SHOW NOTES from Episode 13 of Wayfinding Wisdom. Click here to listen.
Welcome wonderful humans.
You’re listening to Wayfinding Wisdom – the podcast where each week we offer up 10-20 minutes of stories & strategies to help you navigate the complex waters of modern-day life with intention & confidence.
I’m Alice Chen – coach, experience designer and fellow wayfinder.
And I believe that our values are a lot like constellations in the sky – at first glance they might not seem like all that much. We might take them for granted, but the more we study them, the more we see patterns in the sky, and the more we can use them as waypoints to help us navigate through our lives.
I remember back in college, I took an astronomy course and all we did for a while was map the dots in the sky to names on paper. We learned to name the stars before we did anything else with them.
And I love this as a starting point for values work: Are you aware of the values at play in your life? Can you identify them?
In this episode, I’ll share three exercises to help you start identifying your values…so you can begin to see them as more than just dots in the sky and eventually use them as constellations for navigation.
So keep listening.
On the journey to better understand our values, we are often moving along two tracks simultaneously: the conscious values track and the unconscious values track.
On the conscious values track, we are seeking to discern & decide what values we want to choose to drive our decisions and to build our lives around.
On the unconscious values track, we are seeking to bring to light some of the values that are driving how we decide, what we focus on, and prioritize often without our knowing.
I talked about unconscious values in the previous episode of this podcast, so check that out if you haven’t already or want to learn more.
But suffice it to say, all of us have a socialized value system that we learn as a result of growing up in our families, participating in formal & informal education experiences, and just generally existing in the world.
This value system often starts out unconscious but doesn’t have to stay that way. We can use inquiry & reflection to become more aware of it.
And, in fact, if you want to feel a greater sense of alignment & agency in your life and you desire to make more intentional decisions then taking time to uncover your unconscious value system is important because sometimes…often…our unconscious values will work in opposition to our conscious chosen ones creating a sort of stasis.
A feeling of trying to go up the down escalator – at a conscious level, I say I really value presence, but I’ve been socialized to value always having a plan & looking to the future.
So as I live, I keep saying I just want to spend time with my kids, my partner, doing nothing, being, yet each time I start to step into that space I find myself getting out presence trying to “plan some activity,” filling my time with tasks, worrying about the future.
Willpower alone doesn’t always help me get past this – I can’t just keep saying “I value presence” and hope that by driving that home in my mind, all the tension I feel will disappear, and I’ll suddenly stop planning & looking to the future.
Instead, I need to combine my commitment to honoring this value of presence with some inquiry around what’s pushing back against that. What pushes back against our chosen values are often our unconscious, socialized values.
Some of the strategies I’ll offer here will work well for identifying conscious values. Others will give you more of a window into your unconscious values. Many will open up doors to inquiry and exploration around both.
Two weeks ago a client of mine said, “I want to figure out what my values are. I have no idea where to start.”
To which I responded, “What if we start with what you think your values are?”
This is the first strategy, and it can help us articulate conscious values.
Throw some paint on the wall:
What do you think or sense your values are?
Write them down – I like to write them on post its, one value per stickie, so I can move them around. I put them up on a wall, look at them, see if by looking at them any additional values are sparked.
They don’t have to end up being your values – this is just a thought exercise to get you started. You have full permission to change your mind at any time.
Sometimes we can get answers to our questions just by posing the question directly to ourselves.
And if you get stuck or feel the rising tide of panic or hear in your mind “But I don’t know! I don’t know!” take a deep breath.
This happens sometimes with some of us who have perfectionist tendencies and want or feel like we have to get the “right” or “perfect” answer, so no judgment.
Just take a deep breath and interrupt yourself – say self, “What if I did know? In fact, let’s assume that I do know what my values are. What are they?”
And see if anything shifts or emerges from this state. Sometimes it does.
Another simple strategy for identifying your conscious values.
- Google “values list.”
- Print it out.
- Find a quiet space.
- Read each word aloud to yourself, letting yourself hear & feel it.
- Circle or highlight the words that resonate with you.
Keep in mind that resonance is different than reason. Resonance is a feeling in the body and heart that something is true and right for you. Reason is intellectual – it’s the knowing that something makes sense.
Sometimes that the things that are resonant for us are beyond reason, meaning they don’t make logical sense.
I remember when I was doing this exercise years ago and I read the word “craftsmanship” aloud, I felt this “ping” in my body…like a bell ringing, a tingling sensation, an exhalation all at once. The word “resonated” with me.
But then I dropped into my head and was like “What? Craftsmanship? That’s not a word I would have reached for on my own. It’s not a word I use a lot. What’s up with that?” In other words it didn’t seem “reasonable” to my brain that I should have that kind of pull or draw.
But I did.
The mind is the seat of a lot of our socialization bias – it’s where they have to’s, musts, and shoulds live, and so reason isn’t always the best pathway to our truth.
So as you do this exercise, focus on resonance…and if you notice reason getting in the way, you might put out a gentle inquiry: What’s that about? And listen to see what comes back at you.
