By Jeremy Godwin
What are your values? What do you stand for? And why does that matter for your wellbeing? That’s what I’m talking about this week on… Let’s Talk About Mental Health — the weekly podcast about looking after your mental health, with simple ideas you can put into practice immediately.
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This podcast episode was originally released on 3 July, 2022.
Hello and welcome to Episode 138, and thanks so much for joining me!
I’m Jeremy Godwin and I talk about looking after your mental health. I spent most of the 2010’s dealing with severe anxiety and depression, after a breakdown in late 2011, and that led me to want to learn more about my mental health… so I went back to school and studied psychology and sociology, and now I share simple tips for how to improve your mental wellbeing, from someone who actually understands what it’s like to go through mental health challenges. Each episode I look at how to improve one specific aspect of your wellbeing.
This episode is all about values and I’ll be talking about what values are (and what they’re not), why understanding your values matters, and how to manage your values in a healthy way. So, let’s talk!
Before I start, it’s not long until my book, Let’s Talk About Mental Health (Volume One), is released on July 7, 2022; you can pre-order the eBook now using the link in the episode description, and it will also be available in print from July 7.
Alright, now on with this week’s episode about values…
Who are you and what do you stand for? That’s an enormous question and I’m asking it because your values and beliefs are what shape your identity, which in turn determines what you do and do not do with your life… so, you know, nothing too major or anything!
Our values are one of those things that play a role in everything that we do on a day-to-day basis, but they’re not necessarily something that we spend a massive amount of time thinking about on a regular basis… however I think it’s definitely worthwhile to take the time to consider them thoughtfully so that (a) we know what we’re doing with our life and why, and (b) so that we can be aware of where we might need to adapt and evolve in order to grow and be the best version of ourselves possible.
Now, anyone who has ever worked in the business world might have had an immediate cringe reaction when I said the word ‘values’, because it gets used (and abused) quite a lot; if I had a dollar for every time I had heard the term ‘values and beliefs’ kicked around while I was working in the corporate sector, I would most likely be recording this episode from my own private island in the middle of the Pacific (and I will also point out that those words were most commonly used by people who talked the talk but certainly did not walk the walk, in terms of matching their actions to their words… but that’s enough about my corporate-life trauma!). My point is that the word can be thrown around all-too-easily (by the way, if anyone has ever played Corporate Word Bingo then you’ll know it’s often featured on that!), but the true meaning of ‘values’ runs much deeper than the shallow version that you might hear at work (and just as an aside here, there are definitely many organisations who are authentic about defining and living their values; unfortunately, there are also many that just pay the idea lip-service because it’s that thing that Human Resources told them they need to have, so they put a whole bunch of words on paper and then do the exact opposite… oh wait, my corporate trauma has reared its head again, hasn’t it?!).
OK, back to the topic at hand…
The idea of values is one we use a lot in society, and for many of us individually, as a kind-of catch-all to connect us with specific belief systems or philosophical approaches to life, but what exactly does it mean? And why does any of it even matter? Well, let’s start exploring that with some definitions and let’s talk about…
What are values?
And in its simplest form we can define our values as our principles and standards of behaviour, and our own individual judgments about what matters in life (and that definition is adapted from the Oxford Dictionary).
I like to think of it this way: your values define what is most important to you. Actually, it’s also about those long-held beliefs that you carry with you; they can evolve and adapt over time, but for the most part they’re fairly solid in terms of being part of your identity. Examples might be family, community, loyalty, fairness, wellbeing, compassion and more.
On a social level, values often tie in to what is considered acceptable by larger groups of people; for example, conservative or liberal values, traditional or progressive values, religious or secular values, etc. Socially-speaking, values are often the things that bind people together and that can either be a positive thing (for example, when people come together to do good) or it can be a negative thing (such as when people join forces to try and impose their values and beliefs on others).
Here’s the thing I want to say about values before we go any further, and it’s going to be fairly blunt: just because you have a particular set of beliefs, that doesn’t mean you’re right.
And further to that, just because someone has different values and beliefs to you that doesn’t make them wrong; it just makes them different. We are all unique and we build up our values and beliefs throughout our lives based on our life experiences, how we are raised, and what we discover about the world as we go along… to think that the nearly-eight billion of us on this planet would ever have the exact same life experiences, and therefore the same values and beliefs, is just not realistic because we each have our own unique experiences that have led us to the point we’re at today.
