Getting to know and understand our core values is probably one of the most valuable exercises we can do for ourself. Working out what truly makes us happy is crucial if we’re going to give ourselves what we need. In the MSC program we spend some time exploring our inner landscape to find, name, and start to move toward more intentionally living our life in alignment with our core values. But there are many good reasons why we don’t head off immediately in the direction of manageable goals that point us in the direction of authenticity and a life fully lived. We might call these obstacles to living in alignment with our core values. Identifying these obstacles is the next great service you can do for yourself.
I’m going to talk about six potential obstacles to making the changes we need to make so that we can live in alignment with our core values and offer some steps we can take to realign ourself, to find ourself on the map and reorient ourself again.
A bit like finding Wally, it can be hard to see what our core values are amongst the competing components of our life.
Disconnection from our goals
In order to consciously live in alignment with our core values, we may need to first find them and then regularly remind ourselves what they are. The busyness of life can take over; we can be swept away by responsibilities to family, work and friends; and we can be motivated more by fear of failure than by the anticipation of success. A bit like finding Wally, it can be hard to see what our core values are amongst the competing components of our life. But while we are busy reacting to the people and events in our life, it can be difficult to respond to our own needs, and we can’t give ourselves what we truly need if we don’t know what we value.
Living in alignment with core values is not an intuitive exercise for many of us, so we need to continually check that our goals are in alignment with our core values. Goals are landmarks in the adventure of authentic living. My core value might be social justice and my goal might be getting a law degree and working for underserved populations. In order to stay in touch with our core values and related goals, we might start by writing down our thoughts about these important guideposts in our life; re-reading what we’ve written to help keep our intentions alive; and sharing our core values and goals with friends. Steven Hayes and Spencer Smith write, “There is nothing in life that is not made more real by sharing. Intimacy is a matter of sharing your values and your vulnerabilities. If you are building new patterns and breaking up old ones, share that process. If you see a form of avoidance and you are ready to let it go, tell others of what you see. It’s like shining a light down a dark hole where you hide.”
Another way to help keep our commitment to our core values and goals fresh is to make a vow to ourself to remind ourself every day about what’s important to us, and to even create a little ritual around this commitment like lighting a candle and reciting our vow to ourself every morning. Ritual can be a useful way to make this activity more real and more pleasurable. In the MSC program there is an exercise that helps us to craft our core values into a vow.
Mindfulness can help us to notice if the inner party pooper or the inner critic are having a lot to say and self-compassion can help us to offer ourselves kindness in the face of such internal sabotage.
Overidentification with negative beliefs about ourselves
When we start to become aware of some changes we will need to make in our life to start to live more in alignment with our core values, the task at hand may seem daunting and we can hijack our trajectory by overidentifying with negative beliefs about ourself. Does this sound familiar: “This is really different to what I’m used to…this seems quite hard…maybe I can’t do it…I can’t do it…it is too hard…I’m wasting my time…there’s no point in trying…I don’t deserve to be happy anyway.” It can seem easier to give up because of these internal barriers than to dare to take those courageous steps into the arena of our authentic existence.
Mindfulness can help us to notice if the inner party pooper or the inner critic are having a lot to say and self-compassion can help us to offer ourselves kindness in the face of such internal sabotage. Exercises from the MSC program like “Discovering Our Core Values,” “Compassionate Letter to Myself” and “Motivating Ourselves with Compassion” can be helpful in this process.
“Healthy goal setting and working toward those goals is self-oriented, perfectionism is other-oriented.” ~ Brené Brown
We need to be willing to make mistakes if we are going to allow ourselves to explore and grow, but some of us are so afraid of not doing things perfectly that we’d rather not try at all.
- kills creativity because it prevents us from trying new things;
- is aiming to please others, to perform for others, so that we can satiate our need for approval;
- is driven by shame – the fear that if we do not please others they won’t love us and we will be rejected from the tribe;
- is an addiction.
Brené Brown writes that “Healthy goal setting and working toward those goals is self-oriented, perfectionism is other-oriented.”
In order to seriously move in the direction of our core values, we must tool ourselves up to take care of ourselves when we inevitably “fail” or miss the mark. Self-compassion practice is all about tooling ourself up for this kind of work. Reading about and working with shame can be particularly useful in meeting perfectionism. Mindfulness practice can help us to keep the larger view in perspective – to see that we are approval-seeking and to dare to look beyond that shackled existence. Our core values are undeniable, worthy of us making some mistakes in the short term in order to live a life fully lived in the long term. We learn by making these mistakes – we learn what doesn’t work so that we can identify what does work and as a result we become more effective at working toward our goals
The Mark Zuckerbergs and Justin Biebers of this millennium have influenced us as we grew up – we can tend to believe that we can do anything … by tomorrow.
