Authored By: Alex Neagoe
It’s estimated that adults make 35,000 conscious decisions a day. Ahh, but here’s what is really interesting – every decision, action, or inaction that is taken, is guided by a set of internal standards. These standards are what we call VALUES.
Something that must be discussed before moving forward is the difference between a value and a CORE VALUE.
- You can Google search hundreds of websites that will provide you with endless lists of values. A majority of us would like to claim we value things like respect, courage or honesty, but are those values core to who you are or are they just pleasing traits to have? A core value is something that will subconsciously show up in your everyday behaviors and will take little to no energy to exercise. One of my core values is honesty and if you ask any of my friends or family they would describe me as blunt and straight- forward. It takes more energy to hold my tongue than it does to speak my mind (although knowing the best time and place to be honest is essential to effective conversation).
- Core values are our north star, providing guidance not only through some of the most challenging situations in life, but through seemingly mundane times as well. They originate from our experiences and are often adopted from those closest to us. Core values govern our decisions and influence our reactions whether we are aware of them or not. Not everyone will be motivated by the same factors, but everyone you meet is innately driven to abide by their core values, which will be referred to as values for the remainder of this post.
Most of us are unaware of our values, the roots that guide our behavior. The greatest challenge we face is a lack of self-awareness causing us to react in ways we define as “uncharacteristic,” where we may feel shocked by our reaction, anxious or even disappointed. We write it off as a one-time thing, quickly apologize for what we did, and avoid the investigation to understand the WHY, only allowing us to act “uncharacteristically” over and over again.
When we do not behave in accordance with our values we will suffer an overflow of negative emotions, including anger, anxiety and confusion. Maybe you felt anger after your spouse missed your child’s baseball game. Are you angry that they missed the game or is that the surface level understanding that you choose to believe? If you take a moment to truly explore that event, you may find that a value of yours was infringed upon, such as dependability, responsibility, or trustworthiness. If your spouse promised to be there and got sidetracked by a project at work you may feel as if you cannot depend on them, and that is a critical element for you in a relationship, especially with your life partner.
This lack of awareness over your values not only has the potential to damage relationships, but create internal turmoil for you. When you behave in a way that is misaligned with your values, you will feel cognitive dissonance. It is not always easy to detect, but common signs include feeling uncomfortable making decisions, feeling embarrassed for something you’ve done, or doing something just because of the social pressure (FOMO – Fear of Missing Out). A common example of cognitive dissonance is feeling guilty over spending any extra cash you have, even though you believe in the importance of financial stability for your family. Spending money is misaligned with your value of financial security, so the guilt you feel is cognitive dissonance.
To escape this discomfort you may distract yourself by doing random tasks or avoiding people that will address the behavior or remind you of it. It is also common to try and rationalize the behavior by saying it is a one-time occurrence. The problem is continuous justification for counterproductive behaviors and the solution is to understand the reasons for your cognitive dissonance.
If you are a leader, it is essential to understand the power of cognitive dissonance and use it to realign those around you when they are acting uncharacteristically. During a 1:1 session with one of my student pilots he was discussing how overtired he was from the week’s demands. For 3 nights in a row he was sleeping less than 3 hours a night and was showing signs of exhaustion (nodding off in class, severe headache, slowed reflexes, etc.). He had a flight later that day with an instructor and he was feeling physically and mentally unprepared for it. Because of a previous conversation I had with this individual, I knew one of his core values was protection. He took his job of protecting those around him (at home and at work) seriously. He saw it as part of his life’s purpose. Knowing this, I called him out and weaponized his core value against him so he would be forced to face cognitive dissonance. I asked him if he thought he was protecting himself, his instructor, and the other pilots in the air with him. At first, he was taken aback by my question and showed immediate discomfort and irritation. I was calling him out for not acting in accordance to his core value; a protector. After our session he went to his command and rescheduled his flight.
As you can see from the example, you can utilize someone’s core values to adjust behaviors when you feel someone is acting uncharacteristically. The key components to all of this is knowing yourself and those around you. If you can take a moment to take a deeper dive into your core values and what truly drives you, your understanding for yourself and the reactions you give become easier to interpret.
You would not ignore a smoke detector, so do not ignore your internal alarm system. Your brain has a way of signaling to your body when it feels physical or emotional pain. It is asking you to do something different to silence the alarm and minimize the discomfort. The next time you recognize the alarm and feel the discomfort, address it as soon as possible. Taking a deep dive into self-understanding will alleviate the discomfort long term, rather than ignoring the alarm until the noise dissipates only to return soon after.
Identify your core values. They should not be generic, nor should there be an endless list (most people have between 3-5 core values). Now, how will you know if you really found your core values? Well, once you pinpointed your core values, can you easily identify situations from your past where you felt significant anger, anxiety, or confusion. Those feelings are an indication that you or someone around you has violated a core value. Your roots are your core values and they are what stabilize your emotions and direct your behaviors.
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Authored By: Alex Neagoe