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Feeling unhappy, dissatisfied, sad, stressed, or like something is missing from your life can often be a sign that you have become disconnected from your values. Our values represent who we are. Not living or honoring our values can lead to feelings of discomfort, dissatisfaction, stress, and, in the long run, depression.

This is why self-connection is so important. Living a values-driven life (even though it can sometimes be difficult) is deeply satisfying. It leads to increased confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem. Knowing and respecting your values is a key step in claiming your unique power and creating a truly fulfilling and meaningful life.

When we become disconnected from ourselves and our values, it helps to understand how this disconnection occurred. This knowledge is empowering and is the first step in taking action to (re)connect to our true values.

Whether this applies to you, a friend, a loved one, or a client, here are 7 examples of how we get disconnected from our values:

  1. We Are Living According to Outdated Values

Sometimes, we continue to live according to values that no longer align with our current beliefs. As we grow and evolve, we form new opinions about what matters most in life, but we continue to live according to values we no longer believe in. This can also happen when we are stressed and tired, as we fall back into old habits.

Example: A parent taught us that “hard work is what matters most,” but recently, we have come to understand the importance of rest and relaxation. Yet, we keep pushing ourselves harder, leading to increasing dissatisfaction and internal conflict.

  1. ‘Should’ Values

We have learned how we should be and behave, but not who we really are. Perhaps we grew up in an environment where we were constantly told how we should be. We may have received love and affection only when we did what was expected of us. Now, we live life according to acceptable standards, but it is unsatisfying and unfulfilling.

Example: We have done everything right, we have the “perfect” life, and everyone says how lucky we are. We know we should be happy, but it feels like we are living someone else’s life. We may be unhappy and frustrated but cannot explain why. We are doing what we think we should do, but not what truly matters to us.

  1. Negative Associations

Have you ever expressed a core value when you were younger that led to strong negative reactions from others? Perhaps you loved creativity, fun, and play, but adults responded negatively, causing you to feel emotions like shame or fear.

It is quite common to learn (intentionally or unintentionally) from our caregivers that something we do is considered “bad.” Then, as adults, we go out of our way to avoid expressing this core value, even though it may be really important to us.

Examples: A small child expresses wonder at something, and a harassed parent angrily points out they are wasting time dawdling. A teenager is idealistic about the world, and a favorite teacher makes fun of them or tells them they are being ignorant or stupid. So, we learn to shut down and stop expressing our wonder or idealism, but later in life, we feel miserable, like something is missing in our lives.

  1. Fear of Change

Sometimes, we are afraid of what our values represent. Perhaps you have a life-changing realization, which means facing some difficult challenges or changes in our behavior. But it is much easier to “stick our head in the sand” and go back to living our life the way we always have.

Example: During recuperation from a major health threat, we learn how important rest and relaxation are to us, yet once recovered, we go back to working late and on weekends. We have more health issues, arguments with our spouse. We feel trapped but do not know how to break the cycle.

  1. Hyper-Focus on One Value at the Expense of Other Values

Sometimes, we get so focused on one value that we lose sight of the bigger picture. This is where we put so much effort into one value that we lose perspective and balance, and stop expressing other equally—or possibly more—important values.

Examples: We might become hyper-focused on our health, exercising so much that we do not have time for friends. Or we work such long hours that we eat a lot of junk food and our health suffers.

Sometimes, it can become extreme: a hyper-focus on the value of excellence could mean that we sacrifice our weekend (and attending our child’s football match) to finish a work document to an excessively high standard. Excellence becomes perfectionism, trumping important values like love, family, and happiness.

  1. You Do Not Know What Your Values Are, So You Emulate Others

We are unsure who we are and what matters most to us. So, we observe qualities in someone we admire and try to emulate their values—even though it isn’t really us.

Example: We admire Julie’s devotion to helping others. We think we want to be like her, so we continually volunteer, which leaves us no time for our own passions and activities. We end up tired, grumpy, and unhappy, but do not know why.

  1. A “Negative” Value Is So Deeply Ingrained That It Becomes an Unconscious Habit

Sometimes, we are simply blinded by habit. We may consciously reject a value we were taught, but because it is so deeply ingrained, we still unconsciously express that value in our lives.

Example: We had a parent who taught us that “one-upmanship” was the key—to always be better than those around us. Our parents divorced as a result, and we decided to be different. Yet, we keep upsetting our spouse and co-workers through our unconscious habit of having the last word. Why are people upset with us? What is wrong with everyone?

Does any of this resonate with you? Or does it apply to someone you know?

Living according to your values connects you to yourself: it is authentic living, and it is deeply satisfying. It is powerful to notice where we are NOT living according to our values. This is the first step to making a change and living a more authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life.

When we begin to cultivate awareness of our thoughts and emotions, we start to see how much we live according to other people’s and society’s beliefs and actions. Do not get upset by this. Just get in touch with how you really think and feel inside and begin to express your authenticity. – Alan Keightley

Change the World. Start with Yourself

Becoming aware of our disconnections and understanding how they happened is crucial to finding our way back to a life aligned with our values. Here are some additional steps to help you strengthen this connection:

Step 1: Identify Your Values

Take the time to reflect on what is truly important to you. What are the principles that guide your actions and decisions? Write them down and be honest with yourself.

Exercise: List your top five values and think about how they manifest (or do not) in your daily life.

Step 2: Assess Your Current Alignment

Compare your values with how you are currently living. Are there any gaps? Where do you feel disconnected?

Exercise: For each value, rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how much you are living in alignment with it. Identify areas needing improvement.

Step 3: Plan Concrete Actions

Develop a plan to align your life with your values. What actions can you take to live more authentically?

Exercise: Set specific, measurable goals for each value, and then plan practical steps to achieve those goals.

Step 4: Create a Support System

Surround yourself with people who respect and support your values. Share your goals with them and ask for their support.

Exercise: Join groups or communities that share similar values. Exchange ideas and experiences to stay motivated and inspired.

Step 5: Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you stay connected to your thoughts and emotions. It can help you recognize when you are straying from your values and refocus your attention.

Exercise: Incorporate mindfulness practices, such as meditation or journaling, into your daily routine.

Step 6: Be Patient and Persistent

Change does not happen overnight. Be patient with yourself and persevere in your efforts to live according to your values.

Exercise: Regularly review your progress and adjust your actions if necessary. Celebrate small victories to stay motivated.

Step 7: Accept and Learn from Your Failures

It is natural to make mistakes along the way. Use them as learning opportunities to better understand your values and how to integrate them into your life.

Exercise: After each failure, reflect on what you have learned and how you can use it to improve.

In conclusion, reconnecting with your values takes time, reflection, and determination. But the rewards are immense: a more authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life. By following these steps and staying true to yourself, you can transform your life and inspire those around you to do the same.

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