By: Becky Harwell, MA, Director of Organizational Development
For most of us, dealing with distressing experiences — like COVID-19, anxiety, depression and other stressors — takes a lot of our energy. At times, it can feel like it takes all we have just to get through the day. In order to get ourselves in a better place to deal with these difficulties, it’s important to think about being happy and engaged in our work where we’re using our skills and interests while finding work-life balance — which is all part of occupational wellness. At the center of occupational wellness is our attitude and behaviors.
One of the ways we can prepare ourselves to deal with challenges and difficulties is to identify and find ways to live by our values. When we are acting with and on our own personal values, they can steer us and provide purpose and meaning. When we have a sense of purpose and meaning, we can find it easier to rely on these in times of stress and let them guide our attitude and behaviors.
Our values are concepts that are important to us. They might be based on different things like our faith or spiritually, how we were brought up, or an approach to life that we have determined is important to us. Our values act as a guide or compass for who we are and how we act in certain situations. If we have a clear sense of who we are, our sense of purpose and act according to our values, we are less likely to feel overwhelmed or lose our way when we experience challenging situations. When we act in accordance with our values, we generally see our life as purposeful and meaningful.
We don’t often think about or list our values in a well-defined way, but by identifying them, we can establish or become more firmly rooted in our own guide to life.
One of the activities we use in our leadership courses asks participants to reflect on successful times in their lives, times when they were proud of their behavior and felt good about themselves. We ask them to list the values that were at play during these times.
I invite you to participate in a slightly altered version of this activity developed from an American Counseling Association member’s blog.
Relax and take a few minutes to participate in this exercise.
Take a deep breath and close your eyes. Imagine yourself at the perfect job for you. Imagine that you are earning enough money that you are financially comfortable.
In this perfect job, where money is no issue, what important work would you imagine yourself doing? What self-values do you bring to the work that brings you a sense of meaning and energy? What would your most balanced, productive and energizing workday routine look like? What actions would you take to improve your attitude and health at work? How would you make time for things that matter to you, like your hobbies, family, spirituality and self-care?
Now, step back from these questions and imagine yourself near the end of your life, looking back at all the things you have done in your imaginary “perfect” job.
What seems most important to you? What are you proud of? What will you be remembered for? What strengths and values were at play?
Write your answers down. These are things that have meaning to you.
Although we aren’t always able to achieve the “perfect” job, we can use this exercise to help us figure out what is important and meaningful to us and what values are at play.
While values are important — please keep in mind — they are ideas, not behaviors. Once we have identified the values important, to us, the next step is engaging in behaviors that embody our values. This means committing to things we can do that are in line with our values.
For example, if gratitude is one of your values, what behaviors might you see in someone who is grateful? Equipped with this information, you could set some goals for yourself around gratitude and appreciation.
When you have a clear idea of the values that are important for you, behavioral goals that align with those can be established. With your behavior aligned with your values, you can expect an increased sense of wholeness, of being true to yourself, and an improvement in your overall well-being.
Cooperrider, D. L., & Whitney, D. K. (2005). Appreciative inquiry: A positive revolution in change. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
Zwetsloot, Gerard & Scheppingen, Arjella & Bos, Evelien & Dijkman, Anja & Starren, Annick. (2013). The Core Values that Support Health, Safety, and Well-being at Work. Safety
(2016, Sept. 6) American Counseling Association| A professional home for counselors. https://www.counseling.org/news/aca-blogs/aca-member-blogs/aca-member-blogs/2016/09/06/occupational-wellness
Living by your values. (2014, Feb. 3). Living Well. https://www.livingwell.org.au/well-being/mental-health/living-by-your-values/
Set your purpose, reach your goals. (2016, December 30). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/set-your-purpose-reach-your-goals/art-20269956