With a change in my circumstances and recent problems in my life, I have been trying to define success and what it really means to each of us and I think I have worked out its foundations. I believe that the essence of our lives is our values - what matter to us the most and how they shape our world. Whether liberating or limiting, values affect everything we do.
Someone can live with a value that says: Disco dancing is not something any self-respecting person does! That's fine, but that preference ignores two important and beneficial facts about the pastime. First, that the more we exercise our bodies, the more we are relaxed by music and the healthier we are. Second, the more we take time out to simply enjoy ourselves and connect with other humans, the better we both look and feel.
Values come from our parents, to begin with, then from our peer groups and then through our workplace, from the people we routinely try to impress and, finally, from ourselves through increased awareness and knowledge. What a lot of people subconsciously deny is that they can actually change their values and thus change their lives, dramatically - almost in an instant; that values DO change as we become more aware and evolve in our lives, to match our aspirations and identity.
Every behaviour we express is done for either one of two reasons: to avoid pain or to get pleasure, according to our value system. So, if we are reluctant to change our values it is likely that we associate pain with them (the pain of disapproval, of isolation from a significant person/group, of punishment, of guilt, of disappointment or of confused identity, to name a few examples).
Values and Personal Perception
Values powerfully affect personal PERCEPTION which in turn decides our identity, beliefs, attitudes, behaviour, aspirations, purpose and the reaction from others. That's why fearful people with weak, inconsistent or superficial values tend to have no real purpose to their lives or any genuine success. It is difficult to achieve when we don't know what we want, are afraid to dream and prefer to blame others for our problems.
Perception is actually governed by two elements: CONFIDENCE and FEAR, the amount of each depending on personality and experience. For example, someone who is confident would be more assured in approach and more willing to experiment and move into the unknown; to give greater acknowledgement and value to others because they are likely to feel less threatened. Their perception would be a positive one. However, someone whose perception is dominated by fear will be more anxious, perhaps developing a siege mentality, and likely to withdraw from most things in their lives. They would see everything as threatening, costly, painful or even alien to their values. They would seldom see gains, only losses. Most of their values would tend to be limiting, avoiding rather than approaching, which ultimately curtails their personal success.
Values also dictate five very important aspects of our perception:
a. Who am I?
b. What do I stand for?
c. Where am I going?
d. How much do I like myself?
e. How do I treat/relate to others?
During my long marriage I was unsure of all of these elements of my life. If I had to rate each out of 5 at that time, the score would be as follows: 3,3,2,3,2 (total 13 out of 25). Today I would rate them: 5,5,5,5,4 (24)! You can see the leap in awareness, congruence and self-belief. That's how I know that the sky is now definitely my limit as I begin to use my knowledge and resources to fulfil the aim of those questions. Try that little exercise on yourself to see where you are now! The answer could be most enlightening.
The Effect of Congruence on Success
True SUCCESS comes when we have CONGRUENCE (or alignment) in our values and know the answers to the 5 elements above by heart. I could not be as successful as I hoped before now because I had too much incongruence and inconsistency in my life. For example, I wanted to be a successful entrepreneur through my talents, but way back as a teenager I made vows to give up material things and eschew money, which has remained in my subconscious ever since. The result is that I paid little attention to the finance while focusing on the product! But the two needed to go together.
I also wanted to be creative to fulfil Items b and c, but I suppressed my creativity with my partner because he did not give my dreams or aspirations much relevance or encouragement. In fact, in my bid for approval, I accepted behaviour both in myself and others which went against my values and principles, as I tried vainly to live a 'decent' and caring life. But decency is not possible in an absence of respect. Nothing good can ever come out of incongruence and imbalance, especially when our values are constantly challenged. When we have to pretend regarding our basic needs, or to deny what we want to make us happy in order to please someone else or gain approval, we are going nowhere.
I feel as though I had to shed the old false skin of incongruity, to go to rock bottom on all fronts, especially in my marriage and business which had lots of inconsistencies, to realise who I was and where I was going. The effect, this past few years, in particular, has been incredible. It's like being finally contented, at peace, knowledgeable and invincible.
Purpose and Meaning
Values give us both purpose and meaning. Success is thus elusive when we don't know exactly where we are heading in our life and what our purpose is. That is why many people achieve short term aims, like money or status, but still remain largely unhappy and unfulfilled. In fact, they might have great disappointment wondering if that was what it was all about. They mistakenly believe those things would provide happiness. But such transitory gains usually don't, unless they are part of the context of fulfilling an overall individual purpose at some point. Happiness comes from inside us, when we know who we are, what we stand for and where we are going; when we love ourself unconditionally and treat others with compassion, value and respect, if not love. When we actually make time for others and ourselves, the Universe delivers.
Basically, wherever we are frustrated in our achievement, there is usually a value blocking the way, because it is incompatible with what we actually seek or desire, or because we have too readily compromised it! We are not being true to ourselves which generates unnecessary mental conflict and anguish. For example, we might value one thing – like honesty – but secretly have affairs, or slag off our friends and colleagues, then wonder why there is no trust at home or we have few friends! If we are also stuck in an unfulfilling job which goes against our values and which puts a salary at the heart of everything, we will continue to be unhappy, low in self-esteem and to underachieve.
What could be the biggest blockage in your life at the moment? Find out here with this quiz.
©Elaine Sihera (Ms CYPRAH) 2012
Emotional Health and People Management Consultant
"Happiness is a state of being. We are the ones who decide whether we wish to be happy or not, by the script we use inside our heads."