Catriona Futter – Equip For Life Coaching Becoming your best self and living life to the full – 07713 974138

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The tyranny of the urgent over the important (Or, Habit number 3).

Tyranny of the urgent over the important

Tyranny of the urgent over the important

The tyranny of the urgent over the important – It was Charles E Hummel who first used this phrase in referring to our constantly pressured lives, with endless unfinished tasks and little fulfillment.

And he said this in 1967!

Seems like in some ways our oft gerbil-wheel-running lifestyle is nothing new. I have spoken here before about Burnout, which has been around since Victorian times, and which they termed neurasthenia – nervous exhaustion.

There really is nothing new under the sun.

One of the strengths I find most appealing about Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is that he does not claim to have come up with the habits, nor does he take credit for them. He states simply that he has brought together in one place a series of paradigms, mindsets and ways to live that have been around for many years in different forms.

Habit Number 3 is about putting first things first – learning how to prioritise in our lives that which is important rather than being consumed by what is urgent.

Let me expand (you know I was going to).

Urgent tasks are very visible, press round us, insisting on action, often with a short-term, shallow focus.

There will never be an end to them.

Notice too that they are often based on the priorities and expectations of others, and can be associated with achieving someone else’s goals.

Important tasks, in contrast, are associated with long term results and development, establishing and maintaining good roots, achieving your own goals. This is about considering our values, life purpose and mission, and prioritising what and who matter to us most. Important tasks are about our legacy – what we want to leave behind, the difference we want to make.

This is the outworking of Habit Number 2.

When much of our time is spent preoccupied with Urgent tasks at the expense of Important tasks, our lives can feel out of control, flitting from one crisis to another, constantly reacting to things with little breathing space. The focus becomes short-term fire fighting, or responding to the needs of others.

Choosing Important tasks however takes initiative, forward planning, thinking ahead.

Regularly implementing important tasks takes discipline and requires us to be proactive.

This is the outworking of Habit Number 1.

This can seem hard to the point of impossible at times, not least when we consider how many of the Urgent tasks are not going to disappear. And there will never be an end to them.

But it is exactly in taking that initiative, making a decision to prioritise what is Important, and keeping focused on our life goals and purpose, that we notice our effectiveness and fulfillment increase. We have a greater sense of purpose when we invest in something of value, and often this pro-active approach to developing and nurturing what and who matter to us most prevents the kind of crises that end up in the Urgent category.

As examples, consider the impact of regularly investing in your personal development, key relationships, health, and whatever team or community you are a part of. Now imagine the cost of losing sight of your goals, taking those closest to you for granted, neglecting your health, not investing in the people you work with. When viewed in such black and white terms, the contrast and impact are clear.

Of course, everything we do is on a spectrum, and life is not always clear cut. We can go through very busy seasons when there are a high proportion of activities that are both urgent and important. But that is where investing in ourselves and what/who sustains us is so vital to resource us and equip us for life’s challenges.

The central element to Habit number 3 for me is in this simple quote from Mr Covey himself:

the key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”

To make time for the things that are most important to you each week.

Time management is largely a misnomer – the challenge is not to manage our time but to proactively make choices about how we use our time based on what is most important to us. Trying to prioritise what is important to you each week without a strong basis in your own proactivity and personal responsibility for your life, and without clear values, will not get you very far.

Saying this is the easy bit. Living it out is far more difficult. The first step, as always, is awareness.

How do you spend your time? How much time each week do you spend on that which is most important to you?

As ever, food for thought….

Habit Number 2: Begin with the end in mind

Being with the end in mind

Being with the end in mind

The other week I was talking about stories, and that lovely opener, Once upon a time…..

It entices you in, opens the door to a parallel world of who-knows-what and whisks you away from the here and now into the not-quite-possible and the make-believe.

And contrary to Julie Andrews, starting at the beginning is not always “a very good place to start”. Sometimes, we need to start at the end – to begin with the end in mind.

Why are you doing what you are doing?

In my coaching work with individuals and teams, this is probably the most common and the most important question I ask.

Often we can become embroiled in what we are doing – the day-to-day, the nitty-gritty, the treadmill of get-this-done-so-I-can-get-onto-the-next-thing. Beginning with the end in mind gives us the chance to stop – get off the treadmill, open the cage door and look up at the sky.