However (and here comes another dose of bluntness), I’m not then going to sit here and say believe whatever nonsense you want to believe regardless of the fact that there is zero evidence to support it, because there is a lot of damage that can be done by accepting that. Everyone has the right to an opinion, but opinions are not facts and to pretend otherwise is dangerous. There’s a quote by the writer Aldous Huxley that I shared in a recent edition of my weekly newsletter, Thursday Thoughts (which is free, by the way; sign up at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au which is linked in the episode description)… the quote is: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored,” and I’m going to tweak that slightly to make it, “facts do not cease to exist just because you don’t believe them.” What does any of that have to do with values? Plenty, actually, because I believe that one of the most important and fundamental values of life is honesty, and by that I mean being honest with others as well as with ourselves so that we can be realistic about ourselves and the world around us in order to make healthy, informed choices.
Look, I’m far less concerned with the specifics of what you believe and much more interested in the intention behind them; if the intention is fairness, kindness and balance in all things, then we’re on the same wavelength. I think we have been socially conditioned over multiple generations to adopt specific identities based on our belief system and where we grew up, but the fact is that none of that really matters; we’re all human, and as much of a cliché as this is to say I’m going to say it anyway: we all look the same on the inside. Your values are a guide for how you approach life, not a hard-and-fast rule book that must be followed at all times regardless of the situation and certainly not a weapon to be wielded at other people if they don’t believe the same things as you. Less conflict, more constructive interactions!
Alright, so with that rant mainly over, let’s move on to the next part of this episode which is…
Why understanding your values matters
And it matters because your values have a direct influence on what you think and feel. I started this episode by asking what you stand for, and your values, along with your priorities, are the embodiment of what matters most to you. Some of your values may have been inherited from your family; other values might be things that have developed over time based on the experiences you’ve had throughout your life. For example, one of my core values is about finding balance in all things and that is definitely something that has only really been a thing for me over the past maybe seven or eight years, and that’s in direct response to everything I experienced while I was working my way through my breakdown and the depression and anxiety that followed; it completely changed my outlook on life and what really mattered to me, and so balance became a much bigger focus (and still is).
Your values give you something to continuously strive towards and a framework for how you live your life. In last week’s episode about needs, which was Episode 137, I talked about how our needs are the things that drive us and which give us purpose and direction (in other words, they’re our ‘whats’ and our ‘whys’); our values are our ‘how’ because they directly shape how we go about living our lives on a day-to-day basis. What you believe and the values you carry with you will then shape what you do or do not do; for example, if a core value for you is loyalty then that will directly influence how you interact with the people you care about the most.
It’s for that reason that I bring up the whole ‘values’ thing in a podcast about mental health, because your most fundamental beliefs shape how you live your life. For example, if your values are focused on the acquisition of status and wealth above all other things, you’re going to make very different life choices than someone who prioritises kindness and peace of mind. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t have both, and I’ve already said that I’m a firm believer in finding balance in all things, but when we talk about prioritising one thing over another then that is where the notion of balance goes out the window entirely.
Last week I talked about how your needs and desires come with a set of consequences, in terms of what you need to do or not do in order to make them happen, and being really clear on your values enables you to make much more considered choices about your needs and wants rather than just going along with what is expected of you or what others tell you that you should do. Why does that matter? To answer that, let me share this quote from an article by PositivePsychology.com; the quote is:
“When we are unsure about our own values and morals, we risk a few negative outcomes. First of all, being unsure about our values can lead to stress and anxiety. Even worse, being unsure about our values can lead us to act contrary to our values, which can lead to even more stress and anxiety (along with guilt). For these reasons, it is important for all of us to know what our values are (whatever they may be) and act according to them.”
And that article is linked in the transcript, which you’ll find for free at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes (and it’s linked in the episode description).
