Everyone knows how important it is to “know yourself,” yet how often do we reflect on why we do what we do? (Or for that matter, what we did?) Do we really understand our motives and values?
Before we even graduate from high school, most of us have participated in interest inventories and career aptitude tests. By the time we graduate from college, our interests, studies, and skills have aligned. We anticipate we’re on a path best suited for our personality, talents, and education.
And yet…most of us don’t recognize the extent of our complexity. Our personal preferences and unique sense of values are buried under layers of expectations and demands. To add to the complexity, our values shift over time.
When we identify as, or claim to be, a specific type of person (kind, caring, and genuine), but our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors indicate otherwise (we are resentful, rude, and just want other people to fall into line), we may be unaware of our true values.
Of course, we are quick to notice when we see this happen in others. Our perception may be that they are inauthentic, manipulative, or fake; maybe even a hypocrite.
When our own behaviors are incongruent with what we claim to value, many of us have a physical reaction: a twinge, cringe, or moment when our body says, “no!”
But just as common, we learn to ignore these uncomfortable feelings. Eventually, we stop paying attention. We become mistaken about our own identity, unaware of the shift in our values.
This can manifest in a mid-career crisis. Our careers are moving along at a satisfactory pace, and one day we wonder, “How did I end up here?”
How Your Values Shift
In reality, our values are dynamic. With enough time or experience the hierarchy of our values can change. Typically, the shifts occur as a result of:
- New knowledge
- Social values and attitudes
- Personal experience
In a 2015 study, researchers Valdiney V. Gouveia, Kátia C. Vione, Taciano L. Milfont, Ronald Fischer studied more than 36,000 individuals across five geo-social regions and found that regardless of gender, values substantially change through-out our life span.
Why This Matters
Your values are the underlying foundation of your inspiration, vision, and motivation. They help you set a course to what you believe truly matters; they guide you to purpose and fulfillment. Understanding when and how they shift will help you make adjustments and improvements—in performance, satisfaction, and happiness.
Understand What Drives You
Our ideas of self are molded at a very early age. Parents, care givers, and teachers encourage certain behaviors that help us integrate with our peers. We are encouraged to go-along, to get-along.
Unfortunately, even well intentioned adults can send messages counter to our actual nature or personality type. “You are so good at following the rules,” doesn’t acknowledge your ability (and desire) to question arbitrary or unfair rules. We develop a limited, if not warped, sense of self.
In reality, we are remarkably complex. Our environment and social context contribute to the actions we take; they influence our values and motivations.
According to Johnmarshall Reeve, PsyD, in “Understanding Motivation and Emotion,” (Wiley, 2018), “Through our unique experiences, exposures to particular role models, and awareness of cultural expectations, we acquire different goals, values, attitudes, expectations, aspirations, and views of self.”
What Is Driving You?
All humans have four basic drives that are embedded in our genetic DNA and remain active in us today:
- The drive to acquire
- The drive to bond
- The drive to learn
- The drive to defend
These basic drives have helped in our survival as a species. But, what drives us beyond mere survival? How do we go from survive to thrive?
Hierarchy of Values
Based on their research, Drs. Eduard Spranger and Gordon Allport identified a hierarchy of values, when in certain combinations shape our interests and level of satisfaction:
- Aesthetic: A drive for balance, harmony, and form
- Altruistic: A drive to help others; for humanitarian efforts
- Economic: A drive for economic or practical returns
- Individualistic: A drive to stand out as independent and unique
- Political: A drive to have influence; to be in control
- Regulatory: A drive to establish order, routine, and structure
- Theoretical: A drive for knowledge, learning and understanding
Understanding your individual hierarchy of values—how you rate each value, and how they combine—can help you understand what drives you, and how you can go from survive to thrive.
What Are Your Values Today?
At some time in our life, most of us feel the need to assess our values: what is truly important to us. Unfortunately, we often avoid this task; it’s much easier to keep doing what we’re doing. But then something happens that jolts us out of our complacency.
It could be the loss of something (a promotion or position), or someone (a loved one, or respect of a colleague). Or, a more minor event that illuminated something was just not right: new knowledge, understanding, or perspective. It’s time to examine your values.
The most current version of Drs. Allport, Vernon, and Lindzey’s instrument to measure value hierarchy (IMX Values Index, or VI profile) has been updated with seven dimensions:
- Aesthetic: Each experience is judged from the standpoint of grace, symmetry, or fit. Contrary to the theoretical dimension, life is seen as a procession of events; each enjoyed for its own sake. Chief interest is in the beauty of life.
- Altruistic: prizes other persons as ends, and is therefore kind, sympathetic, and unselfish. Contrary to the political dimension, love is itself the only suitable form of human relationship.
- Economic: interested in what is useful and practical; focused on security and bottom-line results. In some instances he may have regard for the regulatory dimension, but frequently conflicts with other values.
- Individualistic: seeks to express uniqueness and be granted freedom over actions. Contrary to the political dimension, seeks neither power nor control of others or the environment in general, but rails against subjugation by any external force.
- Political: interested primarily in power and control, whatever the vocation, and is the most universal and most fundamental of motives. Prizes personal power, influence, and renown.
- Regulatory: seeks unity. Often described as mystical, yet directed towards achieving structure, order and to be one with they system.
- Theoretical: interested in the discovery of truth. Divests itself of judgments regarding the beauty or utility of objects, and seeks only to observe, reason, understand and systematize knowledge.
The two highest dimensions are the most inspirational. The middle three are situational: in certain circumstances they might be a factor. The two lowest scoring dimensions are actually de-motivational, and important to note.
A qualified executive coach can help you rate these seven dimensions, and identify the 21 combinations that influence interests and drive behavior.
For example: if you score high for the altruistic dimension, but are average in the economic dimension, you may be inclined to give away your expertise or products, or even compromise on your salary requirements. Knowing this about yourself can help you plan how and when to say “yes.”
And this is just one example. Identifying your values today will help you understand what drives you, what motivates you, and what inspires you. It will help you become more effective in everything you do.