To ask ourselves, WHY am I doing what I am doing? What are the underlying values, priorities and vision to what I am doing?

With teams, this is the central piece. Taking some time together to clarify the purpose, role and vision of the team is the key. It not only expands the mind, but revitalises enthusiasm and passion, restores hope and optimism and opens up the way new possibilities.

If we were to be really successful, how would …… be different?”

The blank is filled in with what is most relevant for the team in question – our company, our community, our country. There is no limit to how big this question can get, and at first, people are usually somewhat floored by it. But creative cogs start to whirl, ideas emerge, inspiration bounces around as each person fires off the other. And lo and behold, a stunning vision is created of what success would look like – the end from which we begin to then work backwards to ask, based on that vision, what therefore are the top priorities and how are we going to achieve them.

How to begin with the end in mind on an individual basis?

Imagine your own funeral.

Not when you are a ripe old age, but in a few years. Now imagine that a friend, a colleague, a family member, and someone from where you serve/volunteer/worship all stand up and talk about you.

What would you want them to say?

Perhaps more significantly, what would you not want them to say?

Spend a little time clearly creating a picture in your own mind of the person you would like to be described as by those you live, socialise, work and serve with and you will create a vision for the kind of life you want to live. This is what it means to begin with the end in mind, according to Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Imagine that you want to be known as someone who is calm, outward looking, and has integrity – always follows through on promises. That is the outline of your ‘end’, your starting point. Work backwards from that, and how does that affect your behaviour today?  What does it mean today, in the relationships you have to be someone who is known for being calm?

This follows on from Habit Number 1Be proactive. And it fits perfectly with coaching. Coaching is about moving from where you are to where you want to be.

Habit Number 2 is about taking the time to work out where and who you want to be. We have power to choose our own behaviour, and to live according to our value system, and not in reaction to other people’s agendas or expectations of or for us.

It helps to regularly remind ourselves of our vision and value system – those foundational principles by which we live. The ability to live with change is only possible if we have a changeless sense of who we are at our core, and are rooted in what we are about and what we value.

When we find ourselves back on that never-ceasing treadmill of WHAT needs to be done, perhaps take a little time and look up and think, WHY am I doing this? How does this fit with what is most important to me, and the vision I have for the person I want to be?

The simplest way I have come across to apply this is in the words of a Jesuit priest –

Who am I becoming in this decision?”

Am I becoming more or less like that person I want to be described as at my funeral?

Begin with the end in mind – what is your end?

Habit Number 1: Be proactive

Be proactive

Be proactive

As we start a series looking at the seven habits towards effectiveness, the first and foundational habit is to be proactive. This is primarily about taking responsibility for your life. 

This has been a central tenet of mine for decades, from my previous work as a physiotherapist. You come to me with a terrible hand injury. I cannot magically make your hand better. I can only give you as much information, encouragement and support required to empower you to choose to do your own exercises – to take responsibility for your own rehabilitation.

There is a wonderful old prayer, written by Reinhold Neibuhr from a century ago that goes like this:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

At the root of this wisdom is self-awareness – that central and crucial ability humans have to see and understand their behaviour.

We cannot begin to change the way we respond until we understand it.

It is that very ability to be aware of ourselves and our responses that is the springboard to our first habit – being proactive. To quote Stephen Covey:

Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.

That is a hugely powerful statement – read it again and let it sink in.

We so often hear ourselves say, “he made me so angry” or “she leaves me feeling so discouraged”.

BUT – No one else can make us feel a certain way.

Your actions towards me are the stimulus. But I and I alone choose how I respond. You cannot make me angry – I choose to become angry in response to your actions.

But – and here is the power of being proactive – I have the power to choose a different response. This is not about being pushy or dominant. It is about being response-able: taking the initiative to choose our own response. This can be very hard, especially in the face of a difficult relationship. But choosing our own response – choosing to love even when we don’t feel loving for example – is the root to greater freedom and positive influence.

When we live reactively, we are driven by our feelings, and often behave or talk in a way that abdicates responsibility to others:

“She made me angry, I can’t do that, I don’t have time”

something outside of us is controlling us.

This can trap us into feeling powerless over our own lives.

But being proactive is about control and influence – recognising what we can actually do something about.

