He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.” Marcus Aurelius

Are you in harmony, or could you do better?

Here’s a strategy to increase alignment between your core values and the daily grind, along with a huge thanks to Kwame for sharing his method:

Color your core values.

The steps are simple:
1. Brainstorm. Identify your five core values.
2. Associate those values with colors.
3. Use those colors as reminders of your values. Admittedly, it takes a little effort at first, but slowly becomes natural.

The result is frequent triggers to remind you of your values throughout the day providing purpose and validation. Those reminders also cue you to evaluate whether your tasks are meaningful.

Why the Need?

In The Upside of Stress, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal explained the power of incorporating our values into our daily life.

The problem is how we think of stress. We think it’s harmful along with anything that causes it.

Citing a 2014 survey by the Harvard School of Public Health, McGonigal identifies some of our most common stressors as juggling schedules, errands, commuting, social media, cooking, and cleaning. 

These are normal and expected parts of life, but we treat them as if they are unreasonable impositions, keeping our lives from how they should really be.

We often refer to these as “adulting.” A popular Buzzfeed article attributes “adulting” and our inability to cope as one of the leading causes of Millennial burnout.

McGonigal references a Normative Aging Study conducted over five decades where this stress was the best predictor for the risk of death among men. The media headlines stated, “stress kills.” McGonigal said, “the real takeaway should be to change your relationship to the everyday experiences you perceive as hassles.

Recalling our Values Makes a Difference

A Stanford study tracked two groups of students who agreed to keep journals during their winter break. One group was asked to write about their most important values and how the day’s activities related to those values. The other group wrote about the good things that happened to them.

After the three week period, the students who wrote about their values experienced less illness and increased their confidence in dealing with stress.

Writing about values helped the students see the meaning in their lives. Stressful experiences were no longer simply hassles to endure; they became an expression of the students’ values.”

Driving a sibling to school reflected one student’s care for their family. By tying values to the task, it was perceived as an expression of value rather than a burden.

Stanford psychologists Geoffrey Cohen and David Sherman studied these results and found: 

When people are connected to their values, they are more likely to believe that they can improve their situation through effort and the support of others. That makes them more likely to take positive action and less likely to use avoidant coping strategies like procrastination or denial.”

Cohen and Sherman said over time this leads to a “narrative of personal adequacy.” By reflecting on your values, the story you tell yourself about stress shifts. You adapt more of a growth mindset, the self-belief you can improve and overcome anything. 

brainstorm your values

Identify Your Core Values

If you don’t know what your core values are, start brainstorming, journaling, and writing.

The writing doesn’t need to belong, either. People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.

The hard part for me was identifying the core values. Inspired by Julian Shapero’s post, “What You Should Be Working On,” I started brainstorming.

I brainstormed across two 30-minute blocks, each on different days to allow for processing time, with a final session to put the ideas together. I wrote my ideas out on paper to help distill, mix, and match. 

Some of the things I brainstormed:

  • Lifelong Learning
  • Knowledge – What am I leaning?
  • Wealth – Is this a contributing to living a comfortable life?
  • Prestige – Am I gaining status or renown? (Especially seeing as how I’m now blogging…)
  • Relationships/Human Connections – Am I adding value to others in my life and building strong relationships?
  • Family
  • Challenge – Is this an opportunity for growth or expanding my limits?
  • Exercising Talent – Do I get to leverage my skills and creativity?
  • Adventure
  • Trustworthy/Honorable
  • God
  • Empathetic/Generous – How am I improving the lives of others?
  • Interdependent

You want to identify your MOST IMPORTANT values. I’d suggest no more than five or six.

Color Your Core Values

Research shows reflecting on your values in moments of stress can help. 

One method is to use physical artifacts. Multiple studies indicated the artifacts yielded better results dealing with adversity than just the one-time writing exercise.

But, instead of using an artifact, associate your values with colors. This makes them infinitely more transferable.

For example, if green represented loyalty, you’re reminded of loyalty every time you walk into your kitchen and see your green soap. How often do you see the word “loyalty” written anywhere?

The colors can be assigned arbitrarily, or you can assign a certain meaning to them. One of the values I personally identified is “human connection” and associated it with red for blood.

If you align your core values to colors, you’ll be constantly reminded of them throughout your daily life. After a short time, it becomes unconscious thought.

My Core Values:

After my brainstorming sessions, I chose the five values best aligned to my mission statement and assigned them relatable colors:

1. Human ConnectionBuild relationships and serve others.
Red like blood/tail lights (I thought of the taillights as I justify errands for things not specifically relevant to me)
 
2. Knowledge Lifelong learning and sharing knowledge.
Green like plants who are always growing, spreading, and adapting.
 
3. Challenging the Status QuoGo beyond the norm; live an exceptional life.
Blue like the endless skies and oceans.
 
4. Be the ExampleDemonstrate a good life: be trustworthy, respectful, responsible and inspire others through my actions.
Black for staying in the positive.
 
5. Humility I’m just a cog in the big wheel; be vulnerable, reflective, and open to the world; 
White because white space helps frame everything else and is easily adapted to the world.

Conclusion

As I’m sitting traffic, the tail lights remind me of the importance of human connection in my life. I’m constantly reminded of my values all day along — and often when they’re most needed.

As another visual reminder, I created a poster with my mission statement and values imposed over an awesome image. I hung it in my office, bathroom, and classroom.

Core Values Poster

Research shows relating our everyday activities to our values results in a stronger mindset and ability to handle adversity. Now, I’m surrounded by reminders of what I am and want to be.

Is your life in harmony? Either way, can you use a boost?

Take 15-20 minutes and start brainstorming your values. Just 10 minutes of writing about values yields potentially years of benefits.

Can you identify your five core values?

What colors would you associate?

About Scott

Writer. Teacher. Learner. Keen on process and individual improvement. And running really, really far.

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