Why “New Year, Same You” might be the best thing.
Year in review
If you haven’t had time to reflect on the last calendar year and dream about the upcoming one, let’s take 5 minutes and explore it. Imagine yourself setting up your space at a cozy coffee shop. In your imagination (or in real life) turn your phone to “do not disturb”. Taking the biggest breath you have taken all day, notice how you are doing. Noting your body all the way down to your toes. Holding a black pen and journal, begin thinking about your life as it was in 2021. What was the overall feel of the year? What were some big tasks that were accomplished? How did the year end financially? How are you feeling about your physical health now that the year has passed? Where are you in your friendships and connections? How is your spiritual life? Reflecting on this in your journal, you may write out answers or mind map what comes to mind. Then, reviewing what you wrote, list values that are evident from what was accomplished this year. Notice what was prioritized and what most readily came to mind when you stopped to think about the year. To do this, you might consider what you wrote as if someone else accomplished or experienced it. How would you describe that person? “Hardworking, determined” would be an example. Shoot for 5-10 words! You can find lists of values all over the internet. Here’s an example list from Brene Brown, who researches living a whole-hearted life.
On a new page in the journal you write the year and circle it. Begin to brainstorm the dreams you have for this new year. Fresh out of the holiday season, you may start with what you hope next year’s holiday season might be like. Allow the seasons to lead you through this exercise and move through the year, identifying events, relationships, and connections you hope for this upcoming year. As you review and reflect on what you mapped out, identify if there are any themes in what you are dreaming for in this new year. Identify another set of values or words that depict the character of the person living out this year, as if it was someone you admire.
Now you have these two sets of value words. How do they compare? Your 2021 list is what was. Your 2022 list is what you desire. The extent to which they align is likely going to reflect your inner angst level. When we live in line with our values, we experience an absence of anxiety and depression. There is a fulfillment that comes when we do what we know is right.
So what does this new calendar year hold for you? Is the life you are living aligned with your values? If so, you can take pride in “new year, same me”. Is there a need for some alignment? Are there choices you are making about your time that need to be different? Do different priorities need to be set for your money that more truly reflect the values you hold dear? Your core values don’t change often or quickly, so figuring out how to live them is time well spent.
Quieting your mind
This assessment of what is important to you requires turning inward. Marketing ploys are constantly trying to make their product sound like the highest priority in your life. Money, platform, security, and health are often pushed in advertisements. When you quiet the hum of incoming messages and consider a full list of options including honesty, service, integrity, and kindness, you will be able to make choices for yourself on what is most important. This is a constant battle of setting boundaries around what is important to you, as everyone selling something is going to want to change your mind.
If you are interested in using an assessment tool for yourself, your family, or your work team, the Valued Living Questionnaire was developed as a tool within the therapeutic context and can be used at home to get a start. Other tools for assessing your values are readily available with a quick google search. Always use the assessment as a starting point and feel free to change your mind. You are the master of you!
Prioritizing values with others
Here is what is tricky about values- they can all be justified as good! Any single value can bring something to the table, and there is a time for all of them. However, we are each wired to place importance on different things. Blame it on your genetics or your environment, we have different preferences. When you take the time to acknowledge what those are, the next step is to make decisions that bring those words to life. Remember, you can always change your mind! It can take a lot of life experience to get past the marketing that we have been inundated with. Also, as we get older, core values tend to evolve. I would say that they do not move into “better values”, because all ages value different things for different reasons and they all are important!
The amount of diversity we bring to a team is what makes a team effort more creative and rich than what one person might be able to produce with their limited value system. When we are working with others we have to incorporate what is important to us with what is important to them. We come up with more creative solutions. This process can often safe guard us from potential risks that we do not see because we are focused on our own priorities. Engaging within a community of diverse values can produce beautiful outcomes; however, the catch is the potential for conflict.
How our values contribute to conflict
When our values are different from our team, loved ones, and family, there is conflict. (Examples: As a parent, when we value safety and our teen values adventure, there is going to be conflict. In a relationship, when we value quality clothing and our spouse values security from a savings account, there is going to be conflict.) Neither value is right or wrong universally. However, they have a priority level for you personally. It may feel that the best solution to this conflict issue is to surround yourself with people who have the same values, in the same order, as you. That is a sure fire way to reduce conflict. You may end up with very few, if any, friends. It can be impossible to find another human who has the exact same list and priorities. The reality of life is that we have to learn to live alongside and tolerate others with different values than ours.
Values are not bad in and of themselves. We need a community of people with different values to give each one its rightful attention. In this way, a world is pieced together with individuals championing their preferred values. To live in a community with people who have different values, or to live in the same house as them, it is important to communicate. We need to share our values and listen to what they value most as well. This can eliminate the battle over who is right and wrong and move into a discussion about how you are alike and different and how to respect one another’s preferences. There can be power differentials (example: the parent, the boss, the leader) that establish whose values will ultimately be prioritized, but effort can be made at satisfying all parties.
Setting boundaries with values in mind
Boundaries define who we are and who we are not. They define what is our role and what is someone else’s. Boundaries define for YOU what is acceptable to you. They keep what is not good out and keep what is good, in. If you are setting boundaries in line with your values, you are choosing how to live your life and aligning it with what is most important to you. It is easiest to set boundaries that result in a feeling of peace and less stress when you are clear about what to prioritize.
It is tempting to say “all of the values matter to me!” But, you would set yourself up for far too much conflict and perfectionism. It is more realistic and kind to yourself to identify 3. If you are clear about what your top values are, you can be more gracious (ie. let it go!) about conflict that isn’t one of your priorities. This may help to eliminate unnecessary battles.
There will come a time when you have to make a decision between two opposing choices that are both one of your core values. When you have done the heavy lifting of deciding how you prioritize values, it will make those difficult decisions easier. This is a freeing, grace filled gift for others, as well. If you leave what is not your priority to another, of whom it is their priority, you can work in a healthy collaborative way without either of you feeling burned out by the process.
Values in relationships
If you are single and thinking about dating, you might make a list of the values that are important to you in a partner. This may be an area that is surprising when you compare that list with who you are investing time in currently. We can find ourselves in relationships that produce anxiety and depression when we pursue time with people who value drastically different things than what we need in a partner.
If you are raising children, prioritizing your values can save you a lot of parenting energy! What are the 3-5 most important values that you would like to instill in them? As you make parenting decisions, you may choose your battles and focus on these as your priority.
Living a life aligned with your values
When you are happiest is when you are making choices that align with your values. If anxiety and depression are present, consider where you are feeling friction between your choices and what you truly believe is the best for your life. If you are experiencing anxiety and depression, it may be helpful to complete an inventory and review it with a mental health professional.
Warnings that your life may be out of alignment are often found in feelings that fall under the anxiety and depression categories. These include feeling inferior, empty, overwhelmed, and worried. Other warning signs may include dread about the work week, very limited patience when it comes time to invest in what you know is your first priority, embarrassment over how you present yourself with others, feeling chaotic and disorganized in your body and in your space. These feelings are so helpful to identify our core values. When we are living in line with our core values, we can be proud of our decisions and less perfectionistic, because we are addressing the most important things to us.
Now, imagine being in that coffee shop with your thoughts organized in your journal and taking another very deep breath. Exhale and imagine all of the frustrations of working through the process exiting your body. Investing in yourself and organizing your inner life will always pay off in the long run. Sit with the satisfaction of more clarity and alignment of your life and the things that matter most to you.
May this be your year for some dedicated reflective work on getting your life in line with your values!