Living proactively fits so well with coaching because it is about living and making choices according to our values – and not according to the actions or expectations of others.

Proactive people spend most of their time and energy on things over which they have some influence and can do something about. There are many things that we are concerned about and impact us. But a lot of them are things over which we have no real control – spend time and energy on these things will lead to frustration and lack of progress.

Focus on the weaknesses of others, the problems in the system or the environment, and circumstances over which you have no real control, and there is likely to be blame, frustration, negativity, lack of progress.

Take the initiative to work on things instead that you can do something about and your influence will grow. Recognise when you make a mistake, apologise, seek to make amends, and learn from the situation.

How might this work out in practice this week?

  • pay attention to your language – notice when you hear yourself say ” I can’t….I have to….if only….he/she makes me….there’s no other way”. Practice instead choices like “I can….I will….I get to….I choose to….what alternatives are there?”
  • recognise that if you want to improve your situation, work on the one thing over which you have control – you. Where do you feel stuck? What can you change in that situation – usually, that will start with yourself and your own behaviour. What does it mean to take initiative and behave differently – to be more active, to make healthy choices, to be more supportive, to listen more than speak, to let go of hurts from the past and be more kind…..what would it be for you?
  • where can you take the initiative with others this week? In your workplace or family, rather than getting sucked into blame or negativity, where can you seek to be supportive, positive, and look at what you can do rather than what you can’t?

Being proactive – having the courage and making the choice to change the things we can: ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

What do we rely on in times of change?

Times of change

Change is in the aaaaaaair….everywhere I look around….

A misquote I know, but it seems fitting.

Change seems to be the lowest common denominator for many just now. In my own small world, there are many facing huge change. Starting school for the first time (I remember well the first day tears and the stomach-clenching-knots of anxiety, and that was just me). Leaving school and heading off into the adventure that is university. Graduating and moving onto work or internships. Illness – there is a lot of that about, sadly. Moving house. Getting married – love is in the air too, which is lovely.

Times of change are often associated with changing routines.

Last week I was musing about how we can get stuck in certain ways of thinking, and that climbing out of the box altogether and walking away can be inspiring, stretching and freeing.

So it is in our house. My weekly routine is changing as youngest Nearest-and-Dearest starts secondary school. And thus, my 10 year association with our local primary school comes to an end, and the routines that have book-ended my day all these years stop.

That opens up more possibilities for my time and my work. But more than that, it opens up mental space for change and the new. Sometimes this can be scary – many and varied emotions run turbulently below the surface of change, threatening to derail us and swamp us with their force and intensity.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing what has gone before. Anxiety about being able to cope with whatever is ahead. Sadness or regret at loss of what was.

There are also upbeat emotions that can lift us out of the mire and propel us forward – excitement, anticipation, fun, enjoyment, relief, satisfaction, achievement.

The tricky aspect to this is that emotions – our feelings – are flaky and unreliable indicators of what is going on. How we feel can change with the wind, and this can have a huge impact on how we perceive what is going on at the time. I know this to be true all too well and all too often. As MB will observe wryly, I don’t do ‘even keel’ – extremes of emotion are my normal way of operating, which I know can be exhausting to live with.

But in the times of change, when there is such a huge range of emotion that threatens to completely destabilise us just as we need to be strong and courageous, what to do?

We can choose to rely on what we know to be true. External facts that we can see. People we know we can trust. The knowledge that we can choose our own response. We, and only we, have responsibility for ourselves and therefore we can be proactive rather than sliding into passive victim mentality. We can make good choices based on our value system and priorities.

For me, the foundations of what I know to be true are my faith. In times of change when emotions can be overwhelming, I can ask  –

what do I know to be true?

Irrespective of how I feel, and even what is going on, what do I know to be true?

What am I thankful for – always a good question for building a more stable foundation in the face of change.

What times of change are you looking at? And in the face of how you feel, what do you know to be true?

 

What happens when our plans are derailed? Introducing the bullet journal…

Take time –

  • to reflect
  • to work out and clarify your values
  • to dream big dreams and cast vision
  • to plan and strategise how to get there
  • to write out action steps
  • reflect on what is working and what is not, and start the process again.

