Building a Life of Purpose and Meaning: How Personal Values Guide Your Decisions

Life’s a wild ride, throwing curveballs and crossroads at every turn. From the mundane to the monumental, each choice shapes my path. But how do I navigate this complex terrain? How do I ensure every step resonates with my true self and what truly matters? The answer lies within, in my personal values – my guiding star.

These values are more than just words; they’re the fundamental principles that give my life meaning. They shape my priorities, guide my decisions, and fuel my actions. They’re the bedrock of who I am, the foundation upon which I build my sense of purpose, echoing the ancient Greek notion of “know thyself.”

But why are they so important?

Clarity and Direction: Like a compass in a storm, my values provide a map, helping me make decisions that resonate with my true self. They offer direction and purpose, guiding me towards a life that feels deeply fulfilling.

Stronger Relationships: When I live by my values, I weave trust and strengthen bonds with others. My authenticity and consistency shine through, fostering deeper connections and meaningful relationships.

Resilience in the Face of Adversity: When life throws punches, my values become my anchor, similar to the Stoic concept of “apatheia” – calmness and emotional stability. They help me stay grounded, make ethical choices, and navigate difficult situations with integrity.

Greater Happiness and Well-being: Living in harmony with my values fosters a sense of inner peace and contentment,freedom from worry and anxiety. It leads to a happier and more fulfilling life, resembling the Taoist concept of “wuxin” – the state of effortless action.

So, how do I discover these guiding principles?

Self-Reflection: Like Socrates’ “know thyself” philosophy, I delve into my past, dissecting experiences that brought joy and those that caused distress. Identifying these emotions reveals the values that resonate deeply within me.

List-Making: I create a list of qualities I admire and aspire to embody, drawing inspiration from the ancient wisdom of various cultures. Words like honesty, kindness, compassion, courage, and integrity become stepping stones to self-discovery.

Prioritization: Once my list is complete, I prioritize the values that hold the most weight. These become my guiding lights, shaping my decisions and actions.

Living Congruently:

  • I set goals and make choices aligned with my values.
  • I communicate them openly and honestly to others.
  • I hold myself accountable for my actions, drawing inspiration from the Stoic practice of “amor fati” – love of one’s fate.
  • I embrace challenges and opportunities to grow and strengthen my values, mirroring the Taoist principle of “wu wei” – effortless action.

Living by my values is a continuous journey, requiring constant self-reflection and growth. It’s not always easy, but the rewards are immeasurable. By staying true to my core beliefs, I create a life filled with meaning, purpose, and lasting happiness. This is my journey of self-discovery, and my values are the guiding stars that light the way, illuminated by the wisdom of ages past.

I’m including some exercises that can be helpful when peeling the value onion.

Finding your values exercises

Exercise 1: Can you reflect back on a moment where you felt happy, fulfilled and proud of yourself? Take some time to describe this moment in detail. Identify what elements of this situation, in particular, led to these feelings of happiness and pride.

  1. What were you doing?
  2. Were you with other people, and if so who?
  3. What other factors contributed to your happiness?

In the same way that we feel happy and fulfilled when we’re living out our values, we can also experience feelings of regret, sadness, and emptiness when we are not living out our values.

Exercise 2: Take a few moments to remember a time when you felt incredibly regretful. Describe the details of this situation/memory: what was it specifically that led to these feelings of regret?

Feeling frustrated or unfulfilled can often be a sign that our values might be being quashed, perhaps by parts of ourselves, by external situations or other people.

Exercise 3: Identify a time when you felt frustrated, unfulfilled, empty or annoyed? Make a note of the particular elements of this situation that led to these feelings of frustration, unfulfillment and emptiness.

There are certain activities that we can find ourselves doing that engross us and cause us to get into the flow. These are usually activities that are challenging and rewarding, and when we’re doing them we often lose track of time.

Exercise 4: Make a list of any activities where you experience this flow? What is it specifically about these activities that you enjoy so much?

We cannot grow in life without being evoked by inspiration: creativity, self-esteem, perceived competence and optimism are all consequences of inspiration. From a very early age we adopt this idea of wishing to be like someone in order to become someone; whilst in our earliest years our concept of inspiration tended to revolve around what you wanted to be in terms of career, as we get older, we take inspiration from people who we admire the traits of. There are certain people that we come across in life who we find inspiring and embody qualities or live lives that we aspire to.

Exercise 5: Who are your role models and what qualities about these individuals do you admire?

Exercise 6: Everyone has something to offer to the world. Take the time on this page to acknowledge what you have to give to those around you, and what makes you of value. What are my natural gifts and qualities? When do other people usually turn to you for help? What qualities and gifts do you identify in yourself that you believe others may find of value?

Exercise 7: Determine your most important values, based on your experiences of inner peace. Consider why each experience is so memorable and important?  I like to use this great online tool: https://personalvalu.es/personal-values-test

Exercise 8: Reaffirming your values – Take a few moments to check your top-priority values and make sure they fit with your life and your vision for yourself.

  1. Do the values you’ve chosen make you feel good about yourself
  2. Are you proud of your top three values?
  3. Would you be comfortable telling people you respect your values?
  4. Do these values represent things you would support, even if your choice weren’t popular and put you in the minority?

When you take into consideration your values in decision making, you can be certain to keep a sense of integrity and what you know is right, while being able to approach decisions with confidence and clarity. 

You’ll also know that what you’re currently doing is motivated by the progress that you want to make in life. It’s not always easy to make value-based choices, but it will more than likely make life much easier in the long run.

KEY POINTS

  • Identifying and taking the time to understand your values is an important and challenging exercise. Your personal values are central to who you are – and who you want to become.
  • By becoming more aware of these important factors in your life, you can use them as a guide to make the best choice in any situation. Some of life’s decisions are really about determining what you value most.
  • When many options seem reasonable, it can be comforting and helpful to rely on your core values and use them as a strong guiding force to point you in the right direction.
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Nathan Nordby
Nathan Nordby is a former Marine, recovering CEO, and current life coach. After leaving the corporate world and years of personal exploration, he’s been on a mission to invite as many people as he can to the rewards of self-discovery. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Creative Living, Metamorfix, a board member of J & J Foundation, a member of Mission 43, a founding member of the Life Design Project, and is active in several men’s groups.
Nathan Nordby
Nathan Nordby is a former Marine, recovering CEO, and current life coach. After leaving the corporate world and years of personal exploration, he’s been on a mission to invite as many people as he can to the rewards of self-discovery. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Creative Living, Metamorfix, a board member of J & J Foundation, a member of Mission 43, a founding member of the Life Design Project, and is active in several men’s groups.