Identifying your values gives you a way to ground yourself when you start overthinking. When you have a sense of who you are and what your priorities are, you have a frame of reference when determining if something fits into your life.
Values are your individual beliefs on what is most important to how you live your life. They provide a foundation for the person we want to be.
When you find yourself overthinking a decision, a situation, a next step, or an opportunity, use your values as a guidepost. Ask yourself “does this fit with my values and the person I want to be?”
Review your previous values
Many people live by a set of values. Often those values stem from childhood and are given to us by family, society, and culture. We take on the values we were raised with and live our life accordingly. But, the life we are living now is not the same as the life we had growing up. We are a different person who has had new experiences and learned both about the world and ourselves.
Taking the time to reflect and on our current values and where they came from allows us to determine if they still align with the life we currently want to live.
There may be values from our past that we want to keep. But there may be others that are detrimental to the person we are. We do not need to get rid of values that are still serving us, but we should be aware of those that are not helping us be the person we want to be.
Think about your childhood and what your family, society, or culture put the most importance on. You can start by remembering what a typical day looked like, what activities did your family did, (add more)
As a child my parents made it clear that they expected a lot of us, they wanted us to excel at all of the things we did. If we didn’t, then we would be seen as failures or lazy. This meant that I would push myself hard and neglect the things I wanted to do in order to do the things my parents wanted me to do.
Previous value: Being the best
When I was young we all took turns talking about our day over dinner. My grandmother made sure everyone got a chance to speak without others interrupting.
Previous value: Listening to others
As a teenager going through puberty I had a lot of strong emotions that I didn’t know how to handle or understand. When I tried to talk to my dad he would tell me I was being dramatic or that he didn’t have time to listen to me every time something upset me. I soon learned to keep my emotions to myself.
Previous value: Not being a burden to others
Identify your current values
Start by how many of your identified previous values you still hold. Is it still a priority for you to excel at everything you do? Do you still focus on making sure everyone feels heard? Do you continue to not talk about your feelings because it might make others uncomfortable?
Some of the values you held in childhood may continue to be the values you hold into adulthood. But before you continue holding onto your values, take the time to truly look at them and see if they fit into your current life.
Start by writing what you think is important to you
Make a list of attributes, beliefs, and qualities that you feel are important. What aspects of yourself and others do you see as valuable and essential to living the truest version of your life? Don’t worry about spelling grammar, or getting the exact right word. Let your thoughts flow and write down what comes to your mind.
Example list of what is important to me
Being there for people when they need someone
It is important to me that others know they are not alone and I am there to listen and help. I feel it is essential that as people we look out for each other.
I want to never lose my sense of wonder at the world around me. No matter my age, I want to always be exploring and asking questions.
The world is constantly pushing us to be faster, be better, do more. It is important to me to not rush through life, but to work on enjoy each moment. I don’t want to try and pack in as much as I can, I want to pick and choose and give each moment its own time and space.
It’s OK for your values to change
When you review your lists, previous values and current values, there may be some differences. It’s likely that at least some of your core values have changed and it’s entirely possible that all of them have changed. This may bring up unexpected emotions, such as anxiety over the fact that you are no longer the person you were or relief that you have embraced a truer version of yourself. Allow yourself to feel these emotions, don’t try to bury and quickly move past them. It is important to acknowledge both you you were and who you are.
You may have a mourning period as you sort through your feelings of growing and changing. You may feel a sadness at the perceived loss of the former you. Take the time to process all the emotions that arise, write them down, talk about them, work to understand them.
Just know that it is OK and completely normal for your values to change over time. It does not mean you have turned your back on your culture or your family, it simply means you are better understanding yourself, your needs, and your place in the world.
Ways to keep track of your values
Once your determine what your values are, find ways to continuously remind yourself. This helps keep them in the forefront of your mind as you make your way through everyday life.
The best way to track your values will vary from person to person, there is not universal way that will work for everyone. Try a few different ways to see which fits the most organically into your everyday life.
Don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to get in the habit of focusing and reminding yourself of your values. It is not as simple as just identifying what is most important to you and then just going off and living your life. We often have previous priorities that we need to unlearn or shift. Living your truest life takes effort and time, but ultimately is worth it.
Ways to keep track of your values
Write them down
Writing down either a sentence or a word can be a useful visual reminder of what your priorities are. Maybe using colorful paper that catches your eye you write “honesty” or “being patient and kind to others”.
Find pictures to represent them
Pictures can have the ability to communicate more than words are able to. They can elicit emotions that we are not able to accurately describe. Another way to track your priorities is to find or make pictures that represent them.
Using your values to ground yourself
When you know what is most important to you, it can help you when you need direction and guidance. When situations or opportunities arise that cause you to overthink, ground yourself by focusing on your values.
Sometimes we overthink because subconsciously something is holding us back. It could be a fear of the unknown, we may worry about failure, it could also come from us feeling we are not prepared or ready for change. Other times our overthinking is caused by something not feeling quite right, but we are unable to articulate why.
To differentiate between overthinking that is hindering our growth and overthinking that is trying to help steer us in the right direction, refer back to your values. Think about how activities and opportunities fit into what is most important to you. Ask yourself a few questions to help sort your thoughts and make a decision. There will not always be an easy, obvious answer, but your answers can help steer you in the direction that is most aligned with who you truly are.
When you find yourself overthinking a decision, a situation, a next step, or an opportunity, use your values as a guidepost. Use the questions below as a starting place to sort through your overthinking.
Questions to ask yourself
Does this go against any of my core values?
Does this fit with my values?
Does this fit with the person I want to be?
Does this fit with the real me or the fantasy me?
Will this help me grow?
Answering the above questions can also help you determine if you are overthinking out of real or perceived fear. As overthinkers, we can often create a fear within our mind to keep us from taking risks or trying new things. We may trick ourselves into believing that we are keeping ourselves safe when in reality we are simply keeping ourselves from growing or experiencing life. Taking calculated risks and expanding our comfort zone can help us better understand ourselves and experience the world around us.
Knowing your values is knowing yourself. Taking the time to revisit your values, beliefs, and priorities is essential to truly understanding yourself. Having clear values allows you to assess situations and opportunities from the lens of what is most important to you.
Do not be afraid of change, we are ever-growing creatures who are not meant to stay the same. But give yourself time to accept change and the person you are. There is no deadline and this is not a race, it is your own journey to lived at your own pace.