When trying to live intentionally, most people get as far as, "well, what exactly are my intentions?" Without knowing where we want our lives to go, it's impossible to be intentional. You need a goal, or destination, whether that be "I don't want to yell at the kids today," or "I want to climb Mt. Everest this year."
The *adult human brain makes about 35,000 at least decisions every day (compared to about 3,000 in children); 226.7 of them being about food alone. This means that you have 35,000 chances to steer your life in the direction that you see fit. That's a lot of progress, or a lot of missed opportunity.
I'm a big advocate for direction over purpose. You want to live life with purpose, but living as though you have a single purpose is most likely setting yourself up for failure. I don't believe we have a single purpose we're put on this Earth for, but I do believe that we can be purposeful with our actions. Direction is more agile, and can be as long or short term as you'd like. Basically, you have a point A (where you are right now), and a point B (where you'd like to go). Point B may change 100 times before you reach it, and there will most likely be about 25 pitstops and detours along the way, so you don't want to base all of your decisions and life choices on a very fluid point B. This is why direction is more important when reaching goals; setting small, achievable goals and celebrating small wins has been proven over and over to be more effective then larger, more intimidating goals.
Knowing what you stand for creates a strong foundation for building character, gives your choices meaning, and greatly influences the kind of lifestyle you live. Without it, decisions don't mean much, precious years go by in a blur, arguments lose conviction, and passion is scarce.
In physics (bear with me), there are scaler and vector quantities. A scaler quantity like speed, for example, only has magnitude (5 mph) while speed's vector counterpart, velocity, has both magnitude and direction (5 mph 35 degrees NW). It is a tough pill to swallow, thinking of yourself as a scaler quantity, just chillin' with nowhere to go, no-one to be, no goals to accomplish. But to put it bluntly, that's exactly how you are living if you don't know what you stand for.
Now don't get me wrong, this isn't for everybody. Some people just want to be comfortable in life; others are content just seeing what each day brings, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with either of those. But if you want to go somewhere specific, somewhere that makes the world a better place, than keep reading.
Life isn't about progress for the sake of progress. Progression without meaning is just wandering. And while wandering has its place, and is necessary for a healthy mindset, it's important to not just wander. And not everything needs to have meaning; a 100% intentional life is practically impossible. However, a life lived intentionally (to the best of our abilities) can lead to beautiful, peaceful places, a healthier and happier self, and easily change the world for the better.
The key to figuring our what you stand for is to take it slow, give yourself plenty of grace, and always be mindful of your core values. They will be the lanterns that guide you through the dark, the blocks you build your foundation with, and the heart and soul of your life's choices. YOU, and you alone get to decide what you stand for; what makes you tick, what keeps you up at night, what inspires and motivates you, what gets you out of bed in the morning. YOU determine what needs you have, and YOU determine how those needs are met. When you know what you stand for, you transform from a scaler quantity to a vector.
Great, so how do you do that? I'm so glad you asked. It's not as hard as you may think to get started. I speak from experience when I say it having the self-awareness and mindfulness to live by your values doesn't always come easy, or quickly. Like anything else in life, practice makes perfect, and you have to start somewhere. I'll teach you how to put one foot in front of the other until you've got a handy list of values (and anti-values) to help make decisions that are not only good for the world, but in alignment with your values. Let's dive in, shall we?
1. What do you think are your values?
First things first; what do you think you stand for? I can give you charts, research, quizzes until I'm blue in the face, but the real expert on you is you. To get started, either write your own or grab a list of values from our site, or anywhere else. Brené Brown has a nice values list as well.
Then put a checkmark next to the ones you strongly identify with; the ones that represent what you truly stand for, deep down. Remember, this is to find your values, not your "likes" or your "they're Ok's" your values, so be selective.
Wealth, status, popularity, recognition, etc. aren't on Joon + Co.'s list. They're examples of extrinsic motivators (like rewards or punishments to avoid), and they aren't sustainable sources of motivation. If you strongly identify with extrinsic motivators, ask yourself why they motivate you? What is your end goal? Instead of wealth, are you actually seeking financial freedom? Instead of recognition, are you really looking for gratitude? You get the picture.
what are your values?
use these guideposts to light your way when you feel lost
2. What motivates you?
Intentional living isn't just about our actions and choices, it's about WHY we make those choices and WHY we take those actions. By reverse-engineering our motivators, it can uncover hidden motives behind why we do what we do.
In this exercise, make a list of things that you do on a fairly regular basis, starting each line with "I am motivated to..." (leave an inch or two left margin for later).These could be chores, competitive things like sports, curiosities, chores, or self-expression. You can do this with as many or as few as you'd like, but I'd start small and work your way up because this activity gets fairly involved.
Next, rate each line item on the following scale:
- ...I am not motivated to do this
- ...because of an external reward or punishment
- ...because I feel obligated or would feel guilt/shame if I didn't
- ...because it adds value or usefulness to my life
- ...because it aligns with who I am as a person
- ...because I genuinely want to and enjoy it
What this does is rate you motivation to do that thing on a scale that goes from extrinsic motivators (to avoid punishment or earn reward) to intrinsic. **The diagram below explains the varying levels of motivation. ***Psychologist Scott Geller says, "Having a sense of autonomy over your actions encourages self-motivation." Whether you enjoy cutting the grass or cleaning the house, it's all about motivation. There's a reason it's so much easier to do something we want to do than it is to say...clean the bathroom; we are experiencing intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic. And while something like cooking might be a 5 on somebody's list, it is probably much lower on somebody else's. We're all different.
