Woman looking out window, reflecting.

Living in alignment with our goals

We all have values, whether we are aware of them or not. Some we inherit from our culture, our families, communities and the media. Others are unique to us.

Values orient us and guide our choices and behaviours. They are like directions we head in, and include things like connection, honesty, achievement, learning and helping others.

When we live in accordance with our values, we tend to feel meaning-based happiness. Sometimes called “eudaimonic” (“eu” meaning good, as in euthymic and eustress and “daimonic” meaning guidance), this type of happiness is far more resilient that the more familiar “hedonic” happiness – the joy that comes from pleasant experiences.

However, many of us are not fully aware of our values, and as a result can at times think, say and do things that are not in alignment. When we do this, something tends to feel off and often things don’t work out for us.

Identify your core values and further consider how you can live in accordance with them

Please note that in this step you have an opportunity to do an exercise to identify your core values and further consider how you can live in accordance with them. There is also a similar optional exercise in the See Also section of this step which gives you lists of values to choose from and then group, as a way to identify your core values.

You may like to take a look at both before choosing which one most appeals to you, mindfully combine them, or revisit one at a later date.

We understand that this kind of exercise can take some time, so please note that you are more than welcome to revisit these exercises at a later date, and may even find it useful to do so, to consolidate and reflect on what you have discovered.

Uncovering core values

There are a number of ways to uncover our core values. Here is an exercise that you may find useful.

First, take some time to quieten down

Close or lower your eyes and tune in to your body. Let go of distractions, plans and mental noise. Take five mindful breaths and then open your eyes again.

Reflect on what is most meaningful to you in your life

What activities do you like doing the most? What kind of things feel most in alignment with you on a deeper level?

What would you like to be remembered for?

Some people like to imagine their funeral and what people might say about them in the eulogy or write on their headstone. If that is too morbid, you can just think about how you would like to spend your life so that you would feel fulfilled looking on it later in life.

What values do these activities reflect?

For instance, if you imagined yourself raising a healthy, happy family, perhaps your values include relationship, nurturing or teaching others. If you imagined having a brilliant career, perhaps you value achievement or success. If you imagined growing old reading books or studying, you might value learning. Perhaps you value health, or spiritual development, or time alone.

List your values

You may find it helpful to group your values into different categories/domains. For example, relationships, intrapersonal, physical, social, work, mental, education, financial, spiritual, recreation, or any other themes/areas that work for you, and then list your thematically linked values in each.

You can create lists or a mindmap with pen and paper, digitally with your phone, device or computer, or in any other format that’s comfortable for you. To get you started consider browsing an example of a mindmap of personal values, which you may find helpful.

Review and rate your list

Review your list of values and then rate them by placing a number from 1 to 10 next to each, where 10 means you are living fully in accordance with these values and 1 means you are barely living in accordance with then at all.

Set goals

Now you might like to set some goals. Whereas values are directions we head in, goals are waypoints on the way. For instance, if you value relationships, perhaps some congruent goals could include finding a partner, getting married and having kids, or maybe just making a few more friends. If you value learning, perhaps you would like to set a goal to study something or get a degree.

First steps

Commit to working on at least one value, perhaps setting a concrete goal, breaking it down into steps and then working diligently toward achieving the first step.

Please note that in the next step Craig talks about mindful goals, which may help guide you with this part of the exercise.

Celebrate progress

Notice and savour any feelings of eudaimonic happiness that arise whenever you are aligned with your values / working toward achieving your goals.

You may like to take some time to practise self-appreciation when you recognise the efforts you have made to be aligned with your values and/or steps you have taken toward achieving your goal, and perhaps practise gratitude for any people or circumstances that have supported you to do so.

Things you may notice

You may also notice discomfort arise at times. For instance, if you value relationships, you may at times be disappointed or get your feelings hurt. This discomfort is part of living a value-directed life (versus hiding away in your house and avoiding unpleasant feelings – something called “experiential avoidance”).

Use mindfulness to tolerate any discomfort without reacting to it, and keep noticing the feelings that come with alignment, integrity and eudaimonic happiness.


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This article is from the free online course:

Maintaining a Mindful Life

Monash University