After you’ve identified some words that resonate with you, read them aloud to yourself again and see if any feel connected or related in some way.
In the past, I’ve rewritten some of the words that seem linked together on a post-it and then asked myself “What’s the real value here?” until I’ve been able to distill it down to one or two words the really feel like they are the “heart” of the idea.
For example – I remember grouping the word “craftsmanship” with excellence, beauty, accuracy, skillfulness, quality, intentionality, precision, artistry. They all felt related to each other, but craftsmanship stood out to me as the word that best captures the essence of my value.
Likewise, I had another post-it with the words choice, freedom, flexibility, commitment, responsibility, justice, equity, wholeness on it. None of these words resonated fully with me, but they felt related.
Then, I was reading an article by Barbara J Love where she talked about “liberatory consciousness” and it hit me, “Oh, those words are about liberation.” So that’s what I wrote as the value.
This is the kind of exercise that you may not be able to do in 30 minutes…it’s a provocation that you’ll likely want to be in ongoing dialogue with. And that’s okay.
Values work is not a task you check off your list, it’s an exploration you engage in to develop a deeper awareness of yourself over time.
Values drive how we spend our time and what we prioritize.
Which is great because that means our calendars and our schedules can give us powerful windows into our values – particularly our unconscious values.
If you are coming to values work (as many of us do) from a place of feeling like you’re not living your values or how you’re spending your time is not aligned to what’s most important to you, then your calendar has the potential to really show you the value system you’ve been defaulting into and therefore what you’ll have to turn towards, grapple with and shift in order to truly have more of the life experience that you desire.
I started my coaching practice about five years ago in part out of a desire to have more spaciousness and creative freedom in my life. I was very committed to this. I wanted to own my time so that I could choose how I spent it rather than be at the effects of other people’s schedules and needs.
And yet, a year into my practice, I didn’t feel like I had much spaciousness and creative freedom. So I pulled up my calendar and asked myself two questions:
1) How am I actually spending my time?
2) What is this showing me about what values are actually driving me right now?
And I saw meetings on the calendar five days a week from 9-5pm – not blocked or batched but kind of scattered at client’s requests, work blocks that were centered on tactical things like responding to email & setting up client systems, partnerships with people who wanted to work in ways that didn’t feel good to me.
Here’s what I didn’t see – time for rest & play, strategic work blocks for bigger picture visioning, my days set up in ways that would allow me to feel spacious or flow from one thing to another.
And when I inquired about what how I was spending my time was showing me about some of my unconscious values, I realized that the values of productivity, responsiveness, & busyness in the driver’s seat of my life…not spaciousness and creative freedom.
Once I was able to see this, I started to be able to consciously work with myself to shift this. Over the course of several weeks/months, I slowly began to realign what I was spending my time doing.
I batched client calls, added strategic work blocks, constrained how much time I was spending on email, added in reading blocks, walks, & other forms of rest & play.
And I started to feel differently – I felt more creative, more spacious, more aligned with my chosen values.
It certainly wasn’t “easy” or “comfortable” to shift how I spent my time. I felt all sorts of things when I saw how much of a disconnect existed between what I was consciously saying mattered to me and what I was defaulting into. And I had to turn towards that and feel the guilt, shame, judgment, frustration, etc.
And, at the same time, for me, being explicitly confronted – visually – with my own lack of integrity provided powerful sightlines into the workings of my conscious & unconscious values systems as well as a wake up call to change.
And I find that this is true with many people who do this exercise.
I’ve made this calendar audit an every three-month thing now. It’s become a way for me to both check-in on whether I’m truly aligning my time with what I say matters, an opportunity to iterate on what that looks like, and an opportunity to celebrate progress.
My calendar these days actually looks VERY different than it did 5 years ago, 2 years ago, and 6 mobths ago. It’s becoming more and more values-aligned, and I’m proud of that.
I see this with my clients as well. As they become more clear on what values they want to drive their lives AND what values they are allowing to drive their lives, they begin to make shifts in how they spend their time. And they can LITERALLY see the product of their efforts reflected visually in their calendar. It’s like getting a little certificate, and let’s face it, we all need a little external validation at some point in our life.
So use your calendar to see and celebrate your efforts & their impact.
The three exercises I shared today are some of the many exercises that live in the values inquiry toolbox.
I’d love to hear what you discover about your own values as you try them on.
I’d also love to hear if you have other exercises that you’ve found helpful in giving you clearer sightlines into your conscious & unconscious values, so please do share. You can do that on my Instagram feed @wayfindingwisdom.
I’ll also post the reflection questions & exercises from today’s episode there as well so check them out.
And if you enjoyed today’s podcast and want to have it delivered to you every Wednesday morning, head on over to my website at www.wayfindingwisdom.com to sign up.
As I’ve mentioned, today’s episode is part of a larger series on meaning & values, so tune in again next week to continue the conversation as we talk about…
As always, I’m grateful for you and your presence in the world.
Until next time, be well, be brave, be you.