Once you've rated all your line items, for each one, think about what values those line items represent, and jot those down in the left margin. Continuing with my laundry example; I might write "clean" or "taking good care of my things" or "softness" or "comfort." Then take a look at what's in that left margin. Grab a highlighter and mark common themes. If I mentioned "clean" 5 times, that would be one to highlight. If I wrote "comfort" "softness" "tranquility" "peace" "stability" that pattern would align enough to highlight. Use your own judgement; there's no right or wrong way to do this. The goal is to notice recurring patterns. And those patterns and words you've highlighted? If they don't somewhat clearly spell out the values that motivate you, they will at least point you in the right direction, which is all we're after in the first place, right?
what motivates you?
Find out why some things matter more to us than others.
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3. What are you passionate about?
Your passions are a great jumping off point to finding your values, and what you stand for. They are the things we daydreem about, the things we are distracted by, the things we race through other tasks to get to, and they're very often a great source for self-awareness. However, what we think are our passions are sometimes not quite that. Of you're thinking, "um I think I know what my own passions are," let me ask you this: Have you ever bought all the stuff for this new hobby you were so "passionate" about, done a ton of research on it, followed all the bloggers/youTubers/etc. only to get halfway through your first project and learn this wasn't quite the thing for you? It's very common to find joy or curiousity in something and label that as passion, especially if you're at a transitional point in your life or just generally are feeling a bit lost. Passion gives us something to cling to, something to ground ourselves with, and society tells us at every corner how much we need it.
While the benefits of having passions is obvious, passions develop over time, not overnight. They happen through experiences, learning, growth, disappointment, grace, and personal development. They take time to hone and nourish, and they tend to ebb and flow with life, seasons, transitions, and personal beliefs. One thing is for certain though; your true passions are a wonderful and surprigingly effective way to find our what you truly stand for.
So let's try another activity. Begin by making a list of the things that you think you're passionate about. Include as little or much detail as you'd like. Now ask yourself the following questions about each of those things, starting at 1, and only moving on to the next if the answer is yes.
- do you often want to know more about this?
- will you take action to learn what you want to know?
- do you find joy in doing it?
- does it make your soul happy deep down, and give you a sense of fulfillment?
Only the things that you can answer "yes" to on question 4 should be used from this point on as these are most likely your truest and most deeply rooted passions.
Now, ask yourself why. Why is this a passion? Then ask why again. And again. Keep asking yourself 'but why," until you land on something representing a value. For example, one of my passions is knitting. Why? Because I love creating beautiful things using my own two hands. After several careers in tech, an e-commerce business, and now a digital content company, I need off-screen, make-things-with-my-hands time. But why? It calms me and helps my brain chill. But why? Because it's simple. I get to see small stitches accumulate into beautiful blankets and sweaters that I feel immensely proud of. It's rewarding. Once you've gone through all of your whys for all of your passions, get that highlighter back out and again, look for patterns.
Be brutally honest; if you're giving answers in any of these exercises that aren't authentically yours, you won't get authentic results.
what are your passions?
Discover the driving force behind what you love to do
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4. What are my anti-values?
This is where all of us pessimists (eh-em..sorry, "realists") will really shine. We're going to take these last 3 exercises, and flip them around to get our "anti-values."
So for exercise 1, make a list of things you absolutely do not stand for; or that you stand against. These could be as severe as racism, biggotry, abuse, etc. or things like loudness, aggressiveness, ignorance, or unhealthiness. Then, next to each one, write what you consider to be the opposite; tolerance vs intolerance or calm as opposed to chaos. Don't get caught up in what the dictionary-defined opposite is, just give it a go. Nobody is going to read this, so speling, grammar, actual antynoms be damned. These are what I call anti-values.
For exercise 2, do the same exercise, but for things you marked as 0 or 1 (I will not do, or will only do if rewarded or to avoid punishment), think about what values those line items represent. Say you love growing veggies, but hate the chore of weeding. What do you despise about it? The repetitive nature or it? The dirt? The bugs? The crouching? Maybe you actually don't like the invasive and often aggressive nature of weeds; creeping in to kill the things you really prize, the veggies. Obviously, this is going pretty deep regarding a simple thing like weeding, but for examples sake, let's keep going. Perhaps it's the mindless maintenance of it; you'd rather do something a bit more stimulating. Maybe it's just plain boring, and you hate being bored. Whatever the thing is, figure it out and write it down. This is an anti-value.
In exercise 3, we dive into passions. Now we're going to list your anti-passions. These are not the things you hate doing, but the things you could not care less about. The opposite of passion isn't hate, it's indifference. Then ask yourself why you don't care about it... but why, but why, and but why again until you land on a value of some sort. These are anti-values.
Now you have your anti-values. You can use your anti-values to discover more about what your values are by reversing these. Exploring the opposite of your anti-values is another great way to discover what you stand for.
what do you stand for?
to live intentionally, you must first know your intentions
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- **From Ryan & Deci (2000), 2017 Center for Self-Determination Theory
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