This is a useful and straightforward framework that enables us to –

  • live according to our values
  • make decisions with more clarity and consistency
  • stick with our boundaries
  • get back on track when we are derailed by obstacles or unexpected hiccups
  • have time for what is really important rather than reacting to what seems urgent but sucks us dry.

Why am I writing in bullet points?

  • because this kind of living can become over complicated and onerous if it involves so much writing and reflecting that nothing actually gets done
  • because of the rise and rise of methods to facilitate this kind of living in a manageable way
  • and because bullet journalling has arrived in our house!

What is a bullet journal?OK, I’ll stop now. It was getting annoying and hard to do whilst still making any kind of sense.

I first came across the phrase ‘bullet journal‘ in a glossy magazine whilst I was at the hairdressers (which is the only place I read glossy magazines). No clue what it meant, sounded very trendy and a bit scary all at once. Perhaps if you didn’t write in your journal for a day, you were shot? I jest.

And then in a short space of time I heard the phrase again, from a friend converted to this new craze. So of course, I did what is required in these situations – I looked on Youtube for inspiration. And boy, is there a plethora of views and options on the subject on that marvelous medium!

My understanding is that bullet journalling simplifies the process of reflection, planning and scheduling. Rather than a normal diary or weekly planner, the bullet journal is infinitely customisable (perhaps a word I just made up?). You can personalise it for your needs, add the bits that help you and ditch the elements that do not. Perhaps put a gratitude list in there – always good – and a page of thoughts and inspirations for the future. The world is your oyster. Or your bullet journal. The title still leaves me cold, but I guess that is not the point.

The point in our house is that it makes keeping a diary, and the associated planning and – ahem – discipline of this, cool and groovy for blokes. MB has been enjoying his bullet journal for months, and has found a method that works for him.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because the most important thing about planning is what happens when our plans are derailed. The rise in popularity of the bullet journal testifies to the import many put on planning, recording and reflecting on our lives in a manageable way.

Of course, we cannot plan our lives to the letter. Our plans inevitably can get derailed, and what was most important that day gets bumped off the schedule. It is what we choose to do next that is key.

Rather than that important thing being missed off altogether, we can stop the panic or gerbil-wheel of urgent tasks, and take a breath. And re-schedule the important thing that got missed off the day before.

This sounds so ridiculously simple and obvious. But ask yourself, how often do important things get bumped off your day repeatedly, day after day under the never ending tsunami of urgent tasks, until they disappear into the chasm of “I’ll do it one day when I’m less busy”? Important things are often life giving or enhancing, and are rooted in our values. This is worth paying attention to, or we risk getting onto the slippery slope of burnout.

The bullet journal is simply a tool. Disruptions occur daily, that is life. But if something is really important to you, make time to do it. A quieter day without disruptions is not coming.

 

 

Ever tried living out someone else’s values?

Living out someone else's values?

Living out someone else’s values?

As we come to the end of this little series of musings on values and the impact of living according to them, one thought remains. What happens when we try living out someone else’s values? When we take on for ourselves what we see others valuing, and try and make our lives fit with that whilst simultaneously denying what is central to who we really are?

Our internal workings go something like this:

That person is doing such-and-such, and he/she is much more clever/successful/wise/popular/spiritual than I am, so that must be the right thing to do so I should/ought to do that too….I will therefore squash my own needs and priorities and conform to what I think is expected of me to fit in.”

This internal dialogue is often subconscious, and I have helped many a client to unearth it and look for its roots. Only when we understand the root of our behaviour can we start to address it and make changes.

A clue is in the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts‘.

“I should behave like this because that is expected of me, and therefore I will ignore what is important to me, and who I really am to conform or fit in.”

“I ought to get involved/help out/serve in some way because that is what that popular/successful/spiritual person is doing and I can’t therefore say no.”

You get the idea. It is insidious, pervasive, all-too-common, and – like a rampant weed – very hard to uproot.

Now hear me on this – I am not saying that serving, duty and responsibility are not important. Nor am I suggesting that we all become inward looking, selfish narcissists who are only out for ourselves and what we want.

But what I am saying is this –

no one else can be you and no one else can live your life for you.

Nor can you live someone else’s life with integrity because you will not be being true to who you really are.

Let me ask you some questions –

Who is the person that you are, that no one else is, that only you can be? What is the cost of not only not being that person, but trying to be someone else – to live out someone else’s life, living out someone else’s values?

