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Alexandra Karlović - Kanyakumari, Tamilnadu, India at the crack of dawn. 2016.

Why your values matter now

Yesterday we tackled the fact that, what we will have learned from the Coronavirus, will dictate many decisions we will take in the future; individually and as a society. I believe we can safely say that this is and will be a defining moment in our lives.

There is no point in focusing on what we can’t control, also known as the circle of concern. Stephen Covey, best selling author of many books among those the famous 7 habits of highly effective people, coined down that concept known as the circle of influence. It is also the grounding principle of stoic philosophy: what is under your control? what is not under your control?

If we come back to the aftermath of Coronavirus, to us as individuals, and the question I asked yesterday (what will you do differently?), the very first thing we could do differently is inherent to the verb doing and means: how will I behave from now on? (actionable)

If changing behaviours were that easy, there would not be so much literature on the topic and everyone would do it easily for anything that they wish to improve. Sometimes, instant behavioural change happens and people change their behaviour in a heart beat. Exemple: stop eating sugar after having been diagnosed with severe diabetes and confronted with the idea that no, life is not eternal. Most of the time, these behavioural changes happen because the person has associated massive pain to the fact of not changing and massive pleasure to the fact of changing. Yes pain and pleasure move us.

Sometimes we also get stuck. What most people don’t realise is that, if we get stuck, there is a reason for that and the answer can be found in the logical levels of Robert Dilts or in the ladder of inference of Chris Argyris. If we can’t seem to change our behaviour it could be because there is too much pleasure in how we do things now and we are not willing to do what it takes to change (the effort, the sacrifice), the pleasure is bigger than the pain. If we can’t change our behaviour although we are willing to do what it takes and have the skills/knowledge, the answer might lie somewhere else.

In my experience, in both cases the answer lies in your values. What is important to you? Which leads to the second question: are you living according to your values? if the answer is yes, do your current values serve you and the goals you have for your life? if the answer is no, you might ask yourself : if you would live according to your values would that immediately have an impact on your current behaviours? if the answer is yes, then you know what to do. (this is alignment/being coherent).

Our behaviours are determined by the beliefs we have about ourselves and about others, which is determined by the values we have and the rules we associate to those, fruit of our cultural background and everything that it entails. If I value kindness, then yes smiling to a stranger is important. Can I control if the other person smiles or not? No. Should I keep doing it then? Yes if it is important to me: I do it for myself, to be true to myself, not to please others or answer what society expects from me.

And let me anticipate a question you might have: yes, there are good values (virtues) and poor values. Poor values are not within your control, destructive to others (maybe even yourself) and based on the illusion you will be experiencing eternal bliss if you accomplish that or that. Exemple: being rich so that you can show off, being famous so you can satisfy your need for significance. So, a good value is within your control and creates greater good: honesty, kindness, self leadership, patience … There was a time these were called virtues, I haven’t heard that word in a long time.

There is a lot that has been written on the topic and I don’t see the point in repeating what has already been brilliantly written by others. I particularly like the approach of Mark Manson in his article on values (and in his book The subtle art of not giving a f*ck) who, I just saw, published a post on LinkedIn on the topic last night in NYC.

My objective here was to point out that your behaviours come from somewhere: your values. And your values will determine your behaviours of tomorrow. The good news is, you can change your values and choose different ones.

If you want to be a leader, now is a good time to start. You can simply do this by questioning your behaviours through the filter of your values and answer the question: how would I respond to this situation (not react) based on my values? You might realise and have an a-ha moment but I don’t know what my values are ! Well that is a very good place to start and quite normal for most human beings who never really thought about it. You can then ask yourself: so what are my values? (plenty of lists of those on google) what is important to me? and be your own Socrates.

And don’t beat yourself up while doing this. Like my teacher Tal Ben Shahar would say: permission to be human. In other words, cut yourself some slack now and then. You will not always succeed in living 100% by your values and it’s normal. Just don’t indulge in poor values or poor behaviours too often, you might regret it when the moment suprême comes. (memento mori)

Ps: the picture in this article is a picture taken at the crack of dawn at Kanyakumari, India, after a 3hours drive from Kerala just to see the sunrise. The place derives its name from the goddess Devi Kanya Kumari, considered to be the sister of Krishna, a goddess which is believed to remove the rigidity from the mind. The statue standing on the rock represents « wealth » and « pleasures », signifying that wealth and love be earned and enjoyed on the foundation of solid virtue. (source: wikipedia.) Interesting isn’t it ? and chosen by sheer coincidence for this article.

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