So how do you do all of that? How do you work through your values for the sake of your mental health? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of today’s episode and let’s talk about…
How to manage your values in a healthy way
OK, let’s begin at the beginning and first define your values — and, so, by this I mean to actually consciously sit down and think about what your principles are and what you consider to be the most important things in life (generally speaking, and also specifically for your own life). This is simply about answering that question I’ve asked a couple of times today, which is “What do you stand for?” — there’s no right or wrong answer, and you might need to come at this a few times in order to flesh out your thinking which is perfectly fine… take as much time as you need! If you’re stuck or you just don’t really know where to start, there’s a resource I’m going to link in the transcript and in the episode description which is an article by Mind Tools where you’ll see a list of nearly 100 values to consider (just scroll down to Step 4 in the article to find the list; find it here: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_85.htm). OK, next…
Know the difference between values and what you put value on — and this is a bit philosophical (and in hindsight I probably should have covered it earlier, but whatever… we’re here now!), but there’s a big distinction between the person you want to be (which is where your values come in) versus what you might give your attention to or want to achieve (and so that’s what you put value on). So, for example, money isn’t a value because there are multiple ways that you can go about bringing money into your life but it’s not really a personality trait or a standard of behaviour that you can apply; money is just a thing that has some kind of value because we all agree that it does (a long time ago, someone picked up a piece of paper and said “this is worth something” and now we spend all of our lives fighting to get more bits of paper). On the other hand, a core value like honesty does have a direct influence on what you do or do not do; for example, it will directly influence whether or not you are honest when you’re interacting with other people. I know this is all quite deep and frankly it’s a challenge to try and boil philosophical concepts like this down into a few sentences, but basically what I’m trying to say here is to know that just because you care about something, or you give it attention, that doesn’t make it one of your values; when it becomes fundamental to how you behave and the choices you make, then it’s a value. Alright, so my next point is…
Identify your core values — because you might have lots of things on your list, but if you can boil that down to the main three to five values that are of the highest importance to you that can then help you to gain greater clarity (simplicity has a way of doing that, which is something I talked about in the simplicity episode back in Episode 63). For me, my five core values are (in no particular order): kindness, creativity, honesty, calmness and finding balance. So, what are yours? Take some time to think about this and you can use that list I encouraged you to create earlier to then refine it down to the main three to five values that feel like they’re most aligned with who you are and, more importantly, who you want to be. Defining those core values helps with my next point, which is…
Reflect on your core values frequently — and I’m talking about at least once a month, if not more often. Why? Because your values underpin the choices that you make, so when you reflect on them regularly you get to (a) make sure that your decisions are aligned with what matters most to you, and (b) consider whether or not your values are still serving you as you work towards being the best version of yourself possible. OK, next…
Identify if you are living in alignment with your core values — and this is part of a topic that I bring up a lot on this show which is self awareness (and I explored that in its own episode back in Episode 62). Just because you say something is one of your values, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re always consistently behaving in line with your values. It can be confronting to think about this stuff, but frankly I think it’s much better to be honest with yourself if you have some work to do (rather than pretending everything is fine but then wondering why you’re not in alignment with what truly matters to you). Let me give you an example from my own life. One of my core values is creativity, and in fact the way I introduce myself to new people is first and foremost as a writer; I generally say writer, podcaster and YouTuber or writer and counsellor, depending on the situation and who I’m talking to. Either way, I start off with ‘writer’ but for quite a few months the only writing I was doing was for this weekly podcast, which is great but I view writing (for me, at least) as being about writing books and articles however I wasn’t doing any of that for the longest time. So, that meant that I was feeling really disconnected from something that matters a lot to me and so I’ve been working very hard to refocus my energy and attention onto incorporating time in my life to do the type of writing that feels important to me (and that’s how my book, Let’s Talk About Mental Health, finally got finished and now it’s coming out on July 7, 2022; details are in the episode description, by the way!). So my point here is to be really honest with yourself about where you might be out of alignment with your values so that you can refocus on what truly matters most to you. One way you can do that is with a self-assessment exercise that I’m going to include a link to in the transcript and in the episode description called the ‘Bull’s Eye Worksheet’ (find it here: https://thehappinesstrap.com/upimages/Long_Bull%27s_Eye_Worksheet.pdf). It’s a simple exercise where you reflect on four core areas of your life (being: work/education, relationships, personal growth/health, and leisure) and then consider how much you are operating in alignment with your values in each of those four areas. It’s a handy little self-reflection tool and I encourage you to revisit it at least every few months, if not more often, so you can quickly see if there is anything you need to pay more attention to in order to feel that you’re living your life in ways that feel aligned with your values. OK, my next point is…
