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A Values-Based Life Focus: the yellow brick road to growth and prosperity

Whether we choose to explicitly define our values or not, we will end up living by a value system. That is why being intentional (versus casual) about the values we want to live by is so critical. And let’s be honest, it comes down to two choices: define your value system and intentionally live by it, or do not define it and hope that society will help you or your child make good choices because you naively believe the most dominant societal values are healthy and virtuous. Laugh out loud.

As a counselor who specializes in helping youth, parents, and adults grow, I am deeply disturbed by how the values held by youth (and adults) increasingly seem to be technologically driven rather than the product of mature reflection. For example, youth seem to be losing a sense of what it means to have a deep conversation where distractions are eliminated. I even have adult friends who as we are talking, are viewing their hand held phone or IPhone. It is as if the value of a one-on-one conversation free of distraction has been de-valued. But then again, I think people are increasingly craving something more intimate. In other words, chat places like Facebook is becoming seen as falling short of feeding deeper needs for intimacy, friendship, and those who share our values.

What is really so special about values? By definition, values are beliefs we will passionately defend, they are deeply placed into our nervous system. Values are what guide us in times of darkness, and protect us when peers are making bad decisions. As a counselor who has worked with over 1,000 children and families as well as adults who are struggling, I have begun tracking which values seem to be the most instrumental in helping people find their fullest potential.

One of the most important values a parent (or adult) can emphasize I have learned is Restraint. In this “I get what I want in 1-click” society, parents who constantly model restraint are way ahead of those who do not. Teaching your child to not give into to immediate gratification is a skill that will help them succeed far more than any piece of technology.

What is also disturbing is the lack of awareness – among parents or adults – of the importance of having a values focus…as a value in itself. I rarely see parents who have their family values posted somewhere in the house, but shouldn’t a family’s value system be as prominent as art, TV, or art projects?

Another concerning reality: People confuse the idea of being “religious” with being “value-based”. What do I mean? Whether one is part of a faith community or not, they should be intentional about their values. This blog is not about promoting or not promoting religion, it is about the importance of people recognizing that they need to spend serious time thinking about what values they want to live by. I Unfortunately, as I counsel parents, I also have noticed that what parents sometimes do if they were religious previously, is they leave their faith community and then they forget that they must find a way to supplement the previous value related teaching that was going on.

Similarly, I sometimes meet parents or adults who were brought up in a church, but they “grew out of” that church and now do not attend church. Meanwhile, the values they learned from their religious upbringing helped them get as far as they did, they realize that. But what they forget is, whether they are in a church or not, a values-based focus is still a key to growth. Nothing can replace the importance of values, but people’s anger toward traditional religion may cloud their ability to see the non-religiously tied importance of an intentional defining of values one will live by.

A father called my counseling practice today and asked me what it is most important to give adolescents, the time when many youth will for the first time truly test boundaries. The least favorite time of parenting. The time when your children may not want to be near you unless they may need something. The time when whatever values they have inside may be the only thing keeping them from truly dangerous or life-threatening behavior. I told the father that one of the most important thing you can give your children is an internalized value system.

And before I give a list of recommended values to live by, let me explain why I say that a values-based focus is the yellow brick to growth. Living a values-based life is about a journey of discovering your potential through an intentional focus on a set of virtuous beliefs that you are so passionate about that they will help you stay focused on maturing. They will also create a “reflective space” between your impulses and your actions. A focus on values also forces you to dig deeper and find inner resources (or develop them) in trying times. Isn’t that what happens in The Wizard of Oz?

Here are key values that should be part of any family’s (or adults) value system list that they have on their refrigerator.

Conscientiousness. Attention to detail and an attitude of “we must do this right”. Research suggests this trait is critical to predicting who will excel in their work.

Courage. Knowing that what we fear is what we must face.

Personal insight. You know your strengths, and readily admit and can laugh about your weaknesses, gaps, and idiosyncrasies. You also know that to mature, you must face your demons work on them, and that this work never stops.

Restraint. Ability to put off gratification. Studies have shown that those youth who could not give into immediate gratification was significantly ties to their later life success.

Adaptability. Knowing the importance of going with the flow and not feeling entitled.

Appreciation. A spirit of thankfulness. An attitude of gratitude. Feeling lucky to have what you do have, and not envious of others who may have more. Envy is rampant in our society.

Humility. Knowing you may be smart in some ways, but understanding you are always learning and there are always others who are better than you in some ways.
Being a leader worth following. Being able to step up to the plate when no one else will. Knowing how to lead where you are not a cowboy but a team builder.

Remorse. Sadly lacking in society. The ability to apologize without making excuses. This value often helps people understand the value of friendship.

Empathy. The ability to connect with others on a deeper level. The ability to handle sensitive situations you or others are in with dignity.

How can you act on this blog? Make a list of the key values you want to live by, and then for a few weeks refine this list, and then post it somewhere prominent. Parents and adults: Make sure this list becomes not just a part of your vocabulary but more importantly, a description of how you act every day.

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Meet Doctor Brunner

Dr. Thomas (Tom) Brunner is a Tucson based psychologist and published expert who has a 20 year track record of clinical excellence, scientific research, teaching, publications, awards and podcast interviews.  He is the senior author of a psychological measure adapted into 14 languages worldwide, and has written over 250 blogs, many of them have gone viral.  He is revolutionizing the field of career guidance with his fresh and trademarked approach that is spreading like wildfire. Sign up here to be notified of soon to be published book, Find Your Real Me: Career Guidance Making You Truly Free.