It’s a simple question, on the surface. One that most of us have thought about, whether we’ve pondered for hours or defined immediately. What do you value? Asked to make a list of our top ten values, I’d put money on most people having “health” and “family” somewhere on the list.
I took a time-management class through work a while back. (I was heartened to learn that I’m already really good at time management. I was less heartened to learn that the reason I can’t get everything done is because I straight-up have too much work assigned. *sigh* ANYWAY.) One of the questions was “what do you value?” But then the instructor qualified it: the question is not “what do you THINK you value,” but rather, “what DO you value?” In other words, what values are demonstrated in your behaviors already?
Do you think you value your relationships with your spouse/partner and/or kids? Great! But do you then work 80 hours a week at your job so you can earn an income in the high 6 figures? Hmmmm . . . that might demonstrate that you value your work more than your relationships. Alternatively, it might show that you place a high value on being able to provide nice THINGS for your family, but again, it’s not a reflection of valued RELATIONSHIPS. If you valued the relationship more, you’d probably work fewer hours and spend more time with your family. See how that works? You can say you value health, but if your actions don’t reflect that, then you don’t really value it – or, perhaps more accurately, you value something else MORE.
I’ve been noodling on that idea for a while. And along the way I remembered (what I call) the Geneen Roth Theory of Actions: that everything you do is the effort of your mind and/or body to achieve something productive. The most maladaptive behavior is still a result of your search for something beneficial. If you can find the (beneficial) result you were after initially, you can deal with it directly instead of going through the maladaptive/destructive behaviors (which, let’s be honest, probably aren’t getting you what you’re really looking for, anyway).
Still with me? Ok, then! I’ve been spending some time thinking about this. First I made a list of things I THINK I value. That included everything from relationships to health to whatever else I could think of. Then I set that list aside for a couple of days.
After a few days had passed, and I didn’t have that list fresh in my mind, I sat down and asked myself the following question: “If someone were to observe my life day in and day out, and draw conclusions about my values based on my behavior, what would those values be?”
HOO, boy. Different answers. And yet . . . they still made sense. For instance, if I were to examine my behavior from the outside, I might say that I value television and wine. On the surface, that sounds awful, doesn’t it? But if I look beyond the television and wine to the REASONS I (seem to) value those things, I find something else: rest. I come home from work and stay up too late and drink too much in an effort to find some mental peace and quiet. Late at night, watching TV, I can be assured that my phone won’t ring, my email account is quiet and (since it’s late) I’m not obligated to be doing any chores (can’t run the vacuum if it’ll wake up the neighbors). Now, in practice, staying up late, watching TV and drinking means that I’m tired the next morning. I feel sluggish, run-down and depleted. But I still need to get up and go to work, expending energy I don’t have. By the time I come home, I’m even more desperately in need of rest, so I stay up late, watching TV and drinking.
And thus, a vicious cycle is born.
But back to the value list: what I value then, is not drinking or television; what I value is REST. If I start there, the question then becomes, what do I do that will get me more rest? I know it’s not staying up late, and I know (let’s be honest) that I’m not going to go to bed at 8:30 or 9:00pm. Personally, the solution I hit on is to take a nap. Seriously. I come home from work, and doze for 20 minutes. It dissipates any stress I’m carrying from my workday and provides me with a discrete break in my day, so that when I wake up the night no longer stretches before me like some wasteland. I feel like I have some time to get things done, and the mental space to do it. I still watch a little TV before bed and have a glass of wine – but it’s not 3 hours of TV and 3 glasses of wine. That 20 minute nap makes all the difference.
Not only that, but by taking care of the values (needs?) on the 2nd list, I have the time and energy to start a 3rd list. My 1st list was what I THOUGHT I valued, right off the top of my head; my 2nd list was what values my behavior demonstrated; the 3rd list is for values I’d like to develop that aren’t reflected on the 2nd list. (And they may not be the same values as reflected in the 1st list either, although there will likely be some crossover.) So if I’d like to place a higher value on my health, that 20-minute nap (rest) gives me the mental space to do it. Maybe valuing my health means walking in the park for 30-45 minutes 2 or 3 or 4 days a week. Maybe it means cutting back on sugary afternoon snacks (Frappucino, I’m looking at you). It probably doesn’t mean going from sedentary to 90 minutes in the gym, 7 days a week, simply because that’s not sustainable, and won’t make me healthier in the long run. (I’ve done it. I know whereof I speak, ok?)
Right now the things I value most are rest and recovery from exhaustion. In turn, getting enough rest is giving me the mental space and energy to focus a little more on other things – things that got kind of back-burner’d as I felt more tired and depleted. Funny how that works.
So. What do you value?