Do you know what the most common regret people express on their deathbed is? It’s “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
This blog post is about how not to have that regret on your deathbed.
So, what stops people from living a life that’s true to them?
The first thing that stops people from living a life that’s true to them is the fact that they never defined or got clear on what’s true to them. They never got clear on what their own deepest values are and what’s meaningful to them.
When we feel out of touch with the deepest and truest part of ourselves, it’s all to common to fall into just following societal norms and values (which are often very different from your own) or we submit to doing what our loved ones want us to do (often in an attempt to get them to like/approve of us) instead of what we really want to do. Sound familiar?
“‘Cheshire Cat,’ asked Alice. ‘Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?’ ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to go,’ said the Cat. ‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice. ‘Then it doesn’t matter where you go,’ said the Cat.” –Lewis Carrol
The second thing that stops people from living their truth is a lack of awareness. A lack of mindfulness. Without mindfulness we tend to live much of our lives on ‘autopilot’ and when we’re on autopilot we often fall into conditioned, mechanical patterns of thought and behavior… most of which we did not consciously choose, and most of which was handed down to us from our culture and upbringing. Living in unawareness like this leads to a sense of discontent and disconnection from ourselves.
Mindfulness means waking up out of autopilot and connecting deeply with ourselves and our lives. It’s the ‘art of conscious living’ as Jon Kabat-Zinn likes to say. Mindfulness gives us the capacity not only to ‘listen to our hearts’ and to stay in touch with what’s meaningful to us, but it also gives us the ability to respond (from our values) and not to react (from old conditioning).
In other words, mindfulness is needed in order to LIVE your values on a daily basis.
What Are Values and Why Are They So Important?
We all have values – they are as much a part of us as our blood types or our genetic make up. They are as unique to us as our individual thumbprints. Our core values determine what’s really important and meaningful to us.
Values are who you are in your own deepest nature, not who you think you should be in order to fit in. They’re like a compass that points us to our “true north.”
When the way you think, speak and behave match your values, life feels very good – you feel whole, content, in your power. But when these don’t align with your personal values, then things feel… wrong. Life feels uneasy. You feel out of touch, discontented, restless, unhappy.
As you can see from the number one regret of the dying, there is a steep price to pay for not living according to ‘what’s true to you.’ When life feels ‘wrong’ many people try to ‘fill up’ through external pleasuring or they may try numbing or distracting themselves by keeping busy… but until you come back to living your truth, until you come back to this internal homeostasis of balance and ease, those efforts to ‘fix’ things externally will be futile.
This is why making a conscious effort to identify and live your values is so vitally important. Here is a simple six-step process to help you identify your own core values…
“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one that you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”
How To Discover Your Core Values in Six Simple Steps…
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
STEP 1: EXPLORE
Let’s start of with an exercise to help you clearly identify your core values. Grab a pen and paper or perhaps you can choose to take notes on your computer or device.
Can you recall a moment where you felt totally yourself? A peak moment of life when you were in your element, when everything just felt… aligned? A moment when you felt happy and fulfilled? Take some time to recall this peak moment. When you’re ready, take some notes describing this peak moment in some detail.
For example, here is one of my own recent peak moments:
I had been teaching a retreat for four days and we (there were 40 of us all together) were doing a ‘closing circle’ since the retreat was coming to an end. As people began to share one by one, they really opened their hearts and shared very intimate stories, spoke of personal breakthroughs and deep insights into the human condition. There was a real sense of love, tenderness and camaraderie in the room. There were tears of laughter and tears of joy… we all ended up crying together! It felt so intimate, real and deeply connecting. I felt like I was doing exactly what I should be doing.
Once you’ve written down a peak experience of your own then…
Ok, now that you have your peak experience written down, think about what values were being expressed and felt in that moment. What was important to you about this moment that made it so special?
From the moment I described above, I can extract that I value:
-Love and connection
-Working with people to help them suffer less and be happier (Contribution)
-Being open, vulnerable and authentic
-Feelings of courage and strength
-Vitality – a deep sense of aliveness
So now jot down a couple of things from your peak moment. Got them?
STEP 3: CHOOSE
Pick one or two values that you’ve identified as most important to you. Write them down on your paper.
Out of my five values identified above, I feel like ‘contribution’ is the one that is most important to me in my life. A close second would be ‘love.’
STEP 4: DEFINE
Now write a little bit about what your chosen value (or values) means to you. Different words mean different things to different people so it’s important to define what this value means to YOU in your life.
To me ‘contribution’ essentially means that I am being kind and caring… I am expressing the love in my heart. I am helping the world to become more peaceful, happy, healthy and in harmony. Contribution is an outward flow from my innate feelings of love towards life. The value of ‘love’ is very closely related but subtly different to me. Love as mentioned above means to me that I am feeling a deep sense of connection with another being or with life in that moment.
Write what your values mean to you, and then…
STEP 5: NAME
Choose a value name that feels right to YOU. Like I said, different words can mean different things for people so it’s important to define how this word is meaningful to you.
For instance, the word contribution to me is only meaningful if I am truly expressing my innate love for life.
I wouldn’t feel I was expressing my value of contribution if I were doing someone a favor, for example, but doing it begrudgingly. To me it always has to have genuine loving energy behind it. Contribution to me is active. Another word for contribution, in the way I mean it, could be ‘kindness.’ In fact, I feel that word fits better for me so I an going to name this value ‘kindness.’
Also perhaps to someone else ‘love’ would mean romantic love or it might mean speaking and acting in certain ways. My personal value of love means to me that I am experiencing and expressing feelings of connection and intimacy with a being or with life. So ‘love’ is my second value name.
What are yours? Jot them down.
STEP 6: REPEAT and REVEAL YOUR CORE VALUES
Now that you have one or two values you can now repeat steps 1 to 5 until you have a set of 5 to 7 values. We call this your set of core values. You may notice the same ones coming up again and again and that’s fine. See though, if you can explore the new ones that come up as you go through the steps again until you have your core 5 to 7.
Next week we’ll talk about how to LIVE your values in daily life (the most important part!) so stay tuned for that. But one more thing I’d like to make clear about values before we go.
The Difference Between Values and Goals
There is an important distinction that needs to be made between values and goals.
Values provide a deep sense of ongoing direction for our lives – they are not ends in themselves. Goals are things that we want to achieve or do – they are often ends in themselves. Values always exist in the present moment… they can be drawn on at any given moment. Goals are in the future.
Values Are Not Rules Or Commandments
Some spiritual traditions tell people what they should value and how they should act but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Values, in the way we speak of it here, are freely chosen by YOU. Your true values are not imposed on you from external sources. They come from listening to your heart and tuning in to what matters the most to YOU.
In order to live a life that is true to you, you must be willing to be completely honest with yourself about what you value most in life.
Values are not rules or commandments and they’re best held lightly. They don’t need to become rigid or static. Values may take new forms and change and develop over time.
Now you know what your values are. In the next post I’ll give you two powerful mindfulness-based practices to help you live your values in daily life. See you then!
Of course, as always, please let me know if you have questions and comments in the comments section below. I’d love to hear how you go with it 🙂