The Art of living after loss – a values-driven life
Have you ever thought about what drives your decisions?
We all make hundreds of decisions every day – simple decisions like what we are going to eat, right through to bigger decisions like which career path we might take or how we are going to react or respond to problems or challenges that come our way.
Often, we unthinkingly make decisions based on what we “should” or “shouldn’t” do, as if following a set of rules ingrained in us – often by others (our parents, what we see in media, or read somewhere). The trouble with making decisions based on unspoken rules, based largely on the expectations of others, is that it can leave us feeling dissatisfied. Think about why people “fail” on diets. It is often because they have been told they need to lose weight, so they make decisions about their food based on what they think they should be doing. Ultimately, they abandon the diet because it wasn’t something they wanted to do, but rather something they thought they should do.
If we stopped ourselves long enough to first work out our values, and then based our decisions on those values, we would likely make measured and purposeful decisions that stand as decisions we can later be proud of. So, if instead of going on a diet because you were told you had to, you identified that you valued your health and wanted to be able to run around with your kids or grandkids – suddenly the goal to lose weight has far greater significance. You are far more likely to stick at your weight-loss goal, as you begin to see the things you value come to fruition.
When the things you do and the way you behave align with your values, you generally feel satisfied and content. But when they don’t, things feel out of balance and you can end up feeling unhappy in life.
As odd as it may seem coming from a lawyer, it is for this reason that I ask my contested estates clients, to explore and identify their values, so that those values are the touchstones that drive their decisions through what will likely be the most difficult time in their life.
As easy as it is for me to say that, it is much harder to do. But if you understand that your future happiness will be more likely if you act in a way that reflects your values, it is well worth pausing to think about what in life is most important to you BEFORE you start making big decisions. Taking time out to do just that after the loss of a loved one, or after another unexpected grief event, can in some ways happen quite naturally, because these things are often a wake-up call for us to reassess how we live our lives.
“The most important things in life, aren’t things”
Identifying your values
You will need to set aside some time to do some honest soul searching on your own. I also recommend seeking input from others close to you for some honest feedback. From personal experience this is not always the easiest thing to take – but this type of input is so valuable!
Your values are likely to be influenced by:
- Family – In childhood, you probably developed an internal reference for what is good or bad, what is important in life, and what to work hard for.
- Experiences – Your own life experiences, travelling overseas, your education, your successes and your personal challenges often adjust or transform your values.
- Faith – If you have a personal faith you will no doubt hold values that align with the tenets of your belief.
- Community – If you are an active part of a community or movement, your values will likely align with the values of that community.
- Culture – Sometimes our values are influenced by the culture and political system of the country in which we live.
It is important to remember that as you move through life, your values may change. For example, when you first start working, money and career might be a top priority, but once you have a family, work-life balance might be the thing you value the most. So, as you go through the exercise below, bear in mind that values that were a priority in the past, might not be as relevant now.
Start by thinking back over your life and to the times you were most content, or the moments in your life where you felt proud or fulfilled. Try and think of a few times in your life (from childhood to adulthood, in your work life and in your personal life) when you felt good about yourself and the choices you were making or that brought you the greatest joy – and write those down.
Are there any common themes or threads in those moments that help you identify what you value the most?
Sometimes reading through a list of common core values (like this one) can help you to “label” your values. Simply go through the list and circle the values that resonate for you. See if you can narrow them down to 10 or 15, then group similar ones together and try again to narrow them down to 5 or 6.
Look back over these top values. Do they make you feel good about yourself? Are you proud of them? Would you stand by these values, even if making a stand based on these values isn’t popular? If so – you have identified values that will fit with your life and your vision for it.
I am a visual person, so if you are too – write out these words or print them out in a pretty coloured font and put them up in your home or office where you see them every day! Better still add them to your vision board if you made one (as I suggested here!).
In last week’s post, I wrote about visioning your new normal and setting some goals to aim for as a way of staying focussed on how you will move forward.
Now that you have a good idea about your core values, take a moment to reflect back on the goals you set to get you moving towards your new normal and your current circumstances.
How do you want to look back at the steps you next take? If you want to be proud of how you came through this difficult time, then think about how you will act in line with the values you have just written down.
Consider the values of others
How willing are you to consider the needs of others? Or to see things from a different perspective?
If you are involved in a dispute with others, or if the decision you are making involves others, it is important not only to identify your own values, but to consider the values of those others involved.
In my experience as a contested estates lawyer the chances of families in dispute reaching agreement (rather than suffering through a damaging and drawn-out court battle) will be much higher if the terms of settlement align with the values held by each family member – because those terms are then far more likely to meet the perceived needs of each person. If my clients do not want to see a hard-earned inheritance eaten away by massive legal costs, and if they value their family relationships or at least a peaceful existence above a monetary “win”, then it makes sense to try to work together to find a resolution that best aligns with everyone’s values.
So now that you have identified your own values, see if you can try and work out the top 5 or 6 values for the other people that involved in your dispute. Then write those down. Circle the ones that are the same as yours and highlight the ones that are different.
Then stop and think about how the values that are the same might help you all to see eye-to-eye, and how the values that differ might cause differences of opinion. Write those things down too. These will become invaluable points of reference to remember in trying to resolve the dispute.
It won’t be easy but it will be worth it
The next challenge will be, working out how to achieve your goals while keeping your behaviour values-based – all while moving through the various phases of your grief. Next week’s post will set out a few practical tips that might help you do just that.
I am not promising that this will be easy – but in the long run it will be well and truly worth it.