We all have to make decisions. Some are small, like what to eat. Some are big, like where to live. Ultimately, we are responsible for choosing how to spend our limited time.
To help make these decisions, and to avoid living life on auto-pilot — it’s good to clear on what you value. When you start to make decisions, prioritize around, and act upon your values you get closer to the life you want to live.
When I first thought about, “Well, what exactly are my values?” I had little to say. The generic ones like kindness, fairness, and authenticity came to mind. Yet, I wasn’t sure how much I just wished those applied to me, or if they were only values that society wanted me to have. I wasn’t sure what I valued.
So, with the help of this post by Nick Wignall, I dug into discovering what my values are. (I can seriously recommend his work, check it out)
When you write something that you know others will read it does wonders for clarifying your thoughts. If you can’t explain it to someone else, you don’t understand it well enough yourself. So, what follows is my attempt at explaining my values to you so that I can better understand and act upon them myself. (Also to help others to follow suit or get to know me better)
In no particular order…
1 — Health
I value being healthy, fit, and able.
If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. You can have almost everything else in life figured out, but if you’re in chronic pain or kept from what brings you joy — it doesn’t matter.
A lot of what brings me joy and meaning is being active with my friends and family. Sports, hikes, bike rides, etc. I love getting my heart rate up and exploring the outdoors. If I lost that my ability to say yes to that and other adventures, I’d lose a cornerstone of my life.
I believe that being physically fit and active is a key to mental health as well. When you feel strong and able, it gives you confidence that other downturns in life can’t take away. Having a keystone habit like exercise is a great thing to build upon for other good habits in your life. It helps with sleep, cognition, emotional regulation, and more.
Lastly, I will admit that I like the signal that it gives off as well. Being fit is a strong signal to others about what kind of person you are. Looking after yourself requires discipline, patience, and effort. (Yes, it is often a privileged thing to be able to work out regularly and afford nutritious foods.) All of us like to think that we’re not prejudiced, but the first thing you know and think about someone is their appearance. I like giving off a good first impression with a decent physique. Is it a little vain? Sure, but I value it all the same.
2 — Kindness/Empathy
I value kindness. Yes, it’s generic but sometimes things are generic for good reason.
The reason that I clump these words together is that they go hand-in-hand. Empathy — the ability to feel what others are feeling — leads to kindness. It’s hard to laugh at someone who just tripped when you’ve tripped and hurt yourself before. If anything you’d run over to help them up, which is a kind thing to do. I value trying to be as empathetic as possible and assume the best intentions in people’s behavior.
You do something nice for me, I do something nice for you. Reciprocity is a powerful force. But someone has to be first without knowing that they’ll get it back. That’s kindness — doing something nice without expecting anything in return. I want to start the cycle more often.
More than anything, I value kindness because life is hard and we don’t need to make it any harder on each other. If we all looked for opportunities to be kind throughout the day, the world would be a much nicer place to be. I aspire to put more kindness into the world.
3 — Rationality
I value rationality and logic.
One of my foundational beliefs is that our brains evolved to keep us alive by finding strength within a group, and making quick decisions. These two features of our psychology can turn into bugs. We do things against our interest to impress others, we take shortcuts with our decisions that lead us astray, the list goes on.
The antidote to these is rationality and logic. I aspire to be more rational and logical throughout my life, and to surround myself with others with similar mindsets.
As the world gets more complicated and interconnected, addressing our inherent irrationality has never been more important. Placing far more value on the present than the future is irrational, yet it is the favored approach of almost every politician because of electoral incentives. We are bombarded with messages trying to get us to read, buy, believe, and act on all sorts of things. Knowing what constitutes a logical argument helps sort through the noise. As we get further removed from our evolutionary roots, it’s on us to update the software on our outdated hardware.
Charlie Munger once said that most of success was simply avoiding stupidity. Knowing the common biases that cause us to blindly head into mistakes is key.
4 — Humility
I value humility in myself and others a lot.
It is important to me to remain humble. The smartest people are always more aware of what they don’t know than what they do, and let that humble them. The wisest people know that any success can be taken away at a whim and remain diligent and vigilant in their work.
What I am truly allergic to are big egos. It is difficult for me to enjoy my time around people who are unwilling to change their minds, be open-minded, take feedback, or admit wrongdoing. Likewise, I find it difficult to connect with these people because they’re too invested in the strong persona they project to the world. Because I value connection, I also value people who are willing to drop their egos and be vulnerable.
It’s hard to learn what you think you already know, hard to grow when you think you’re already there. A low ego makes you better to be around and work with. It keeps you flexible, determined, and free. I strive to keep my ego in check.
5 — Connection
I value connection to others.
Feeling connected to others via close relationships and communities is where a lot of us derive meaning in our lives, and I am no exception. You may be sick of hearing “humans are social animals” but it is true and it is important to me that I strengthen and create new connections.
One of the best parts of being an adult is that you have the freedom to find your own tribes. These tribes turn out to be vitally important for well… just about everything. People that are more socially connected tend to live longer, feel more fulfilled, do better in their careers, etc. A strong network helps soften the blows of life. They help you when sick, give you a bed when you need one, help you find a job, and more.
But short of that… it’s fun. Getting to know people well enough that you feel comfortable being yourself, and talking about deeper things is fun. More fun than being someone else or talking about the weather, anyway.
6 — Curiosity
I value curiosity. I find it to be such an essential trait to take with you throughout life.
When you are curious about your own thoughts, it encourages you to dig into the reasons behind your emotions and actions to learn more about your own psychology. It’s a remarkable tool for growth and mental health.
When you are curious about other people, it encourages you to know and understand them on a deeper level — which leads to better connections and relationships.
When you are curious about the world, it encourages you to explore new places, ideas, and cultures that broaden your worldview and reduce prejudice.
I strive to replace negative emotions like anger, impatience, and confusion with curiosity. I want to let curiosity lead to understanding and clarity in my life.
7 — Playfulness
I value playfulness in different parts of life.
I don’t like to take anything too seriously. I like to be goofy, and I like to play sports, games, music, pranks, etc. I value light-heartedness in almost everything. Very few things are worth getting too upset about. Being able to laugh at yourself and the situations you find yourself in is important.
I find that when I have free time — I often want to fill it with fun. I try to design my lifestyle around maximizing opportunities for play.