life.
Clarity around your values means that whatever life throws at you, you will have the strength to go on. Take Paul for example.
Paul had a great many hopes and ambitions for life, but a business venture he’d become involved in went horribly wrong and left him broke and in debt. Unable to afford city rent he and his wife were forced to leave for the country side. He ended up at a boarding school doing a low paid job and spending 5-days a week away from his wife.
But he had his values.
He knew he valued being creative, organizing, and he loved being involved in the arts. He also liked to help others. So he got stuck into his job, helping kids and teachers alike with whatever they needed. He taught the kids how to iron better or cook meals. He organized a talent contest and made a documentary about school life. A short while later he was asked to become an organizer at a local arts festival – a job he loved!
It fitted perfectly with his interests and gave him the time and money to fully support and be with his wife.
When you operate from your values you operate from your deepest why? And as the famous philosopher Nietzsche wrote, “he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” And if we find ourselves in a situation we don’t want as long as we bring our values to bear on it, we’ll get through.
It’s important to recognise that values are not goals. A value is a direction, it is a process and it never ends. If you value being a loving and caring partner, for example, then you will find this guides you through your life. Paul could have blamed his wife or got angry with her for the burden the relationship placed on him, but he didn’t. It would have been out of tune with his values.
Goals are specific acts that complete once they are reached. It could be a marriage, pay-rise, a new house etc. They have specific outcomes.
Wanting a better job is a goal. And if you achieve it you can cross it off your list. Values on the other hand can be applied to any job. Things like applying yourself fully, being fully engaged and attentive to detail and supporting your colleagues.
For a long time I read books and acknowledged the importance of values, yet I refused, or made excuses, not to clarify my own. Having finally done so I can assure you it’s a worthwhile task.
Unfortunately, it takes time.
It means sitting down with a pen and paper to write out what we really want. And it means digging a little deeper than our surface answers. Most peoples first responses are things they’ve picked up from society, things they are told we should want. Such as being happy, rich or famous. Or respect, a good job, marriage and kids.
Nothing wrong with those.
Except to clarify our heart’s desire, we must dig a little deeper. We need to go a step further. Understanding our values fully, means clarifying what we stand for in life, what type of qualities we want, and how we want to behave towards others.
Values describe not just what you want to do, but how you want to do it.
Indeed the how is more important. Ask yourself how do you want to behave to you neighbours, colleagues family, and friends. How do you want to approach your education, work, or marriage.
Now you’ve got you values, now you know what really matters, it’s time for one more step. Act.
Mindfulness and Values are brilliant tools. Combined they give you all the basis for a wonderful life. But now it’s time to take action.
Just because your aware of your thoughts, have gratitude for your existence, have clarified your values, doesn’t automatically mean you’ll arrive at a rich, full and meaningful life.
It’s time to take action.
If you’ve clarified your values you are most likely aware of the areas where you need to take action. In certain areas of your life you may be removed or out of touch with your values.
So whether it’s family or relationships, friendship or employment, education or leisure. Or whether it’s spirituality, environment, health and body, pick the area that needs to most work.
Action can begin immediately. Ask yourself what is the one thing that you could do today that could take you closer to your values. Set immediate, short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. Then mindfully strive toward them.
Matt is a trained and licenced Mindfulness teacher and Stress and Anxiety Reduction Counsellor operating in and around the Peterborough area. After overcoming his own stress and anxiety he's found his purpose teaching others to do the same.
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