Value-based goals can be difficult, both in creating them and in following through. Further, the fact that they’re difficult is itself a frustration because goals are what is believed to guide the direction of our lives. Rather like mileposts on a highway counting every iteration of a road well-traveled, goals are seen as the markers for life moving forward. Goals are difficult, however, largely because of this framework. When looked at as life-markers, goals become their own source of measurement, rather than directing our attention to the reason and motivation behind their accomplishment. By shifting your attention to the meaning and purpose provided by your Values, goals become a means of personal fulfillment.
We can keep with the travel metaphor to help us out. How often during a trip does the monotony of the distance start becoming an enemy all on its own? How often do you find yourself focused on the next mile marker, the next landmark as a means of showing progress, only to finally arrive and feel exhausted? That feeling is due to having got so focused on reaching a particular destination that the purpose of getting there was lost, overshadowed by the minutiae of the process. This is similar to the notion of forgetting the forest because you’re so focused on the trees. The more you focus on the iterative process of reaching a destination, the broader picture provided by big ideas, purposes, and meaning gets lost.
Shifting goals to align with meaningful purpose can be done through a three-step process.
Select the Area of Your Life to See Change In and Write Out Your Goal
Life can be seen through a lens of the areas or roles that we take. With that lens in mind, we can look at the roles we take in the areas of Work or School, Family (however that is defined by you), Community: friends, neighbors, social groups, and Self: mind, body, and spirit (from Leading the Life You Want by Stewart Friedman). First, decide what area of your life you’re looking to make a change in. Try to keep it to just one area as much as possible, though of course, any change will have ripple effects within the others.
Once you’ve decided, narrow that area down to a particular goal. For this, we can use the SMART acronym, standing for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-sensitive. Selecting an area of your life first helps with being specific and relevant. Measurable makes it possible to track progress and know when you’ve arrived. Time-sensitive is there to give you a sense of urgency and an end-point to be aware of. Boundaries like these help us by providing structure for our thoughts and behavior, so we aren’t being flippant with our desires or casual with our actions. (Click here to download a SMART goal worksheet)
Identify the Value the Change is Seeking to Serve
Values are the triggers that inspire us to action, both in outward behavior and inner emotional responses. To effect change in our lives, we want to align behavior to the Value we want to serve. In desiring to keep this simple, think of the area of your life that you’re wanting to see the change in, and reflect on what Values are often triggered. If it’s Work or School, do the Values of Time-Management, Honesty, or Integrity show up? If it’s Family, perhaps Love, Affection, or Trust arises. You can download the Value Pyramid worksheet on the Resources page as a way to connect the change you wish to see with the Value in the area you want to see the change in.
As you can see from the Values Pyramid worksheet, we all serve multiple Values at any given time. Quite often the Behavior we choose to support one may end up undermining or not supporting another Value in an ideal way. What’s important to remember here is that this juggling act is part of everyday living. Selecting a single Value aligned with your goal provides an emotional match to see the goal through to completion. By remembering there are other Values important to you, a broader awareness can be built that allows you to see around behavioral obstacles that get in the way of your value-based goal.
Measure Success through Every Instance of the Value-Directed Behavior
Lastly, when pursuing your value-based goal, recognize that Values are served in many different ways. Rather than keeping your eye only on the end-goal or a particular behavior of completion, each and every step becomes a movement of Value, serving what matters to you. This allows you to remain aware of your surrounding, acknowledge the changes in your life that are happening in pursuit of your goal and constantly reinforce your desire to reach your goal by thinking of yourself from aligned with what matters to you. Value-directed behavior is a way to consistently reinforce your desire for success by providing a way to connect every behavior along the path to your eventual value-based goal.