We love to vaguely allude to values in day-to-day conversation. Values are a convenient, socially respected concept and any reference to them adds weight to our words. More than likely your company has core values plastered on the wall with lofty important terms like: Respect, Integrity, and Synergy (whatever that means). These make their way into company newsletters and annual meetings, but do they make their way into people’s perceptions, beliefs, and actions?
You, like your corporate overlords, have many values driving your decisions and behaviors, but they probably aren’t what you think they are. If you want to understand why fitness doesn’t last for most people and how to solve this issue, you have to start with people’s real values.
Values often get confused with an ethical code. Ideally, your values would overlap almost entirely with the behaviors you find most moral, but these two concepts are still separate. What you value is simply what you prefer.
For example, I prefer a good night’s sleep over staying up late drinking. Consequently, my social activities tend to happen earlier. I put my phone up before 7:30 and I’m in bed reading before nine every night.
Yet, despite my respect for sleep, I value my daughter’s survival and healthy development more. It is higher up on the preference hierarchy. When she was an infant sleeping sporadically through the night, I didn’t think twice about getting up to feed her at 1am because I valued her nourishment more than my sleep.
As you mature, your values can grow complex enough to prefer more nuanced, long-term concepts. For example, I prefer the health, vitality, confidence, and sense of natural harmony I get from eating plants with every meal over the pleasure of eating donuts or other sweets. It certainly wasn’t always this way.
My two-year-old son only thinks of the intense pleasure he gets from cookies. Yet, I truly prefer a shrimp salad to a cookie. Sure at the immediate level, it would feel better to have ice cream at every meal, but these immature notions are completely absent from my day to day decisions. I’ve internalized more mature value structures from my years of good influences, self-work, and training.
Perception drives our values—this is crucial. What we prefer is based entirely on the outcomes we associate with any given course of action. We identify actions with very simple feelings and ideas. When I abstain from eating sweets at work, I’m abstaining from being someone I don’t want to be. I have a strong emotional aversion to the idea of becoming less.
I’m not deciding not to eat a cookie, I’m deciding not to be impulsive, out of control, unhealthy, and irresponsible (at least in my head). I’m deciding not to trade my dreams for momentary comfort. For me, it’s as simple a value decision as choosing not to mainline heroin. Not that the two are comparable, but at the emotional level, there is no difference.
That doesn’t mean I don’t ever enjoy a good cookie. But, I won’t have cookies often and when I do it will always be at a time I’ve planned in advance to deviate from my normal patterns. I actually have a system for allowing spontaneity as well, but suffice it to say most days I don’t eat added sugars and I much prefer it this way.
By not eating a cookie offered at a staff meeting, I perceive myself as choosing empowerment and emotional control. Someone else doing the same thing might tell themselves a very different story.
They’ll obsess on how they feel deprived, angry, and afraid that they have to live this life of self-denial forever—that this path is completely different from the life they were promised through the first 20, 30, or even 50 years of their life. They’ll feel a completely different set of emotions than I do. I used to feel the same way.
Values tend to dictate most long-term action. If you work out every day it will be because you value all the benefits that exercise gives you over the comfort of not moving. Even that random day where you decide you just aren’t feeling it and you’re going to skip the gym is a complex value decision.
There is a combination of some level of willpower fatigue mixed with social pressure and various other factors that leads you to value exercise less than comfort. You may value exercise over comfort before lunch, but after lunch, your willpower tends to be sapped comparable to the energy it takes to get moving. The scales tip in favor of preferring immediate comfort over any long term benefit.
Our preference hierarchies are as fluid as we are and that is the danger of breaking good patterns. Each time we break our own rules, we subconsciously give ourselves permission to do it again. Productive values don’t just happen. They are built.
You can look at your life and scheme good values, but life is complex and emotions are powerful. More than anything, your values are shaped by your perception and your perceptions change with your education and experience. Thus, good actions tend to beget good actions while bad leads to bad. We quickly fall into patterns.
Construct More Productive Values
If we want to construct more productive values it can be helpful to go the traditional route:
- Look at your actions and honestly assess the values they indicate. For example, if you are in debt and have a fancy car, a closet full of designer clothes you’ve hardly worn, and a social media presence that dominates most of your conscious hours, you might realize that you value what people think more than financial security and quality time.
- Determine the values that are most fruitful and mentally rehearse the actions they’d necessitate. For example, you’d like to value your long term health and daily energy more. To do this, you’ll need to eat better, sleep better, and add regular movement to your life.
- Plan times to reflect on your progress and re-evaluate.
This is a worthwhile process that should ideally become less structured and more of a natural extension of how you look at the world and reflect. Yet, it is also quite limited. We can’t logic our way into changing perceptions and we can’t plan for all the complexities of daily life. Real change follows taking the right actions.
The most fruitful value changes follow consistent actions, transformative experiences, and social support. Finding a sub-culture where good values are common is a great way to go. Great gyms support people not only to work out, but in sharing recipes and building friendships where people see what works for others and support each other’s efforts.
The simplest path to change your values is to adopt the three core habits I outlined in my free ebook, The Essential Guide to Self-Mastery. By hacking your habits, you can program yourself to act consistently. These core habits are the most impactful and consistent actions you can adopt to change perception, values, confidence, and future action.
The first habit is daily exercise. I actually don’t recommend starting with a long exercise practice, unless you already enjoy that. To begin, just adopt a daily movement practice. But don’t stop there. Like daily physical exercise, we should also train our emotional intelligence daily. The next core habit is meditation and gratitude. These have a way of changing our thoughts and how we perceive the thoughts that come through our brain.
The final habit may be the most important because it allows us to adapt, change, and grow forever. This is called “feeding the right wolf,” or in normal terms, daily nourishing education. Education gives us the opportunity to dig deeper and understand the principles that underlie our own development. When we copy methods there is always something lost in the translation, but by mastering principles, we develop the tools to adapt.
Today there are so many avenues for great self-education, but there is far more trash. If we don’t curate the messages we bring in, then we’ll be shuffled aimlessly along a path of clickbait, confirmation bias, and distraction. We’ll be programmed for unrewarding values.
The 30×30 Challenge
Even more, education is most effective when it is structured and consistent. You could go through the IHD online course catalog or look to begin taking classes to learn a skill that you’ve always wanted to master. Still, the best way to dig into these three core habits is to sign up for the IHD 30×30 Challenge. We have built a 30-day program that features exercise, education, meditation, and gratitude conveniently packaged in a 30 minute dose.
My partner at IHD, Justin Lind, and I have spent the better part of the last six months building and obsessing over this program. It was one thing for us to profess a need for the three core habits, but we knew we needed a program to take people through these.
The 30×30 Challenge not only packages all three core habits in one 30-minute dose, but it builds lessons in a structured manner to help embed the principles behind action and gradually shift your perceptions about life and purpose. Self-development becomes most sustainable when it is driven by a broader concept of personal mission and purpose. By the end of these 30 days, you’ll have just that.
The program will be available September 15th, but if you get on the list now you can reserve the pre-sale discount. To learn more head to the 30×30 Challenge page and see how you can make self-development a part of your daily life.