Blog & Insight

When a value has got too big for its boots

In my post what values are motivating your actions we explored how to determine what your values are in any given context.

If you know where you want to get to and are motivated and are taking action towards your goal I suspect further exploration of your values is not needed.

If, however, you know what you want to be doing but you're not doing it values might be a great place to start.

The premise being, if you can understand your motivators you might be able to work out why you're not taking the necessary action to achieve a specific goal.

The challenge with values is they're powerful things, and just knowing that a certain value is hindering you isn't in itself always enough to stop it.

Let's continue with my list of values mentioned in the previous post and see what changes might be needed so I take action towards the goals I'm saying at the time of writing I want to achieve. (Please note this post is from the 2015 archives and so things have changed since then.)

Value hierarchy: Freedom, truth, empowerment, laughter, connection, contribution, achievement

I remember having a huge insight the first time I did this exercise about why my value of freedom was holding me back.

It was as if at any point in time I had 360 degrees of freedom and making a choice would as shown below reduce that to 1 degree - so why would I make any decisions.

Once I realised this I changed my representation so that with every decision I understood that I had a whole new 360 degrees worth of freedom :-). Therefore ensuring my value was met and decisions could be made - in fact making decisions gave me more sources of freedom.

The aim being to explore the definitions for your values in order to understand more about how it works or doesn't for you - what does having it look like to you, what might it be stopping you doing etc.

So let's think of something I'm currently procrastinating on - oh yes - writing my book (You'll be glad to know it finally got written).

Currently I can see how writing my book meets the last 3 values (connection, contribution, achievement) but I can also understand why freedom might be getting in the way. After all once the book is written, it's then published, and then in my head freedom goes out the window. I mean people will want me to go here and there, and be at their beck and call.

Perhaps not as bad as I've made it seem but you get the idea. 

The key here would be playing around with my belief about freedom. To provide the motivation needed by saying in my example not only will my freedom not be hindered but it will be enhanced.

For example, a successfully written and published book will provide more interest in what I do, more opportunities and therefore more freedom to choose what I do. Interest in the book will lead to more speaking and training opportunities and therefore certainly more opportunity for truth and laughter too.

The aim would be to keep going until you can sense the motivation to take the necessary actions has increased.

Might this be the answer to why you're not achieving your goal?

It might also be as simple as just reprioritising your list!

Not so easy though.

One way of doing this would be to write the values on separate pieces of paper and put them in order you've discovered from the previous exercise.

Now identify the order you think would be more helpful and as you move the words into that new order (one at a time) notice what comes up for you - emotions, feelings, thoughts, beliefs, memories etc.

I'd then suggest it's a case of making a note of what comes up, putting the values back in the original order and then taking time to explore what came up.

There is no right or wrong - just what is, and an understanding of how that supports or hinders you in your daily life. Armed with this information you can then make choices about changes you might what to make.

The key is not forcing a value to be anything than where it is in the hierarchy. By understanding why its as important as it is, however, you might be able to change its importance.

Here's a favourite technique for helping you explore your relationship to your values.

  • Pick one of your values.
  • As you imagine the value can you see a word, and is it in colour or black and white, or is it a picture, or perhaps a sound or feeling.
  • Once you've got a sense of that then explore it some more - is it large or small, where it is located spatially (inside or outside of you), what happens when you turn it up or down and so on.
  • Just have a play and notice what you notice.
  • Now do the same for another value and notice the differences.
  • Once you've done this for a number of your values then if one really stands out as different what happens if you make it more like the others? or what happens if you make your first value more like your last value or visa versa? Just have a play, calibrating all the time the impact it has.
  • Perhaps even think about the goal you've been having problems achieving and notice if any changes make it feel more achievable.

When I drew my list of values for work on a flip chart here's what I discovered.

It seems Contribution might have become more important just as I've been writing these blogs :-).

Looking at this visual representation of my values hierarchy it feels like achievement is a little left out, and freedom still might be a little too big for its boots.

So I just played around with the representation - location, size, colour etc and ended up with this:

It feels less onerous than the original - I may want to add a colour to the yellow bubbles and find something to put into the gap at the top (as I've been tidying the blog up I've come up with an idea - see below).

Only time will tell if doing this helps or hinders me getting better results moving forward (but hey I did just use the word results - so perhaps achievement is now more in the fold).

Whilst this all makes sense to me and feels right - remember - values are driven from the heart so the brain will have a hard time if it tries to make sense of it. Especially if you try to make sense of someone elses representation of their values. It doesn't mean someone can't ask questions we just have to make sure we don't make assumptions about what size, distance etc means, or try to apply our meaning to a word.

As ever, if you try it for yourself you'll get a sense of whether this particular process might be able to unlock the reason for you not moving towards that goal.

I did say values aren't heady things but come from the heart - here's what happened as I was writing this blog.

As I looked at the new visual representation of my values (above) and thought about what to add to that space below connection Love popped into my head and I smiled.

My original list of 10 values included Love, and for the purposes of not scaring people off (sorry I know I should know better) decided to omit it when I reduced the list to 7.

Which just shows how unconscious but important values are as I unconsciously, it would seem, left room for Love - knowing it would eventually get added back in :-).

A great example of not judging our values - they are what they are.

If you'd like help to uncover your values, resolve any conflicts between them and understand how your values can be used to support you achieving your goals call me +44 (0)7770 538159 or email

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© Alison Smith
VAT Registration: 224 5001 58
Registered in Scotland, Registration Number: SC457105
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