Discover your Personal Values to overcome burnout.
How can you know what you want until you know who you are?
In a previous post, where I quit my clinical job of 12 years, I reflected on why having more choice is important. How did I come to this conclusion? How does having this knowledge impact your risk of burnout? Everyone and every organization has personal values. Sometimes they are written like the Hippocratic oath or they are hidden, like the medical student code of conduct on the wards. Either way, these values directly impact our lives either consciously or subconsciously. Most people claim to have a solid foundation of guiding values. Although true, exploring and discovering underlying values can create a deeper understanding of ourselves, leading to a richer and less stressful life. Imagine Apple without Steve Jobs or Berkshire Hathaway without Warren Buffett. These organizations flourished because it’s leaders developed a clear set of guiding values for themselves and their organizations. Do you have a solid list of guiding principles? How are these beliefs secretly guiding your life and overall happiness? Although this exercise takes some work, in the end you will have a deeper understanding of your values and how they align with your currently reality.
Step 1. How to develop a list of personal values:
The first step toward developing a list of values comes from the following exercise.
- Write down 5 things/ideas/values that are most important to you today.
The list should include single words or very simple ideas like spirituality, family, travel or what ever you enjoy. Don’t over think this step and write what first comes to mind.
- Next, have good night’s rest.
The reason we sleep on it is to allow your brain to fully process the experience and your list will evolve as your subconscious or unconscious mind processes the information.
- Make a second list of 5 things/ideas/values that were not in the first list.
Again write whatever come to mind. Your brain already did the work the night before, don’t overthink this. Now with both lists complete, do the following.
- Place both lists side by side and then rank them in order of importance from 1-10.
The reason we rank the lists will become more obvious later. For now do your best to rank them based upon what your most important values are today. Also realize these values change as our lives change. For example if you just had a child or just received a new diagnosis, then your priorities can shift very quickly. For now, just focus on the immediate present. Below is as an example of what it should look like.
Table 1: Results
|List of Personal Values|
|Day 1 List||Rank||Day 2 List||Rank|
Once complete, this list not only reflects your values but also assigns weight to each which will help us in later steps.
Here are my top four:
Although all the values on this list are important, the direct your focus to the top and less to the bottom. I am not sure about you but the results surprised me. Now that we have a personalized rough draft of our values, it will need further refining.
Step 2. Take Objective Personal Values Tests:
Now that your list is complete, let’s take some online personal values tests. The purpose of this exercise allows us to focus and clarify our values, like focusing a camera to see a clearer picture. It doesn’t really matter which tests to take since they all follow the same basic format but the more tests you take the better the end results. Here are a few examples I found, but many others exist online:
Once completed each test will give a ranking and weight to each value tested. I really enjoyed the novelty of taking the test and the idea of having to choose answers without knowing the implication. By blinding you to the results before taking the test, each question can tease out the hierarchy of values that you may not even know existed. Below is an example of my results.
Table 2: Inventory Results
|Life Values Inventory:|
|Rank||Personal Values Inventory:|
|Concern for the environment||6th Tie||Reputation||7th Tie|
|Concern for others||6th Tie||Service||4th Tie|
|Creativity||2nd Tie||Independence||2nd Tie|
|Financial Prosperity||5th||Adventure||7th Tie|
|Health and Activity||3rd Tie||Friends||9th|
|Humility||6th Tie||Family Relations||3rd|
|Loyalty to Family||4th||Orderliness||4th Tie|
|Scientific Understanding||3rd Tie|
Following the example in step 1, I sorted each value in order of importance. In my results I encountered many situations where there was a tie between two values. The Life values inventory created more ties than the Personal values inventory. In both cases I picked what I felt more closely reflected my stronger value. Like before I wrote down which were the top four values of each.
My top four from the Life Values Inventory:
- Health and Activity
My top four from the Personal Values Inventory:
Step 3. Compare and Contrast the three lists:
Once all three are done, look at the lists together and notice what you would consider the most important to the least important values by placing all the lists side by side. When I did this a pattern began to emerge. When compared, Independence, success ,family and health seem the most important values in my life. After completing this step you should have a list of at least three to four values that consistently emerge. Are you as surprised as I was by the results? Do your daily activities and efforts currently reflect these values? Are you developing a sense of clarity around what is most important in you life? Make sure all three lists are well-developed and decide which three or four stand out before moving on to step 4. Below is a Venn diagram I created (Canva.com) using the three lists:
Step 4. Congruence Assessment:
Abraham Maslow described a phenomenon in human psychology where in the pursuit of self-actualization certain needs have to be met first, as described by the hierarchy of needs. Once your basic needs are met (physiological, safety, belonging and esteem), the next step toward self-growth and being fully integrated comes from having an individual sense of “ideal-self,” versus your current experience or “self-image”. Stated a different way, to grow as an individual you must learn who you are now and decide where you are going. If you don’t have a map to guide you to your destination, you will never arrive. Without a map you are lost which is what Maslow describes as Incongruent. The map in this analogy would be your personal values and the destination would be self-actualization or approaching an Ideal-self. Do not confuse this with self-love, self-worship or a moral norm(which is still debated). Instead self-actualization is the discovery of your best self which helps us understand what activities we should spend most of our time and efforts on in our lives. Looking at Maslow’s diagram below, the greater the overlap between our “self-image”(current state) with our “ideal-self” based upon our personal values, the more we can achieve more congruence and therefore happiness.
Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.
Now that you have your list, do an honest assessment of your clinical practice or life in general. Do your actions, behaviors, thoughts and habits align with your newly refined personal values? If not, what steps should you take to correct this imbalance? I do not advocate quitting your job on the spot which would be not only reckless but could have severe consequences to your livelihood but also to your loved ones. Instead, start asking questions about what changes could bring about alignment and what strategy do you take to make these changes. For example, if I value free time, can I back off my work hours? If I value wealth, what market conditions exist in my current field? (Podcast #2 discusses this) Be creative and do not hesitate to ask others for advice.
So how did this help me change my career and ultimately my life? Once I realized my values were not in alignment, I finally discovered the origin of my discontent. My current job and values represented the left side of the diagram and did not fully overlap. To correct this, I first tried to change my job by going part-time. When this failed, there was only one solution. I needed to find a new job that brought me back into alignment. To be clear, I made this decision after undertaking tremendous research, seeking advice and getting permission from my family. With that said, once I clarified my values and focused my attention, I not only changed my job situation but also changed my outlook on everything. Instead of looking through a lens of an unorganized set of principles, I approach everything using my newly tuned guiding values. Now, rather than going to work feeling burned out, I now have more congruence and have rediscovered the joy I once felt in my clinical practice. All this thanks to creating awareness around my personal values and then taking massive action to create alignment in my life.
You too can have everything you want in life. The first step is discovering your personal values.
The best way to predict your future is to create it — Abraham Lincoln