Have you ever noticed how things that are really not important to you go into the trash, the attic, or the storage closet? By contrast, you keep the things that are important to you where you can see them, either at home or at work. What does your life demonstrate through your space? When you look around your home or office, do you see family photos, sports trophies, business awards, books? Do you see beautiful objects, comfortable furniture for friends to sit on, or souvenirs of favorite places you’ve visited? Perhaps your space is full of games, puzzles, DVDs, CDs, or other forms of entertainment. Whatever you see around you is a very strong clue as to what you value most.
Here’s something you can count on: people always make time for things that are really important to them and run out of time for things that aren’t. Even though people usually say, “I don’t have time for what really I want to do,” the truth is that they are too busy doing what is truly most important to them. And what they think they want to be doing isn’t really what’s most important. You always find time for things that are really important to you. Somehow, you figure it out. So how do you spend your time? I personally spend my days researching, writing, teaching, and traveling. Those are my four highest values. I always find time for doing them. And I almost never find time for cooking, driving, and doing domestic things, which are low on my list of values. How you spend your time tells you what matters to you most.
You always have energy for things that inspire you – the things you value most. You run out of energy for things that don’t. Things that are low among your values drain you; things that are high among your values energize you. In fact, when you are doing something that you value highly, you have more energy at the end of the day than when you started because you’re doing something that you love and are inspired by. So how do you spend your energy – and where do you get your energy?
Again, you always find money for things that are valuable to you, but you never want to part with your money for things that are not important to you. So your choices about spending money tell you a great deal about what you value most. Now, at this point, you might be noticing some overlap: some similarities between what you fill your space with and how you spend your time, energy, and money. That is healthy. It means that you have already aligned a lot of your values, goals, and daily activities. If you notice a lot of divergence between the answers to these first four questions, you might benefit from bringing your values and goals into deeper alignment.
We tend to bring order and organization to things that are important to us and to allow chaos and disorder with things that are low on our values. So look at where you have the greatest order and organization in your life, and you’ll have a good sense of what matters most to you. In my case, I see the most order and organization in my research and teaching materials, and in my itinerary for traveling. This helps me see that my values involve research, writing, teaching, and travel.
Where are you most reliable, disciplined, and focused? You never have to be reminded from the outside to do the things that you value the most. You are inspired from within to do those things and so you do them. Look at the activities, relationships, and goals for which you are disciplined, reliable, and focused – the things that nobody has to get you up to do. For me, again, that’s researching, writing, travel, speaking, and teaching. I love those things!
I’m not talking about the negative self-thought or the things that distract you. I’m not talking about the fantasies, “shoulds,” or “oughts.” I’m talking about your most common thoughts about how you want your life – thoughts that you show slow or steady evidence of actually bringing to fruition.
Again, I’m not talking about fantasies. I’m asking what you visualize for your life that is slowly but surely coming true. In my case, I visualize traveling the world and setting foot in every country on the face of the Earth. That is what I visualize. And that is what I am realizing. So what are you visualizing and realizing?
What do you keep talking to yourself about the most? I am not asking about negative self-talk or self-aggrandizement. I want you to think of your preoccupation with what you desire most – intentions that actually seem to be coming true and showing some fruits. What are the three things that you have internal dialogues about?
Okay, now here’s a clue that you’ll probably notice for other people as well as yourself. What are the topics that you keep wanting to bring into the conversation that nobody has to remind you to talk about? What subjects turn you into an instant extrovert? Whether your ‘baseline’ personality is extrovert or introvert, you’ve probably noticed that there are topics that immediately bring you to life and start you talking and others that turn you into an introvert who has nothing to say – or make you want to change the subject. You can use this same insight to analyze other people’s values. If you go up to somebody and they ask you about your kids, that means their kids are important to them. If they say, “How’s business?” they value business. If they ask, “Are you seeing anyone new?”, then relationships matter to them. Topics that attract you are a key to what you value.
What inspires you now? What has inspired you in the past? What is common to the people who inspire you? Figuring out what inspires you most reveals what you value most.
What are the three long-term goals that you have focused on that you are bringing into reality? Again, I’m not talking about the fantasies that nothing is happening with. I want the dreams you are bringing into reality slowly but surely, the dreams that have been dominating your mind and your thoughts for a time – the dreams that you are bringing into daily life, step by step by step.
What are the three most common topics you love learning or reading about most? What three topics can you stay focused on and love learning about without distraction.
Once you’ve written down three answers for each of the 13 questions, you’ll see that among your 39 answers, there is a certain amount of repetition – perhaps even a lot of repetition. You may be expressing the same kinds of value in different ways – for example, “spending time with people I like,” “having a drink with the folks from work,” “going out to eat with my friends” – but if you look closely, you can see some patterns begin to emerge. So look at the answer that is most often repeated and write beside it the number of how often it repeats. Then find the second most frequent answer, then the third, and so on, until you have ranked every single answer. This gives you a good primary indicator of what your highest values are. You can even start making decisions based on this initial hierarchy of values – and you can see how your life is already demonstrating your commitment to these values.