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Hierarchy: From Values to Actions

You rarely set your values or principles. It is more likely that you simply have them. You own them (or they own you).

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In the article Value Setting: The Essential Task That Makes Goal Setting Worthwhile I mentioned that “just” setting goals is fine for newbies. But when you get serious about improving your life and being successful, you need to start with a base and rebuild your life from A to Z.

The process is very serious but not very complicated. It starts with a base of Values or Principles. From there you build a Vision or Mission for yourself. Next, you identify the Roles you play in your life. And, finally, you examine the Activities within those roles.

All the goal-setting and behavior changes take place at this “Activities” level. This is where we find the physical manifestation of what we say we believe. Your goals, and the actions you take to reach them, are at this level.

Let’s look at these layers from the foundation “up.”

Values / Principles

You rarely set your values or principles. It is more likely that you simply have them. You own them (or they own you). Whether you know it or not, there are principles that govern your life. There are values that affect every decision you make.

Most of us can rattle off a dozen values that we claim to hold. It’s much more difficult to sit down and go through the process of thinking about the values and beliefs that are most important to us. But this emotionally-difficult process is worth going through.

At least once every five years, you should take some of your quiet time to think about the beliefs and values and principles that matter most to you. Write them down. Work on this one day a week (for 20 minutes of quiet time) for five weeks. That should allow you enough focused attention to list five values that you really take seriously and that you’re willing to list as core values in your life.

Note: Be kind to yourself. Just because you list something does not mean that you are without fault in this area. You can value a healthy lifestyle and know that there are too many Twinkies in you life. You can value friendship and acknowledge that you’re not very good at maintaining relationships with people.

Let’s say you come up with the following five Values/Principles:

¨       Honesty, Integrity¨       Fairness¨       Good Personal Relationships¨       Healthy Life/Long Life¨       Helping Others

Note: Yours may be very different. These are just examples.

Mission / Vision

Once you have a set of Values or Principles, you get to work on the single most important sentence you’ll ever write: Your personal mission statement.

Once again, this takes some time. This is where you look over your values and principles and try to figure out the whole purpose of your life. That sounds dramatic. But, really, this is very valuable work.

It’s very sad, but many people spend so much of their lives chasing after “goals” without examining values and having a personal mission statement. In other words, they take visible action steps to achieve things that may not be related to the things that are important in their lives.

A personal mission statement is a simple, one sentence statement of what drives you in your life. It doesn’t have to be particularly profound. You can change it any time. When you boil it down to the basics, what brings value to your life?

The important rule to remember here is: Make this your mission statement. Make this your vision for your life. Do not accept “the world’s” vision about success. The last thing you want is to have lots of money, no friends, a family that can’t stand you, and to have a shallow, meaningless life. But that’s all that can come from following other people’s goals.

Your mission might be to related to your family or friends, to serving people or the community. It might be related to a cause you believe in, or to your religion. It can be anything that matters to you.

From the values listed above, you might derive the following mission statement:

My vision is to inspire success through a balance of serving myself
and serving others.

Notice that the mission does not have to be a perfect match. Your values will change over time as you evolve. Your mission should also flexible. Don’t be afraid to revisit this from time to time.

There’s more to cover on the subject of personal vision statements. But this is a great start.

Roles

The next bit of work for you is to think about the roles you play in your life. This should be much easier. Most of us play 3-5 roles. For example, I play the following roles in my life:

Individual

Husband

Father

Businessman

Community Member

Obviously, your roles will be different.

Note that Individual is separate from me as a spouse, me as a father, etc. This is just me. Don’t forget to list your role as an individual. A great deal of unhappiness comes from pretending that we don’t need to tend to ourselves or acknowledge what we need independent from all the other roles of our lives.

There are other, minor roles. Looking into my life from the outside, you might see other roles than I see. But as I divide up all the various aspects of my life, these are the divisions that make sense to me today.

You are likely to have roles for you as an individual, you at work, you in a relationship, and so forth. Play with it. Change it. Rethink it.

These roles then become the basic categories for your goals. So now, at long last, we’re ready for visible, physical manifestations of what matters in your life. You’ve defined values and principles, you’ve got a mission statement, and you’ve identified the major activity areas of your life.

Activities

Activities — the actions you take — are derived from this hierarchy of values, vision, and roles. The secret to living a happy, stress-free life is to bring the Activities of your life into alignment with the values and vision of your life. Stress and unhappiness are a result of conflicts between how you see yourself and how you are.

Let’s take one value as an example: Generosity. If you see yourself as a generous person, but know that your actions are not generous, that causes internal stress. Perhaps you don’t have enough money to be financially generous. There’s no crime in that. Look at the other roles in your life. Are you generous with your time, with your love, with your friendship?

Where you find consistency between your values and your actions, there you will find personal fulfillment and happiness.

Goals then become visible, physical actions that can be taken to bring your activities and daily life into alignment with your stated values and vision. You should examine your activities and goals for each role you play.

If you want to start moving toward greater happiness and personal fulfillment today, start identifying three goals for each role in your life. In my example, I would have three goals for me as an individual, three goals for me as a father, three goals for me as a husband, and so forth.

Concluding Comments

This is a serious and time-consuming process. But it should not be difficult. And the truth is, without this entire process, you will find yourself chasing the wrong rainbows. There is no happiness or fulfillment in following someone else’s dream.

This takes time. But nothing in your life is more important than determining the most important things in your life!

If you follow this process — if you take 15-30 minutes a day and work on values and vision, on defining roles and defining goals, you will automatically find yourself rethinking the actions you take every day.

You will realize that some things just don’t matter. You may have been doing them for years. But now you realize they’re not even on your radar. You’ve been working on, and stressing over things that just aren’t important to you. Now you can walk away and it feels good.

You will also see where values and activities are not aligned. Perhaps you say your family is important, but you don’t have time to spend with them. Writing down your values, vision, roles, and goals will put these contrasts right in front of you. Then your mind will begin doing the work of figuring out how to bring alignment to your life.

There are two options for re-aligning your life with your stated values. One is to change your behavior. No matter how difficult it may be, the process will result in greater happiness.

The other option is to rethink the values. Perhaps family just isn’t as important as you thought. Perhaps “society” has made you feel guilty about not having family on the top of the list. So you put it there. Now you begin to see that it’s just not your value.

Whatever you do, whatever you decide, the rewards for this work are tremendous. Take it seriously. But be kind to yourself, too. This is your life. Make the most of it.

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Karl W. Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk

Author of Relax Focus Succeed and 19 more books.

Karl W. Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk

Author of Relax Focus Succeed and 19 more books.

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