Understanding Our Core Values

The best way to figure out what we need to stay sane when our whole routine shifts and becomes restricted is to break down why we do the things we normally do and see if we can find other ways to do them. Essentially, we need to understand our Core Values.

“Values” is a fairly broad term, but in this context, it’s the things in life that drive our behaviors and make us who we are. These values differ from person to person, but there are many that are fairly universal. If this concept is new to you, you should take a look at this list and get a feel for what we’re describing here.

For instance, the need for “meaningful work” is a very common one. We like to know that the work we do makes a difference, is valuable and that our contribution is irreplaceable. When we feel like our work is meaningless, we begin to feel depressed.

Most of us will associate with most values to some degree, but as individuals we associate more strongly with some than others. Those values are our Core Values. Most of us are unaware of our core values and subconsciously tailor our life to satisfy them. We seek to do things that make us feel good and avoid things that do not. Yet, when our life is thrown into disarray and we lose our routines, it can be hard to know exactly what to do to bring back that good feeling we once had.

With the recent quarantines, social restrictions and closure of workplaces, many of us are stuck at home and at a complete loss of how to ease our unrest. It can feel like a non-specific boredom, restlessness, anxiety, apathy and depression. Despite all of the things around us, nothing compels us, or we feel so overwhelmed with the things we have to do that we crumble. We’re cut off from the things we do that give us meaning and make us feel connected with others. And the only way to find peace during a time like this is to identify what drives us.

I’ll give you an example. One of my core values is to be connected to others. I like to have positive relationships with as many people as I can, and I like to know that my presence has a positive effect on their lives. With social distancing, my plans for travel and events have been cancelled indefinitely, and it’s hard to connect with people and to know that I make any difference to them. I see increasingly less evidence of that around me, and that causes me to feel sad, withdrawn and lethargic. My self-esteem plummets.

But, in knowing that social connection is one of the most important things for my happiness and self-worth, I can focus my energy into fixing that issue. I can’t travel to see my friends, but I can arrange phone calls where I normally would be too lazy. I can’t measure the positive impact I have on people, so here I am, writing a blog post that I really hope will help somebody and knowing it’s enough to try.

I can then go on to identify more core values. In picking out about 5, I can choose the hardest hitting of my drives and make the biggest impact on my mental well-being. Yes, “adventure” is a fun value that I certainly enjoy, but it’s not one of my core values, and so I don’t need to be spending energy to bring that into my life right now. I just focus on the things that will make the biggest impact to me and start from there.

If those feelings of restlessness resonate with you, I’d advise you spend a little time thinking about what really drives you, and how you can make the best of your current situation to satisfy them. Think about the things that bring you the most joy, fulfillment, confidence and meaning and try to find patterns in their causes. By cultivating an awareness of what brings us joy and what brings us misery, we can be more intentional in our new routines and stave off the blues in this unprecedented time.