How to Define and Act on Your Values

Inspired human development is sustained by the intentional creation and nurturing of actionable values.

My last few articles have dealt extensively with the need to hone our purpose and our values. We’ve looked at death, and why it is an essential context to create perspective. We’ve analyzed the six human needs according to Tony Robbins, and then explored how perception shapes our reality. These are core lessons for all people who wish to intentionally live an inspired existence.

Many of the anxieties of life are cured if we understand our needs, how to self-assess, and how to find the challenges that make us come alive. These are not just lessons our kids need exposure to, but the backbone of an inspired education system. All our training, all our efforts at growth should revolve around these concepts.

Values Must Become Actions

It’s time to put these pieces together for some more concrete actions.

It’s one thing to claim we have certain values. Delusions of self-righteousness stoke our egos, while never being substantiated by our actions. We’ve all seen the frat boy who can recite his fraternity “core values,” while in the same breath uttering misogynistic aphorisms and bonging a beer. We’ve all listened to that selfish, materialistic co-worker shift into an old English dialect while he thus speaketh about thy moral superiority thee holds by merit of thine beliefs, alone.

Not sure I spoketh that right. I’m not as fluent in jerk.

People who like to tell you about their values are often convinced of their superiority despite their words and actions being diametrically opposed. Actions matter. All the rhetoric in the world is only hot air if it does not lead to any sort of difference. Honest self-reflection is essential to living out real values. Then we must act to solidify and drive forth our vision.

Experience Is the Best Teacher

For a transformative educational experience, academic lessons are not enough. Action creates experience that gives greater context and momentum. Action is applied learning. It is the hard part. There is a reason why so many 18-year-olds find far deeper meaning in a gap year than all their prior education, and why it makes them far more receptive to future study and learning. It is the same reason why an internship, a mentorship, or an apprenticeship will create growth not offered in a lecture hall. We must be forced to shed prior beliefs and for this, experience reigns.

We all come to every experience with our own preconceptions. It takes a radical experience to move us outside a perpetual cycle of confirmation bias. Our tendency is to seek out what agrees with our theories, and manipulate the results so as not to threaten our original beliefs. In order to grow, we need to be forced out of this comfortable cycle. Far too often, it takes a painful event—a heart attack, a career-ending injury, or a startling rejection—to get our attention. As a society, we have created such a risk-free existence for ourselves that we have become stripped of valuable feedback and kept safe from the struggles that create happiness, until it’s too late.

Happiness comes from finding and solving the right problems. If you haven’t failed recently, you aren’t growing. If you still believe exactly as you did a year ago, it’s time to come out of your bubble. This is why proper education should incite you to seek out failure and seek out opposing views. Praise effort, not results. Preach the process, not the outcome.

Identify Your Values

Today, I want to help you get more clarity in how to identify and refine your values. In the context of purpose and values, understanding the need for them is not enough. Action is necessary. I’ve highlighted the values I believe should guide the transformation of our education system into a system of inspired human development. However, these values are not all-inclusive.

We must weigh the pros and cons of the concepts we value. I greatly value freedom. I hate being told what to do, and I yearn for the flexibility to do what I want, when I want. This is not a merit, necessarily. It will be a challenge when I become a parent. However, it is essential that I understand this value, work for it, and yet also allow it to grow and change as I do.

So here’s your homework. First, list your top seven values and define what they mean to you. Don’t do it in your head, write them down. Do this with a reevaluation of the six human needs, thinking about what values lead to fulfillment. Also, consider what values you have that may be holding you back, and how you might reassign those values.

Assign Action to Values

Now how do we live these values? Mark Manson explains that values are themselves hypotheses for which efforts and beliefs will be fruitful. Your actions are your experiments, and the results force you to clarify and reassess your values. This is why self-reflection is one of the habits essential to an inspired development program. Whether through meditation or journaling, a daily process of reflection is the only way we can know what our values are, and intentionally influence what they’re becoming. Sometimes our actions will not match our values, and we’ll find pain in these moments. We must reflect, because something pulled us in that direction. Use the feedback to stir growth and understand each of your value experiments better.

After you have created your working document of values, it’s time to focus our attention how they will shape our actions. There was a reason why I spent so much time talking about the perspective death brings us. Answer these, from the perspective of lying on your death bed, when everything in your world is about to cease to be:

  • What pursuits in your life will you feel mattered?
  • What endeavors are you glad you invested your precious time into?
  • What is your legacy to the world?
  • What do you wish you spent less time and energy on?

With those answers in mind, move to these questions:

  • What work would you do if you did not have to work?
  • What outcomes in life are most fulfilling for you?
  • What intangibles make you excited about a project?
  • What do each of your values look like in action?

Create Habits to Support Your Values

With more clarity about our values and our purpose, we should find greater motivation to chase dreams that matter. But never forget that the process of stoking that inspiration requires action as well. Sustained inspiration requires the right habits and planning. I’ve expressed the necessity for daily habits of exercise, mindfulness training, and reflective writing.

If you are to be consistent in these three habits, you’ll need to follow another: reflexive responsibility. Who is responsible for your situation? You are, always. When you own your situation, you are immediately oriented to respond with the appropriate action, rather than wallow in victimhood.

Finally, it will help keep you going to “feed of the right wolf.” Read, listen to podcasts, seek out great leaders, find those millions of opportunities to intentionally grow. We must create habits where this is done on a daily basis. With the right support, this will become a part of you, and the risk of becoming that idle, frustrated old shadow of yourself will go away.

These actions help ensure that you are chasing the right challenges. They make you more willing to risk for what matters, rather than getting lost in the dishonest web of influencing perceptions. We must ritualize this process to create strong habits that will not be thrown by the wayside in order to embrace the race for comfort that typifies modern life.

I often refer to my vision as creating lessons for inspired human development. Inspiration does not hit like a jolt and then sustain itself. It requires action. Only after we act to intentionally create purpose, values, and habits that spur growth can we expect any degree of sustained inspiration.