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By Marcia Murphy, MA

How often do we actually feel in control of our lives? Or does it seem that we are just swept along day to day reacting to whatever happens to come our way? There is a way to begin to regain control of our lives and guide the direction we want it to move in. We do this by what is known as “values-based living”, which uses what we value most in our lives as the guiding principles for us. Our values and priorities are what we use to make all decisions, big and small, to build a sense of well-being and purpose. The following are basic steps that can be followed to begin to build a values-based lifestyle.

1. Identify your values and priorities

The first step toward a values-based life is to find out what your values actually are! An easy way to start is to separate your life into specific domains. These can include finances, career, health, leisure activities, relationships, and spirituality. Rate the importance of each of these on a scale of 0-10, and then list them according to this priority. There are no right or wrong answers, and everyone will have a different list of priorities.

After doing this, find ways to describe what it is that you value about these areas. For example, in relationships, you may state that you value family, love or connection. Or for the domain of leisure activities you may identify freedom, fun or alone time. The sky is the limit to how any of these can be defined and again, will be unique for each person.

2. Create life goals

We all have things that we want to accomplish in life, yet many times we fail to fully define what these are and therefore, they remain just wishes or longings. Sometimes, these desires may be unattainable, however this does not have to be the case. The next step in building a values-based life is to concretely define what these goals are. Using the domains outlined above, identify both long-term or shorter-term goals to hone in on what to strive for and move towards. It is important that remember that goals do not have to be rigid, and can change over time, depending on what phase of life we are in. These goals can be revisited and redefined as necessary. In knowing what our specific goals are, we can then begin to identify what is needed to move forward in achieving them, one step at a time.

3. Evaluate your current activities

Now it is time to look at what we are currently devoting our time and energy to in our daily lives. Look at your schedule and list what takes up most of your time. We can find ourselves saying yes to many things, all of which may be good, but can actually distract us from moving toward our goals and diminish our well-being. When we find we are feeling drained by being pulled in many directions, we must pause and ask ourselves, who is in control? When we look at our activities alongside our values list from above, we can start to see which activities align with our values, and which are getting in the way of achieving our defined goals. Which leads us to…

4. Cut the excess, Add the beneficial

When we find ourselves to be over-extended, exhausted and stressed, there may be some areas that need to give. All of the activities that we get involved in, and responsibilities we have may seem to be good things, however doing them all is detrimental to our sense of peace and self-assurance. Ask yourself which of these activities, friendships, responsibilities or expectations align with what you have defined as your values. If there are any that are not in line with these or are not helping you move toward your goals, then perhaps it is time to let them go. That way, you will have space to add those things that you do value and that will help you feel more in control of where your life is heading. For example, are you being asked to do tasks by others outside your family (work or social groups) that keep you from engaging in quality time with family or friends? If we can say no to merely good things, which do not align with what we value, we will be able to say yes to those things that are better that will move us toward our future goals.

5. Align decisions with values

The most important part of building a values-based life is to consider every decision with your values, priorities and goals in mind. This goes for both small and large decisions and can actually help the decision-making process easier! Think about grocery shopping, if we value healthy eating, using values-based decision making, we will not purchase the high-calorie cake or donuts. If we have a goal to pay off debt, we will pause before going on a shopping spree. If we desire to have trustworthy and authentic relationships, we will choose to be trustworthy and authentic in all our interactions. We make many decisions every single day, and so starting with aligning these small decisions with values will help us build the ability to do the same with the larger, life-changing decisions. If we follow this intentional living, soon we discover that maybe those goals are not unattainable after all!

Although there may still be unexpected situations that we encounter, if we remain mindful of what we value, we can navigate these much more easily rather than reacting out of emotion or panic. And ultimately, we gain this sense of control and assurance that no matter what happens, we are living authentically and with purpose. This can make a big difference in our attitudes, mood and overall well-being, with the knowledge that we are truly living the best life possible! 

Taking the next step

Lime Tree Counseling is here to help! Our team of therapists provide anxiety counseling, trauma counseling, addictions counseling, grief counseling and more. We provide services at our office in Lower Gwynedd, PA as well as online counseling in Pennsylvania, online counseling in North Carolina and online counseling in Colorado. Reach out today, get connected quickly and get started creating change!