Identify how your goals and behaviours align with your values — and here I go again, pushing you to have honest and possibly uncomfortable discussions with yourself, but as I said back in the episode about discomfort (which was Episode 132), “if you want to grow, then you have to accept that growth involves discomfort.” So, let me be really blunt (yet again): if you chase after things that aren’t aligned with what really matters to you, then you’re likely going to find yourself heading towards a big old mess at some point in the not-too-distant future. For example, if one of your priorities is your family but you’re working 70, 80, 90 hours a week then, honestly, you’re not really making your family a priority, are you? The same idea applies if your wellbeing and peace of mind are a priority but you actively get involved in creating dramas with other people; if you don’t want it, don’t create it! And let me just say that I understand that sometimes it just happens without your active involvement and that’s not what I’m talking about; what I’m referring to is circumstances where you might choose to get involved even though it goes against what actually matters to you. Think about how your goals and behaviours match up with what matters most to you and make your values the foundation of what you choose to do or not do moving forward. OK, next…
Forge your own path — because we often inherit our values from other people, like our family and our peer groups, and we might not stop and question why we believe the things we believe. You can choose to be your own person and my view of the world is that we tend to over-engineer a lot of things, including morality; if you do no harm, are kind, and you give more than you take, then you’re a a pretty good person and the specifics of what you believe are none of my business. Give yourself permission to evolve and be 100% your own person (and I talked about how to do that in Episode 55 about authenticity). OK, next…
Understand that everyone has their own set of values and beliefs — and so just because someone believes something different to you that doesn’t necessarily make them wrong; it just makes them different. My only issue with other peoples’ beliefs is when they try to force them on me or when they use them as an excuse to do harm, be unkind or to take more than they give. I think life is far less complicated than what we make it out to be sometimes: just be kind to others, and to yourself, and don’t be a dick. Can you imagine how different the world would be if we all followed that very basic ethos?! Oh, and please remember that, in any conflict, the goal is to find a middle ground rather than enforcing one person’s values over another’s (and I talked about how to manage conflict in a healthy way back in Episode 88). OK, next…
Say no if something clashes with your values — because it is absolutely OK to say no, and you can do that with kindness, and I think it’s a lot healthier to say no rather than feeling that you need to potentially compromise your principles just to avoid conflict. I talked about saying no in a lot of detail in Episode 105, so check that out for more on the topic. Speaking of saying no, my next point is…
Say yes to opportunities that align with your values — because when something or someone comes along that feels in alignment with what matters most to you, it’s a chance for you to push through any fear or discomfort and take a leap of faith (which is something I talked about in Episode 106, about saying yes, and Episode 119, about opportunity). Just ensure that you’re making thoughtful choices (and I covered how to do that in Episode 135, about choices) and also be sure to take your needs into account (which I covered in Episode 137, about needs).
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to values and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: When you know who you are and what you stand for, you are better able to navigate all of the complex challenges of life in a way that feels honest and authentic. Your values define who you are and, more importantly, who you want to be, and so understanding what matters most to you — and why — ensures that you can then make choices about what you do or do not do with your life that feel aligned and truthful. What you do shapes what happens next, so choose to consider what you are creating each time you speak and act.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by an unknown author, and it is:
“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”Unknown
Alright… that’s nearly it for this week.
Next week I’ll be talking about sexuality. Human beings tend to have a whole bunch of mixed feelings towards sex and sexual identity, and it can take a lot of work to sift through all of the thoughts and feelings we have about the subject (not to mention all of the stigmas and taboos that exist throughout society in many different forms) so that we can have a healthy approach to what is actually a fairly basic part of the human existence. So, that’s what I’m exploring in the next episode of the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast. I’ll be talking about what sexuality is, why a healthy approach to sex and sexuality matters for good mental health, and how to approach sexuality in a healthy way.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 10th of July, 2022.
And on the 7th of July my book, Let’s Talk About Mental Health (Volume One), will be released worldwide; you can buy it in print or eBook from Amazon or buy the eBook from Apple Books. Find it at the link in the episode description or visit my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au.
If you’d like even more content about looking after your mental health then watch my weekly videos on YouTube plus sign up to my mailing list for my free weekly newsletter, Thursday Thoughts, where I share a quick dose of inspiration (and those are all linked in the episode description).
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Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!
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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.
The information provided in this episode is for general awareness on the topic and does not constitute advice. You should consult a doctor and/or a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll find additional information on the Resources page of this website.