To live governed by ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ – seeing how other people are living their lives, and seeking to live with their priorities, or what we think THEY think we should be doing.

Striving. People pleasing. Hiding our real selves and not prioritising what we think is important because somehow it seems less valid or worthy than someone else’s life.

You are a unique and amazing individual. No one else on the whole planet is quite like you. Just absorb that for a minute…..

…..No one else sees the world  like you do, expresses him/herself quite like you do, has your unique blend of personality, values, skills and characteristics.

Therefore – what would it mean to simply be the person that you are – to live the life that only you can live, the way only you can? To be the thing you were created to be, and do what you’ve been created to do.

How often do we exhaust ourselves and become all twisted up trying to be someone else, or to live according to some list of qualities or characteristics or values that will make us more worthy or loved or valid or fulfilled?

How often do we get stuck trying to be someone we are not, to be someone that people outside of ourselves wanted us to be? Or that we thought we had to be to prove something or to achieve happiness, or to hide who we really are on the inside?

Perhaps instead of listening to external voices that might try to define who we should be, how we should use our time, what should be most important – perhaps instead each of us can start to understand, embrace and celebrate who we ACTUALLY are and what is most important to us as unique individuals. Of course that does not mean that we are perfect and the world has to accept us just as we are. There is always growth and inner transformation for all of us.

But we can’t really start to change from the inside until we know who we really are and are free to be that person. To let go of shoulds and oughts, of negative internal voices and loud external expectations.

Until we stop living out someone else’s values, and start living according to our own.

 

Neglected values – at what cost?

Neglected valuesWhen have there been times of stress in your life due to your values being neglected or ignored? Contradicted or not honoured? In conflict with someone else’s?

Neglected values is a huge subject, and touches on that tricky area of self care. Because doing things for ourselves, prioritising ourselves over others, viewing our own needs as important – well, that’s selfish isn’t it? Self indulgent perhaps, too inward looking.

We’d feel too guilty, and anyway, who has the time?

Ah, and there I would beg to differ.

When we neglect the things that matter to us most, the impact is a lack of fulfilment, dissatisfaction and no peace.

It has taken me many years, and some internal soul searching and digging around, but I know with clarity and confidence what I most need in a week. And it all comes from my values.

I need outside time with fresh air, the natural world, space. I need music, especially the piano, and to create something, from a cake to a new coaching tool. I need some level of organisation and efficiency, in my work and in my environment. I need at least one good soul-connecting conversation with a life-affirming friend. And with those closest to me, to know that there has been some connection beyond the superficial, functional normal-life type – a deeper connection where both parties feel heard and are really seen.

This is me, you will be quite different. Now, just because I know this, does not mean that I implement it. That is an entirely different challenge.

But with knowledge comes power, and choice.

The impact of not living according to my values has caused my soul to become weary, wizened, dried out. I have spoken here of the impact of this, and the importance of soul rest. But this extends further. This isn’t simply about re-fuelling once we have become spent and exhausted.

This is about proactively choosing to invest in ourselves to prevent us burning out in the first place. When we know what matters to us most – our values – we can make better choices about how we use our time.

It also becomes easier to create good and grace-filled boundaries – when we know clearly what it is we are trying to protect. What do we need, what is most important to us, what is OK and what is not OK. Clarity on those topics – each of them huge – comes only when we are clear on our values.

Think about times of stress in your own life, and take a bravery pill and root under the surface. What led up to that time of stress?

  • Perhaps there been compromise of your values for someone else’s – you have heeded what matters most to the other at the expense of yourself.
  • Or short term gain at the cost of long term fulfilment or peace?
  • Perhaps you find yourself in a situation where you are rubbing up against someone else’s very contradictory values. Neither of you are wrong, but how do you unravel what is going on, and make a choice that respects what you both value? Consider the outworking of you valuing stability when someone close to you values risk taking. Or financial security versus generosity. The key is understanding what is going on.

Neglected values can only lead to discontent, discouragement, stress and unhappiness. Not a pretty picture, and not worth it. What is most important to you, where have you been neglecting that, and what first step towards change can you make this week?

Where there are values, there is conflict.

Values and conflict.

Values and conflict.

