The Power of Personal Values

Dr. Larry Cohen (856) 352-5428

If we are to find true happiness, it is essential that we take inventory of, and live in congruence with our personal values. When one betrays one’s values, negative feelings almost always result. Negative feelings about our self, and how we see our self (in basic terms, as a good person or as a bad person), will result, and negatively affect our lives. For example, if loyalty is one of your core values, when you gossip or say negative things about a friend, you are likely to feel badly about yourself. You are not being loyal, which is one of your core values. If you are not living your life with integrity and behaving in accord with your own values, you will experience unhappiness, anxiety, and discontent. To find happiness, one must inventory and be fully aware of one's core values, and one must live in congruence with them.

Living in accordance with your values has an enormous impact on your life. Doing so insures positive self-worth, and strengthens the relationships you have with others around you. Over time, living a life of integrity - a life driven by your values - leads to sustainable personal power and control over one’s life. Integrity provides solid ground on which to live. It increases and maintains the depth of your self-esteem, solidifies your self-confidence, and maintains your inner strength.

There are, of course, life circumstances that are completely out of our control (such as the behavior of others). Even so, you must choose to live in accordance with your personal values, and interact with life’s uncontrollable forces with integrity. Strength of conviction, belief in yourself, and an unwavering alignment between your values and your actions will provide you the energy needed to successfully stay in control of your life.


Complete a ‘Values’ Inventory

Taking a ‘values’ inventory may seem pretty straight-forward. Sit yourself down and write out a list of your core values. OK, I value having a monogamous, lifelong commitment to my spouse. And, I value kindness toward others. I value not letting others down when they need help. I value honesty. I value taking care of my family. These are virtuous values. What you need to ask yourself is if you have lived in accordance with these values over the course of your lifetime? Have you cheated on a partner in the past? Have you been unkind to others without provocation? Have you been unreliable when others have asked for help? The ‘values’ inventory is important, and it serves 3 purposes: 1) to concretely identify (in writing) what you value, 2) to identify the times when you fell short of living up to them, and 3) to understand why you fell short.

Its purpose is not to suddenly transform you into a saint (good luck with that one!) The inventory's purpose is to promote mindfulness and reclaim awareness of your inner values. Without awareness, no attempts can be made to change, and any hope of gaining strength from living in accordance with your values wouldn’t be possible. Oddly, your ‘values inventory’ may also identify conflicting values. To live in congruence with one value, it may be difficult to also live by another. Therefore, it is essential to prioritize your values and think hard on the consequences of not being able to live in accordance with one value over another. I always suggest that people trust their instincts, and do what they think is right, even under the most difficult circumstances.

Falling Short

Now that your ‘values’ inventory is complete, we must examine how you’ve fallen short of living in accordance with them. Considering the vast number of bad choices and mistakes we all make over the course of our lifetime, this sounds like an impossibility. It is not impossible; this step focuses on our obvious transgressions. You must identify the moments and the actions that still haunt you. You absolutely know you did the wrong thing, and still can't forgive yourself and let it rest. I often recall bad things that I did over 20 years ago. I still feel a pit of regret in my stomach, like I did it just yesterday, and these memories keep me from restful sleep some nights. Feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety regarding past negative behaviors is a consequence of not living in accordance with our own values at that time. But, feelings of guilt and shame have a purpose – ‘healthy’ guilt and shame act to prevent us from doing bad things again. 'Unhealthy' guilt and shame have no purpose. This type of guilt and shame tries to convince us that we are bad people - not good people who did bad things. Feelings of 'healthy' guilt and shame should be used to motivate us to make fewer mistakes, and to live true to our personal values.

Identify Your Flaws

The time has come to face reality. To bring about permanent life change, we must step back and take a gut-wrenching look at the character flaws that lead to our past failings. These flaws didn’t just hurt other people. Perhaps worse, these flaws caused us to betray ourselves. What motivated your bad behavior, or any behavior you are not proud of? Were you motivated by pride? Or greed? Or envy? Take a step back to reflect, and take time to identify these flaws, because they are the reason so many of us fail ourselves and others. They are why you are not living the life you envision for yourself. Fatal Flaws. If you hope to put your life right and re-gain your personal power, re-build self-esteem, and have a chance at getting to where you want to be, you need to know what happened in the past and why. The answers will strengthen your spirit and help you to avoid betraying your values over and over again. You may one day get to be where you want to be, but your ‘values’ inventory, and all that it involves, must be done, if you expect to have any hope at all.

Forgive me if you feel I’m preaching the obvious – “live a good life and you shall be rewarded!” My job is to guide people toward the life they most desire, and help them do the work necessary to get there. To arrive, one must live in accordance with one’s own personal values. To do otherwise is to betray yourself, and betray those who believe in you.

The value of ‘integrity’ is often ignored - and many believe that 'integrity' is of no value at all. I am certain that this is wrong. Time and again, I have witnessed my clients rise, reclaim their personal strength, and feelings of positive self-worth. They chose to make the hard choices and change their behaviors, and chose to make their life right again - living with integrity, and staying true to the beliefs they have.

Larry Cohen