Identifying one’s values can bring substantial clarity. I know this from personal experience, but there is research support for the notion that self-insight about values can enhance personal and professional success.

Working with values is, in my opinion, one of life’s best practices. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that someone who does not periodically evaluate his or her values is almost bound to achieve less satisfaction and enjoyment from life.

An earlier post explained what values are and listed some common values.  Here I want to take that a step further, before later describing exercises that can help us figure out our values and providing guidance into how we might achieve greater self-direction and control by changing our values.

Why care about values? As I mentioned in the previous post:

“Substantial research shows that values may dictate and motivate our personal behavior. They influence our social and political preferences. They guide the persona we attempt to project to the outside world. They filter our evaluation of life experiences. They influence the tools we use to persuade others. And they critically influence our self-justification and self-criticism –how we persuade ourselves that we are right, and under what circumstances we determine we are in the wrong.”

Personally, value analysis has helped me understand why I make political choices. It has helped me to identify my preferences in theories of social justice.  It has guided me as I make choices about my career, and about how I act as a lawyer, counselor, and advisor.  It has helped me choose among the many available opportunities for getting involved in the communities I can impact.  And it has helped me realize how I want to modify my behavior over time.

These are powerful insights.  Identifying one’s values could help someone figure out why they are dissatisfied with current circumstances, help them set criteria for goal-setting, and help them understand more about what will give them personal achievement and success.

“Moving-toward” and “moving-away” values. Although my prior post listed a series of aspirational values, that requires an important qualification.  Tony Robbins, the thinker and motivational speaker, makes an important point:  values can either be things we want, or things we want to avoid.  He calls these “moving-toward” and “moving-away” values.  Robbins describes “moving-toward” values as follows:

“While it’s absolutely true that you and I are constantly motivated to move toward pleasurable emotional states, it’s also true that we value some emotions more than others. For example, what are the emotional states that you value most in life? What are the emotions that you think will give you the most pleasure? Love or success? Freedom or intimacy? Adventure or security? I call these pleasurable states that we value most moving-toward values because these are the emotional states will do the most to attain.”

Anthony Robbins, Awakening the Giant Within, at 349.  These “moving-toward” values correspond to the values listed in the various charts I provided in my last post.

By contrast, Robbins explains, we also have “moving-away” values:

“We must remember, then, that any time we make a decision about what to do, our brain first evaluates whether that action can possibly lead to either pleasurable or painful states. . . . The relative levels of pain we associate with certain emotions will affect all our decisions. What are some of the emotions that are most important for you to avoid experiencing on a consistent basis?”

Id. at 356.  That last sentence is the key: we need to know what we want to avoid, as well as what we want to experience.  Some examples of moving-away values may include frustration, embarrassment, humiliation, or shame. (Here is a list of others.) In noting the importance of acknowledging “moving-away” values, Robbins asserts that, in his experience, “[p]eople will do more to avoid pain than they will do to gain pleasure.” Id. at 357.

In tomorrow morning’s post, I will provide examples of exercises that may be used to identify one’s personal values.