Ever found yourself in a situation of stress and turmoil that is entirely of your own making? Where you feel that there are two different voices inside you pulling you in different directions? Neither voice is wrong, but the fallout of trying to honour them both equally causes internal stress and external ramifications.

Until we understand what is going on here, it can be hard to reach a sense of peace. Decision making is more difficult, or reactionary, as we started talking about last week.

What am I talking about?

Values and conflict.

Specifically, conflict within our own value set. When two things that are important to you seem to clash.

An obvious example of this might be if you value both career success and family. Both are important, and this is not about judgement. Self-acceptance is about just that – accepting that what is most important to you is valid, and a part of who you are. Not the person next to you, you. There isn’t a hierarchy of values, ranked in order of worthiness or societal merit. Many people value success in their career, often linked to other values such as fulfilment, responsibility, achievement, hard work, inspiring others, mentoring, to name but a few.

But I digress…conflict can arise when we value both career success and family because there is going to be a huge two way pull on our time and energy.

Career success takes time, commitment, study and development, but the cost of this is likely to be time and energy for your family. If our workplace or career, or those we engage with outside the home get the very best of us in terms of energy, commitment, time, engagement, what is left for those at home? We have finite amounts of time and energy, so how do we decide who gets the best of our energy? And who do we disappoint?

For me, I value both authentic relationships and efficiency. Problems arise when I am a bit frazzled, my mind is over cluttered with stuff, and the house is a mess.

What do I want to do most?

Regain control of my environment and restore efficiency to bring order and calm to my mind. Nothing wrong with that. But…the problem is that in my often crazed-tasmanian-devil whirlwind of tidying up and regaining efficiency, I trample all over my nearest-and-dearest.

Those authentic, precious relationships that I say I value so much. Hmmm.

The result is not pretty, often involving angry words on my part, huffing and hurting on the part of other household members. Unhappiness and disconnect pervades in the home, the exact opposite of what brings my soul peace and conveys to my family that they matter to me.

Perhaps you value both harmony and accuracy. You might be asked to do a task or project for a friend- you don’t want to let them down but you have insufficient time to do the project well. Or take efficiency and excellence – when asked to do a task, is it more important to do it well, or to do it quickly?

And therein lies the answer as to how we learn to prioritise our values.

In that situation, at that time, what is more important?

With the harmony and accuracy example, if you know you have insufficient time to complete the task to the level that is important to you and reflects who you are, perhaps on that occasion the right decision is to kindly and politely say no to the request. Equally, if the consequences of saying no would be too serious in terms of the ensuing disappointment or potential conflict in that relationship, saying yes to the task but accepting that time implications might be the right way forward.

But until you know what is going on – what the internal dialogue needs to be – it is very hard to make decisions clearly and proactively.

Arranging our values in order of priority enables us to understand how to move forward when there is a clash that impacts our behaviour or decision making. With me, I am learning to warn the family first when I am about to have a mad half hour of tidying so they can stay out of my way and avoid emotional fallout. They understand why this is important to me, but I am learning that it is not fair to dump my stress and frustration on them.

So this week, as we continue to dig around under the surface and gain understanding of our values, a few considerations – where might there be conflict between your own values? How is this playing out this week in your decisions, behaviour, emotional well being? What is most important?

How do I decide what to say yes to?

How do you decide what to say yes to?

How do you decide what to say yes to?

How do our values inform or underline our decision making, and help us decide our priorities?

Let me ask you another question:

How do you decide what to say ‘yes’ to and what to say ‘no’ to?

And have you ever been in the situation where you find yourself over committed, over tired, and over frazzled because you have said ‘yes’ to too many things, without thinking through the implications? Whenever we say ‘yes’ to something, we are saying ‘no’ to something else. It can be as trivial as saying ‘yes’ to a lengthy conversation with a well meaning sales person on the doorstep and therefore saying ‘no’ to 10 minutes peace with a cup of tea. Or it can be more complex like saying ‘yes’ to a long and involved phone conversation with a needy friend and therefore effectively saying ‘no’ to helping out one of your children with their homework.

