Instead of living deliberately, many of us live by default, according to Polly Campbell in her thoughtful book Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People.
She gives several powerful examples: We vote a certain way because our parents do. We work a numbing number of hours because we’re taught this makes us good providers. We sabotage our successes because we’re taught that wanting money is akin to greed.
In the midst of clinging to these old concepts, we forget the most important idea of all: living from our authentic values.
When we lead lives based on what matters to us most, we’re happier and more fulfilled. However, when we lead lives based on ideas that don’t fit anymore, we use random things to fill us up and typically end up feeling empty anyway.
Campbell references things like reality TV, shopping sprees, toxic relationships and alcohol. “These things provide quick bursts of happiness or relief, but always leave you feeling a bit hungry, a bit empty. It’s kind of like spiritual junk food: it tastes good going in, but it isn’t enough to sustain you.”
In her book, Campbell features a powerful exercise to help us rediscover our values, because, as she writes, “Understanding your values and desires will create the infrastructure for your life.” She suggests spending at least 30 minutes on this exercise and doing it every year. Here are the details:
- Ask yourself, “What matters to me now?”
- Jot down your responses — without judging yourself. The key is to discover your authentic values.
- Rank your responses. So put the number 1 by what you value most. Campbell explains that our core values will likely remain the same but their rankings might change. For instance, your career might top your list, but after you have kids, it slides into second.
- Next, grade yourself. If you’re taking daily action toward your top 5 values, give yourself an A, Campbell writes. Again, be honest. “Where are you soaring? Where are you falling short?”
- For the values you assigned a B and below, consider if each one still resonates with you. Is it outdated? If it’s not and it’s still very important to you, “look then at the ways you’ve separated from it and figure out a few things you can do to get back on track.”
- List several things you can do today to honor your top values. If you value spiritual growth, Campbell writes, you might start meditating for 10 minutes a day. Engage daily in the activities that align with your values. Put them on your to-do list.
According to Campbell, “When you’re willing to discover and live from your deepest values, life not only becomes a more fulfilling and passionate adventure, but it also becomes easier.” Decisions suddenly seem clearer, and we stop second-guessing ourselves so much. Instead, we focus on “creating a life that supports the things that drive it. [We] live with personal integrity.”