Hi! Seiiti Arata. If I asked you, “what’s the most important factor in achieving your goals?”, what would your answer be?
If you are, for example, an administrator or a project manager, you probably know that in order to achieve goals, you have to break the final goal into smaller tasks, find the resources you need to complete them, take the time to carry them out properly, and get feedback to make improvements.
In other words, your answer would be that the number one factor for meeting life goals is to plan and execute. It is acting consistently and with purpose.
That’s the answer that most people would give. Just for a minute, however, let’s take the focus away from the action of carrying out tasks. Let’s think a bit about the following: what comes before the small actions? What’s the first hurdle that we all have to get over?
Often, the first difficulty we face is simply defining which goals are our life goals. This is difficult for a reason: lack of clarity about our personal values.
If you want to achieve your goals, you need to have a good hard look in the mirror. You urgently need to do something to get to know yourself better and to clearly understand what’s the most important thing to you.
Being clear about which things mean the most to you is the number one factor towards being able to achieve your biggest goals.
It’s important to be clear about your values
Have you ever had the experience of setting a goal and then taking the actions that you need in order to accomplish that goal?
If you’ve done this a few times, you may have noticed that in some cases, we feel happy and satisfied when we reach the goals. But other times, instead of being happy, we just feel confused. We sit and ask ourselves “Why did I want this so badly?”
These cases depend on the balance between your goals and your personal values.
For example, let’s say that your family is your most important personal value, but that you set yourself a professional goal. To accomplish your goal, you end up spending more time at work, and less with your family.
When you eventually meet your professional goals, you might not feel the sense of accomplishment that you expected. You end up sacrificing a personal value more than you’d like to be able to fulfill the goal.
The problem is that most people aren’t clear about their most important personal values. This leads them to outlining goals that may or may not be aligned with their values.
Therefore, when setting ourselves goals, it’s important to be clear about our values, so that they can guide our goals. This will give shape and body to the goals that we outline.
You’ll only feel true satisfaction when you pursue goals that are aligned with your life values.
Imagine, for example, a goal that has nothing to do with you, one that has no relation to your values. When you achieve that goal, it won’t mean much to you.
If you’re someone that has no interest in sports, setting yourself a goal of training for and running in a marathon would probably be a waste of time. However, for someone who loves sports and finds personal accomplishments in running, being able to compete in a marathon would probably be one of the most important events in their lives.
The goal is the same, but the personal satisfaction that comes with the accomplishment of the goal varies, according to what each person values.
Making the following reflection when deciding on your goals could really change your life: why am I doing what I’m doing? Is the pursuit of this goal something that makes sense to me? Is it something that’s important to me? Or am I just copying others, or doing things that I’ve been asked to do?
A lack of clarity is a problem that you should avoid
If you’re not clear about your personal values, you’ll find it difficult to face the challenges of everyday life, especially those that you’ll encounter when trying to pursue your goals.
It’s much easier to face difficulties when we have value-based motivation.
Let’s go back to the marathon example.
When I can’t find any value in completing a marathon, I probably won’t feel like training. I’ll probably tell myself that it’s a long race that’ll take a lot of time to prepare for, and that maybe I should dedicate my time to something else.
On the other hand, when I value things like physical perseverance, I end up being perfectly aligned with the sporting spirit of a marathon. This means that, even on the days that I feel the laziest, I want to train. The marathon means a lot to me, because it’s in tune with the things that I value the most.
In our video about the meaning of life, we share with you the message that Viktor Frankl puts across in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he reports the psychological impact of living in a concentration camp.
He says that the prisoners who managed to survive weren’t necessarily those who had the greatest physical strength, or the ones that were the healthiest when they got to the camp. Those who survived were just those who had a greater clarity about their personal values and their purpose in life.
So far, our conversation has focused on the importance of values in the pursuit of our life goals, but what do we do when we find it difficult to Identify those values?
What do we do when we find it difficult to identify our values?
Many people find it difficult to identify their own values. For these people, there are several kinds of self-knowledge practices that can be carried out to help them discover what they value the most in life.
Some of these practices are complicated and time consuming. To make it easier, I chose the one that I consider to be the easiest and simplest of all. It will take you no longer than 1 minute to carry it out.
All you need is something to make notes on. Go to a quiet place and make a list of different words that represent values for you.
Do this until you can’t think of any other words that represent something that you value. When you’ve finished, choose one of the listed values. Choose the one that, in the present moment, is the one that you value the most in your life.
Make this the initial value that will guide your life from now on. You don’t need to be permanently focused on this one value, because your values can change depending on context and the moment.
Your values will change depending on context and the moment
Your personal values aren’t fixed. They’re dynamic.
Heraclitus once said that “No man ever steps in the same river twice”, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. The only thing that is constant is change.
Over time, your thoughts change, your priorities change, even your physical body changes. If this is the case, it makes sense for your values to be ever-changing as well.
I talked a bit about this in episode 3 of the “Hello! Seiiti Arata” series [https://arata.se/hello03] and I left a very clear message: people change.
Soon after doing the exercise that I’ve just suggested, you might realise that there are other values that are just as important, if not more important, than the one value that you just chose. This is normal. You can and should repeat this activity often, in the pursuit of self knowledge.
Even if you maintain the same values for years, the meaning of those values can change over time. Your interpretation of these values changes as you become a more mature person.
To give you a very simple example, think of someone who’s most important value is their family. But what is family? When you’re very young, valuing your family can simply mean appreciating your parents. Over time, you might consider your closest friends to be family. When you marry or have children, the concept of family changes again.
What should you do if your life isn’t aligned with your personal values?
A question that Arata Academy students frequently ask me is what to do when their life isn’t aligned with their personal values.
Let’s assume that you’re the kind of person that’s always afraid. Can you still choose courage as one of your personal values? Of course you can.
The fact that today you identify yourself as someone that’s full of fear doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to seek the value of courage. This is an aspiration. Courage is the value that you’ll seek to build on and bring into your life with the next choices that you make.
You don’t need to feel total pleasure or total discomfort when you’re following that value. Discomfort is normal when we’re going through a process of personal development.
After all, value is rightly revealed when we have to make sacrifices. When we have to abandon the easier choices and make an effort to continue on the path we want.
In other words, unlike your life goals, which are specific points you want to reach, personal values are simply a direction. It’s like a compass that will keep you on track until you reach your goal.
What would your life be like if you were clear about your values?
Before we finish our conversation today, I want you to do a quick exercise in your mind.
What would your life be like if you were clear about your personal values? Imagine that you have a crystal clear vision about what are the things you value the most in life?
What impact does this kind of clarity have on you when you decide to do one thing rather than another? What would change the way that you relate to other people? What changes would you make to the way you act towards pursuing your life goals?
I hope I’ve made it clear how important it is for you to intimately know your personal values and to not confuse those values with your life goals. Goals are the points you want to reach, while values are the compass that put you in the right direction.
You should always aim to increase the quality of your decision making by asking yourself: why am I doing this? What actions are the most in line with my values?
Today, I’ve given you a very simple and practical way of finding your personal values. Do this activity. It’ll help you to plan your goals better.
Being clear about your highest personal values is the initial step in creating a life plan that will lead you to fulfill your greatest goals with joy and satisfaction.
If you want to know more about the next steps and discover other techniques that will help you to become more clear about your values, click here: https://arata.se/planningyourlife