It can be easy to have unrealistic expectations in our current climate of mega-success and 20-year old millionaires. The Mark Zuckerbergs and Justin Biebers of this millennium have influenced us as we grew up – we can tend to believe that we can do anything … by tomorrow. Unrealistic expectations might mean that your goals are too big, you expect too much, you are impatient for change, you don’t have the skills yet or you don’t have the resources yet.
We can manage unrealistic expectations through strategies like breaking goals down into manageable chunks, planning a realistic timeframe for taking the necessary steps, and planning to acquire the new skills or resources you’ll need. If you can’t see a way to find the skills or resources you need right now because of external obstacles, then mindfulness and self-compassion can help you to let go of that goal for now, knowing that you still have your eye on your core values but you’ll need to find an alternative goal to help you live authentically.
Resistance to Difficult Emotions
“Saying yes [to your core values and goals] doesn’t mean that your life will suddenly get easier, but it is guaranteed to become more alive.” ~ Steven Hayes and Spencer Smith
Resistance to being with difficult emotions is inherent in our culture: the plethora of strategies for numbing, distracting, overwhelming, driving and denying ourselves is unending. However we would be well-served to work out how to meet our difficult emotions rather than to resist them because we will undoubtedly meet difficult feelings when we contemplate making a change. Something always needs to die in order for something new to be born, and the results along the way are not always predictable. We may simply know that something in our life needs to go, like a job that is sucking the soul out of us, but we might have no idea if something else will catch us when we take that leap into the abyss of uncertainty and hand in our resignation.
Steven Hayes and Spencer Smith write, “Saying yes [to your core values and goals] doesn’t mean that your life will suddenly get easier, but it is guaranteed to become more alive. [Saying yes is] about doing this, not in spite of your pain, but with your pain.”
Fortunately, Mindful Self-Compassion is all about learning to meet difficult emotions. Through being mindful, we can notice resistance and through self-compassion we can tend to ourselves when we’re noticing difficult emotions. The exercises from the “Meeting Difficult Emotions” session of MSC are particularly useful. Being prepared to be with ourselves and our difficult emotions, and reminding ourselves that they are in the service of our wider goals, can help us to find the courage to allow novelty and uncertainty into our life.
Guilt, Blame and Forgiveness
When we start to consider our core values it can become painfully apparent that we have wasted opportunities in our life that might have been in alignment with our core values, and that those missed opportunities have put us in our current position of feeling off balance. This can result in feeling guilt over wasted time and opportunities. Maybe you stayed in that relationship for 30 years too long and now you’re running out of time to find your soulmate. Maybe you cheated on that ex-partner and you’re left with the label of “cheater” that will haunt you for the rest of your life. Maybe you committed to a life of children, mortgage, work and weekend lawn mowing that leaves you exhausted and creatively bankrupt, without any idea of how to escape.
We can’t practice forgiveness without first opening to, acknowledging and validating the pain that we feel, and then self-compassion helps us to bear the weight of that pain when we get there. Once we have opened to our own pain around a situation and have taken care of our unmet needs, we can then turn to the task of forgiving others if we want to.
Or maybe someone else did something to you that forever affected your ability to feel authentic. Maybe you were ill-treated in your childhood and you lack a sense of safety now. Maybe you were shamed by an authority figure and you still can’t get out from under that sense of doom. Maybe the laws of the land let you down and you feel as if you’ve lost something dear to you in a court battle.
It can be tempting to spiral down to feelings of guilt or to blaming others. However, when we start to dig down into working with ourselves and our relationship with shame, vulnerability and worthiness, we will find that the common theme in teachings is that we are inherently worthy of our own respect, patience, tolerance and commitment. We can learn to never abandon ourselves. When we start to look at our relationships with others and the ways that others have affected us, we learn that we can’t necessarily change the attitude or behavior of others, but we can change our own. What happened to us was not good, but we can make decisions now to support ourselves to heal and move on.
The remedy for guilt and blaming is forgiveness: forgiving ourselves and those who have done us wrong. We can’t practice forgiveness without first opening to, acknowledging and validating the pain that we feel, and then self-compassion helps us to bear the weight of that pain when we get there. Once we have opened to our own pain around a situation and have taken care of our unmet needs, we can then turn to the task of forgiving others if we want to. When we forgive others we let go of anger and resentment – heavy burdens to carry around – so forgiveness is an act of self-compassion. Hayes and Smith write, “Forgiveness is really a gift to yourself, not to the events or persons who created hurt in your life.” (Please note that forgiveness of others is not always the best idea, so learning some wisdom around this, probably with the help of a therapist, is crucial.)
- Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap
- Steven Hayes and Spencer Smith, Get Out of Your Mind and In To Your Life
- Brené Brown Daring Greatly