Now I realise none of this is straightforward, and our responses will vary depending on the situation, the time available, our energy levels – to name a few. But this raises an important implication about understanding our values. When we cannot clearly say what matters to us most – what the guiding principles are by which we choose to live – we are much more likely to live reactively and not proactively:

  • to compromise with dissatisfying results
  • to be reactionary and make decisions in the moment
  • to choose the most convenient option in the short term, without thinking about the longer term implications
  • to choose the least painful option, as a means of avoiding conflict or having to say no to someone
  • to have no clear answer to the request when under pressure.

If our lives and decision making are not in sync with what matters to us most, the result is likely to be dissatisfaction, frustration, weariness, stress.

However, if we are clearly able to define what matters to us most – what our core values are –

  • we are more able to live proactively
  • we can be intentional and thought through in advance of making decisions
  • we are better equipped with a better understanding of the implications of each decision we make.

If we value peace and serenity, saying yes to too many social engagements or commitments is likely to cause us stress and fatigue.

Understanding the importance to us of financial security – and what is at the root of that for us – will impact how we use our money, and whether we will take a decrease in hours or look for a job change.

If family is top of the list of values, it may well be that a friend has a valid and important request on our time, but if at this stage in life, our teenager is facing huge challenges at school and needs our availability and support, we are more able to say a gentle but firm no to our friend.

So, take some time to think through what is most important to you, and what defines and characterises you most – be it creativity or challenge, friendship or frugality, integrity or inspiring others, respect for the environment or responsibility, trust or truth. The list is endless, the issue is boiling it down to what matters most to you.

And then it is possible to literally use this list as a basis for decision making –

How does this situation/request/event allow me to be/use/display ….

If I say ‘yes’ to this, how will it impact …..

How much time am I giving this week to …..

What do my choices this week say about ….

As you go about your life and business this week, take a little time to step back from decisions to ask, how does this line up with what is most important to me? If I say ‘yes’ to this, what am I actually agreeing to, why, and what am I saying ‘no’ to.

What do I value most? Introducing core values.

What are your values?What is most important to you?

That must be one of the questions I ask the most in my work as a life coach. Sometimes people will give an answer straight away, but more often, a pause and some inner reflection follows. Often, an initial answer will point to something that is important at that time, in that moment. A surface level of important, if you like.

But few can come summarise clearly and succinctly that which matters to them most at the deepest level. In coaching parlance, these are what we would call core values.

That’s all well and good I hear you say, but what are our core values?

  • They are the foundational beliefs that anchor our lives – the basis of our character, attitudes, actions, ethics and personal beliefs. They form a road map or guiding force for our lives – the core operating system if you will.
  • They are the things that matter to us – what motivates and characterises us indicates our values. Not sure of what your values are? Ask someone who knows you well to describe you in a few words, and you will start to get close to your values.
  • Our core values define our central passions and form the basis of our decisions. Knowing our values allows us to live proactively, not reactively – to make to be better equipped to understand the implications of what we say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to.
  • They are a framework for defining what we think is right and wrong. I value efficiency and organisation, and can therefore take a dim view of those who do not…and who therefore seem chaotic and unstructured to me. Judgement can creep in if we are unaware of what is at the root of our behaviour and assessments of others.
  • They are the non-negotiable characteristics that most clearly define our identities. Ignoring them or neglecting them ultimately causes stress and disconnect from who we really are.
  • Values are the driving force behind our work and our passions, but often deeply ingrained assumptions and therefore we are not always conscious of what they are or how they shape us.

Our core values are often molded early in life by parents, teachers, early experiences, authority figures and leaders, churches, role models. Think back to some of your early influences and the people that were around you as you were growing up. What did they instil in you? What did they model to you or expect of you? When you consider what is most important to you now, chances are you can trace the development of your core values back to some of these formative experiences.

Well, again – all well and good, yippee and so what?

I am with you.

I am a “So what?” person, and if presented with new information, will generally ask that question first. So what, what difference will that make, how does that change the way I live/approach decisions/get through the day?

Living in accordance with our values leads to fulfilment, and enables us to answer identity and purpose questions. Problems start when we have a disconnect with our own values, we don’t take them into consideration, we ignore them or – here’s the rub – we try and live out someone else’s.

So, over the next few weeks, we will be exploring further some of these issues. Today, simply stop every so often as you go about your business, and ask yourself –

Why did I make that decision? What is most important here?

Why am I so bothered about that person/conversation/event – what is at the root of how I am feeling?

– and you will begin to start identifying what your values are.

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