Have you ever felt like you don’t know what to do? As if you’re standing at a crossroads and there’s no way to turn that particularly speaks to you. Or the opposite: That each direction looks great and you’re not sure which would suit you best. Maybe you’re living a life that doesn’t feel particularly fulfilling, but you’re not sure what to do about it. What choices should you make? What’s important to you and what makes you happy?
What’s important to me?
You’re not the only one to ever ask questions like this. Sooner or later, most people end wondering if they’re doing the right thing. Sometimes these questions relate to an aspect of your life that isn’t going so well (maybe a relationship that’s just ended or a job that doesn’t feel like a good fit anymore), but sometimes they come from a place of pure curiosity.
Even if the process that follows ends up being a bit of a bumpy ride, it’s really good when these questions come up and you have the opportunity to get to know yourself a little better. “By taking a more intentional approach, you get more clarity about what you want and what’s less of a good fit,” explains Jasmijn, a psychologist at OpenUp. “If you have an idea of what’s important to you and what your values are, you’ll be better at navigating your way through life. That ends up being pretty satisfying.”
Your life’s work
“But knowing what’s important to you and what your values are isn’t always something you can figure out during a single appointment with a psychologist or a morning of deep reflection. It’s basically your life’s work,” continues Jasmijn. So, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t know what you want right away.
Things like this take time to really take shape and come to fruition. Another important point: Sometimes your course will change throughout your lifetime. Maybe five years ago you really wanted to build a life abroad, but now you feel very differently about that. As you gain experiences and meet new people, your values and plans for the future will naturally change.
Knowing what you want
So, how do you get started with this valuable life’s work? Jasmijn: “You could do this, for example, by thinking about your values, answering questions or doing some exercises.”
1. Answering questions
Write down the following questions in a notebook and try to make your answers as detailed as possible. Tip: Before you answer the questions meditate for a little while in order to get closer to your feelings and figure out the answers.
- What does your perfect work day/relationship/day off look like? What are the most important elements?
- What gives you energy? What takes your energy away?
- What did you really enjoy or do well as a child?
- What are some moments or periods that have made you feel inspired? Why was that?
- Which films, books, and conversations have really moved you? Why was that?
- Who have you admired in the past or who do you admire now? Why is that? What does this person stand for?
- What would you do if you were a multi-millionaire? What does this say about your values and what’s important to you?
- How do you want to look back on your life when you’re lying on your deathbed?
Jasmijn: “Take time to really dive into these questions and provide appropriate answers that you can truly stand behind. You don’t have to answer them all in one go. In fact, it’s better not to. Go back to them after a few days or weeks and see if everything still matches up with your ideas and feelings.
2. Photographing your life
Another exercise that can help you to get a clearer idea of what is important to you is photographing your life. This exercise is based on research that was published in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science and it helps you to reflect on the moments you truly value.
For a week, take at least one photo per day of a moment you value. You can do this on your phone if you like. Ideally, you’ll end up with nine to twelve photos of moments that are important to you. This could be your first cup of coffee in the morning or the moment when you get home from work and sit at the dinner table with your family talking about your day.
After a week, print off your photos and for each image, describe why that moment was so important to you. By the end, you’ll have a clear overview of the things that are important to you and what you value.
3. Choosing your values
Jasmijn: “You can also skip directly to identifying your values. One way of doing this is through the ‘value sort activity’. Look online for a list of core values (you can always add your own) and write them down on cards. Make a pile of all of these values and sort them into the following categories: Important, somewhat important and not important.
How many values do you roughly need to have? There’s no right or wrong answer. Coach, writer and author of the book The Fountain, Finding Your Place, Els van Steijn thinks you should have roughly seven, but more or less is okay.
You can also have different values for different areas of your life. It’s possible that you could apply different values to your work (innovation, creativity, quality) than you do to your home life (stability, family, warmth). Go over which values you think are important for each area.” You’ll find the full exercise here.
Do you find this difficult? Our psychologists can always help you to answer the questions. Schedule a consultation and we’ll get started together.
Living your values
Now that you have a clear idea of your values, it’s time for step two. This is all about taking a stand for what you believe in and living your values. This can be challenging, especially in the beginning. After all, to change things you need to take action and this requires courage.
“Living according to your values is not always easy. Insecurities, for example, can tempt you to set goals that don’t align with your values,” explains Jasmijn. “Your brain may make a lot of assumptions related to living your values, such as: ‘it’s not the right time’, ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘what will others think?’.
To start living your values, you can begin by addressing the areas of your life that feel particularly important to you right now. Maybe at the moment you’re mainly focus on finding a new job, or some other challenge at work. Maybe your main focus is your physical well-being.
Next, it helps to figure out concrete ways to integrate you values into your life. Suppose you think connection is important – what would you want to achieve with this? Set a (SMART) goal for yourself and establish some (small!) steps you can take to make this a reality.
Jasmijn: “Remember that you can’t turn your whole life around in a day. Start by taking small steps. Even small steps can bring about lasting change.”
You’ll notice that the more often your make decisions based on your values, the easier it gets. And the next time you’re stood at a crossroads, not sure which way to turn, you might just realize that all you need to do is step on the gas and drive to the next one.
👉 We’ve also created a program called “Living the life you want” in which you’ll learn how to live your life according to your values.