Welcome to the second instalment of Dr Richard MacKinnon's series which explores the reasons we don’t take action when it comes to our own development.


What do you stand for? What are the standards you want to live up? If you had to write them on a blank sheet of paper, it might take you a while.

Our values are the standards of action to which we aspire. Unlike goals, which we achieve, values remain an ongoing piece of work. For example, you can work towards the goal of that next promotion, and then achieve it. Put a tick in that box.

However, if one of your values is to be compassionate, then you don’t wake up one morning and decide you’ve been sufficiently compassionate to your fellow humans and leave it at that! We continue life. Attempting to apply our values and live up to them – when we think of it.

What’s it all about?

In contemporary life, we’re encouraged to do more and more, acquire more and more and work towards more stretching goals. But why? Why are we working so hard?

If we’re unclear on what we stand for and what we aspire to, we’re merely going through the motions, without a sense of meaning or purpose. And if we’re not in touch with our values, when faced with difficult or ambiguous situations, we may rely on our emotions to help us make a decision.

Which is rarely a good idea, considering how volatile they are.

Values and development

You can use your values to help you get clarity on your development needs. For example, once you know what you feel is most important, you can reflect on the time and attention you pay to these behaviours and ultimately decide if they represent strengths (values you put into practice regularly) or development areas (values you aspire to, but fail to implement).

Additionally, clarity on your values can highlight inconsistencies between how you want to spend your working life and the role you have or the organisation you work in. This clarity can spur you on to take action and develop the skills you’ll need to move to a better role or organisation more aligned with your values.

Values and wellbeing

Research shows us that regularly putting values into practice and living a values-aligned life is associated with better psychological wellbeing. It’s more challenging to develop yourself when you’re not feeling good about yourself or your life’s circumstances. So, emphasising a values-led existence can help you develop the positive outlook that will clarify your next steps and support you to take them.

Values and meaning

Finally, having clarity on your values and regularly putting them into practice can help you keep going through the challenges associated with personal and professional development. All change comes with difficulties and values help clarify the meaning – the “why” – for your hard work and persistence and the inevitable discomfort that comes with making changes (even positive ones) in your life.

So when you ask yourself “Why am I going to this night class after a long day at the office?” or “Why am I asking for feedback that I know is going to be tough to hear?”, you can make this experiences easier for yourself by emphasising how you’re putting your values into practice.

Getting clarity on your values

If values aren’t something you’ve not given much thought to so far in life, don’t worry – you’re not alone. It’s never too late to get some clarity on them, however, and you have some options.

You can simply take out a piece of paper and make a list. Remember the distinction between values and goals as you do this. It can be a little daunting to stare at a blank page, however! Don’t feel bad if you can’t think of your values immediately.

Alternatively, you can consider the areas of your life and identify what’s most important to you in each:

  • Family life
  • Social life
  • Development
  • Working life
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Spirituality / religion
  • Community

If you’re interested in getting clarity on your own values, you can complete a values identification exercise like the one I outline in my guide to Psychological Flexibility. You can download the guide and a deck of ‘values cards’ to help you sort the most important from the rest via worklifepsych.com/psychologicalflexibility

Finally, we discussed the importance of values in episode 5 of the ‘My Pocket Psych’ podcast. You can get the podcast from your preferred platform (iTunes, Google, Spotify) or simply stream if from our website at WorkLifePsych.com/podcast.

Richard is a Chartered Psychologist and Coach and is the Managing Director of WorkLifePsych, a team of workplace psychologists specialising in people development. They provide coaching, development programmes and training to employees globally, across a range of industries. Richard is particularly interested in the three complementary themes of wellbeing, productivity and professional effectiveness.

Richard co-hosts the fortnightly podcast My Pocket Psych alongside Pilar Orti of WorkLifePsych. Each episode focuses on an aspect of working life and attempts to bring clarity by translating the science into something listeners can put into action. Click here to listen now: worklifepsych.com/podcast.

Development is a journey. The WiseAmigo app and community are here to help you along the way. Join the WiseAmigo community, create a Spotlight, discover more insightful content and reflect on your development journey today!


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