One of the great things about being human is that we get to choose the nature and quality of our lives – at least insofar as we get to choose the principles, values, goals, desires, etc. that shape us during our time on this planet.
Animals and plants don’t have this gift and responsibility, at least as far as we can tell. Only we humans have this capacity. So, taking charge of the areas that we have some control over in order to build more happy and successful lives is at the heart of what it means to be a thriving human being.
And one of the first things we can do to improve our lives and cut all the superfluous, toxic crap that drains us is simply to define what’s important to us.
What Are Your Values?
Nearly all of us think of ourselves as being people who have values. We say that our values determine who we are and what we do. That we live according to them.
The problem is that often our values are not directly in our line of vision as we make our way through the choices of daily life. We have them – or think we do – somewhere, maybe over here, wait no they’re over there . . . .let me go get them.
Well, this won’t work. Why? Because it helps crap build up in our lives. Without a clear sense of our fundamental values, we’ll end up choosing all sorts of things based on whims, circumstances or momentary preferences that end up creating piles of crap all over our lives.
So, we need to regain our clarity on our values so that we can begin to use them like a knife to cut away all the crap that doesn’t align with them.
What is a value? For our purposes, it’s simply something on which you place premium importance. Something of the highest worth. Something more fundamental to you and your life than nearly all else. Whatever is ultimate for you.
Here are some commonly listed values that people will name for themselves when asked what’s most important to them. Take a look at this list to get a sense of the term “value” as we’re using it here:
family, integrity, truth, love, abundance, peace, joy, honesty, freedom, trust, hope, security, safety, generosity, faith, goodness, patience, compassion, humaneness, money, friendship, authenticity, commitment, success, spirituality, beauty, community, gratitude, honor, justice, simplicity, responsibility, creativity, respect, connection, knowledge, independence, cooperation, harmony, accountability, individuality, self-sufficiency, efficiency, hard work, reliability
These 40-plus principles and values are not exhaustive, but they are the more common ones named by groups of people who brainstorm together on what are the most meaningful and important of personal values. You can add others to the list as they occur to you.
Now, using this list as a guide, pull out – and write down – your top 10 most important values.
Do you know that just this simple little task of defining your 10 most important values is more than what the vast majority of people have ever done? You’ve actually written down and declared what is most important to you. This is no small thing. Most people just go along reacting to circumstances and stimuli according to their whims and desires of the moment, instead of responding based on their stated values.
And defining what’s most important to you is the first step to simplifying and clarifying your life. But here’s where things get a little tougher.
The samurai have a saying. A masterful person can make every decision in life – from the smallest to the most significant – in the space of 7 breaths. That’s about a minute or so. How can they do this? Because they know who they are based on their stated values, and they have crafted their lives entirely according to those values. Such a person doesn’t need lots of time to make decisions.
Looking at your top 10 values, cut the list in half. Cut it down to your Top 5 values. Here’s a tip: you may be able to eliminate one value if its meaning or essence is included in another one. For example, compassion and love are similar, so you might be able to choose which of these captures most of what you value in that concept and eliminate the other. Truth and integrity are similar for people as well. Freedom and individuality, and so on.
Not all of them can be eliminated so easily. But just press forward and drill down into yourself. Choose what is most important to you – not what you think should be most important, or what others say should be most important, Choose what you actually believe, think and want to be most important in your life. This is central. You have to know who you are and what’s most important to you in order to begin to distinguish the clutter in your life and begin clearing it out.
So, stop reading. Think a bit. Chew on that list, and narrow it down for yourself.
How does that feel? Do you feel nervous, like you’re cutting out important stuff? Do you feel energized? Do you feel excited? Are you surprising yourself? All these and more are possible reactions to doing an exercise like this. Sometimes we forget what’s really important to us – we lull ourselves into having only vague notions of it – and doing an exercise like this pushes us to bring our values front and center.
Okay – here comes the toughest part.
An old saying says life comes in three’s. Well, our list needs to be pared down one more time. Cut your Top 5 list down to your Top 3 Values. Really push yourself. Go inside yourself and dig it out. It’s in there. The Real YOU – the Self that lives and creates according to a deep sense of personal values – is in there, and always has been. Just go inside, reflect, and come out with it.
Do you know that you are about 2 hairs from being superhuman now? I’m not kidding. The samurai have a saying I’ve always loved. They say that a masterful person can make every decision in life – from the smallest to the most significant – in the space of 7 breaths. That’s about a minute or so.
How can they do this? Because they know who they are based on their stated values, and they have crafted their lives entirely according to those values. Such a person doesn’t need lots of time to make decisions. They know very quickly, almost intuitively, what the “right” thing to do is for them. And they do it.
You are a thousand steps closer to being that kind of clear, centered, capable person than you were before you began this exercise. You have now reflected and identified the 3 most important, most fundamental values of your life. You now have a better handle on who you are – and you now have a powerful key tool to begin cutting the crap from your life.
How so? Whatever is not consistent in a direct way with your 3 core values is likely to be crap.
And you need to clean it out as a part of living your values. After all, what’s the point of having values if we don’t live by them? Because when we live by them, there’s a powerful clarity, calmness, and focus that comes naturally to life. Distractions, obstacles, every day problems – many of these just recede to the background the more we actually live out our core values in our daily lives. And that’s nothing short of a revelation. Your values become like a tuning fork – they help you “hear” whatever is out of tune in your life.
Behavior patterns you’ve fallen into, ruts you’ve gotten stuck in, things you say and do without thinking – all kinds of stuff! Suddenly, with these values at the forefront of your mind, you will more easily detect the daily actions and choices that aren’t consistent with who you really are and what you want your life to be about. And, in that moment, you can choose whether to proceed with the inconsistent choice or choose differently.
That’s the first step toward living a more fulfilling and enjoyable life – clarifying who you are and what you’re about – and a huge step toward cutting the crap out of your life.
Dr. Jill Carroll is a scholar, writer and speaker in religious studies. She was an adjunct associate professor in religious studies at Rice University, and directed the Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance there until June 2009. She writes and speaks on issues of religion in public life, world religions, and philosophy of religion. In addition to being a best-selling author, she is a featured blogger at the Houston Chronicle. Her first novel, “Quail Fried Rice,” is available on Amazon. Find out more about her at www.jillcarroll.com or follow her on Twitter @JillCarroll.
Stop the Crap: Six Lessons to Get Your Life Back
by Jill Carroll
Crap is defined as the stuff that doesn’t work, that’s unnecessary, that doesn’t create life or health or abundance or anything else good in your life. Crap drags you down, drags others down around you, keeps you distracted, blocks you from actualizing what you say you want in your life, and slowly saps the vitality out of you and everyone else in your circle bit by bit. Apply these simple, practical lessons and find new freedom to live the life of your dreams in ways you never thought possible.