Living into My Values

Last updated on 4 July 2022

I’m reading Brené Brown‘s phenomenal book Dare to Lead and did the exercise in Part Two. So here’s my experience with Living into My Values.

“Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them.”

Brené Brown

This is how it works: identify your core values, turn them into specific behaviors, and then operationalize them for real change. Like most things in life, it’s simple but not easy.

Step 1: Name Your Core Values

The task here is to pick two (2!) core values that define “who we are in our lives.” Brené shares this list of values from her work with more than ten thousand leaders, students, coworkers, and research participants.

Here are mine.

Compassion: Create Love

Efficiency: Eliminate Waste

Step 2: From BS to Behavior

Kudos to Brené for that perfect title! This step is about defining three Support Behaviors and three Slippery Behaviors for each core value.

Brené’s advice: “get explicit.” Here are my behaviors.

Compassion

What are three behaviors that support your value?

Choose to empower.

Respond to people and ideas with curiosity.

Deliver excellence for what I find meaningful.

What are three slippery behaviors that are outside your value?

Don’t choose to exploit.

Don’t respond to people or ideas with judgement.

Don’t serve beyond my boundaries.

Efficiency

What are three behaviors that support your value?

Continually learn and improve.

Choose my battles wisely.

Stay present & honest with others and myself.

What are three slippery behaviors that are outside your value?

Don’t chase false perfection.

Don’t follow meaningless distractions.

Don’t waste time, effort, or money.

Examples

In Dare to Lead, Brené gives the prompt to reflect on examples: “a time when you were fully living into this value.” Mine are pretty long, so put them in an appendix. 👇🏼 Click here to check it out.

Step 3: Empathy and Self-Compassion

To live into our values, we need healthy amounts of empathy and self-compassion. This step is about creating the circumstances for those needs to be met.

Who is someone who knows your values and supports your efforts to live into them?

I’m immensely grateful for having people in my life with whom I can talk about this stuff, and who care enough to help me out. And thanks especially to Hester and Zubin for being a part of this! 🙏🏼💚

What does support from this person look like?

Hester has agreed to:

  • Challenge me directly when I’m living outside my values
  • Challenge my assumptions about myself & the world around me

Zubin is helping me to:

  • Encourage me to align my behavior with my intent
  • Hold me accountable to my goals via weekly accountabilibuddy calls

What can you do as an act of self-compassion to support yourself?

If there’s one thing I hear from both my therapist and business coach, it’s that I need to go easy on myself. In other words, I have a tendency to judge myself harshly and push myself too far.

When that happens, I get stressed, have trouble sleeping, and burn out a little. So I’m going to respond to my own needs with curiosity instead of judgement.

What does it feel like when you’re living into your values?

Living into my values feels connected. I feel connected to myself and to others around me.

But I also feel connected to the infinite, whatever you like to call it. In short, I feel connected to something bigger than and beyond my immediate self.

How does this shape the way you give & receive feedback?

Responding with curiosity instead of judgement helps me understand other people’s perspectives. That helps me remember to ask questions before sharing my thoughts.

Cultivating this mindset works in both directions. If I empathize with the other person and help them feel heard, I can give more informed feedback and receive feedback in more helpful ways.

Step 4: Operationalize Your Values

Here’s where the rubber hits the road. The whole point of this exercise is to create sustainable change to live into my values more effectively.

This process starts by translating the values into “skills-based behaviors that can be taught, observed, and evaluated.” After that, like any design project, we need to evaluate and improve.

Operational Behaviors

Here are the behaviors I need to follow to live into Compassion and Efficiency, my core values.

  • I choose to empower, not exploit.
  • I respond with curiosity instead of judgement.
  • I deliver excellence for what I find meaningful, without violating my boundaries.
  • I continually learn and improve, without chasing perfection.
  • I choose my battles wisely while avoiding meaningless distractions.
  • I stay present & honest instead of wasting time, effort, or money.

Self-Assessment

To determine how well I’m doing so far, I’ll score each behavior on a 5-point Likert scale. Here’s what the scale means:

Never: -2 points 
Hardly: -1 point
Sometimes: 0 points
Usually: 1 point
Always: 2 points

NB: I recognize that the terms Always and Never are unattainable absolutes. So please read them as Almost Always and Almost Never.

I always choose to empower, not exploit.
(2 points)

I usually respond with curiosity instead of judgement.
(1 point)

I usually deliver excellence for what I find meaningful, without violating my boundaries.
(1 points)

I usually learn and improve, without chasing perfection.
(1 points )

I sometimes choose my battles wisely and avoid meaningless distractions.
(0 points)

I usually stay present & honest instead of wasting time, effort, or money.
(1 point)

Total Points: 6 of 12 ≅ 50%

Conclusion

Honestly, I had hoped for a better score. On one hand, I’m disappointed. It seems I haven’t been living into my values as effectively as I thought.

But on the other hand, this means I have room to grow! Each moment is an opportunity for me to be a better human being, a better Brian.

And I will be better. Will I ever be perfect? I doubt it. But that’s ok! To paraphrase Annika Hansen: I’ll always have something to strive for.

Selfie of Brian out running in Zeeland - doing my best to keep living into my values!

And I’m grateful for having done this exercise. Thank you Brené for sharing it in your book!

Dr. Brown, your work is hugely influential to me. I’ve written and spoken about it before, but Dare to Lead is on a whole other level. I look forward to coming back to it in the years to come. And I’m looking forward to reading my copy of Atlas of the Heart!

But what about you, dear one? Would you like to do this exercise yourself? I highly recommend it.

Start with Brené’s list of values. I leave you with this quote from the book:

“Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precise and clear and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice – they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives.”

Brené Brown

Appendix: Examples of Living into My Values

👆🏼 Click here to scroll back up.

Living into Compassion

I remember a phone call with the project manager on an app development team I was on a few years ago. It occurred to me that his tone with me on the call felt aggressive. But somehow this question occurred to me: what’s he afraid of?

So I let him finish what he was saying. And then in my calmest, warmest voice, I responded with, “It’s gonna be OK. I’ve got your back! Whatever it takes; we’re going to make this work.”

That changed everything. I could feel him exhale deeply through the phone. And his entire demeanor shifted from (what I interpreted as) fearful aggression to warm appreciation.

He thanked me and confessed that he was feeling pressure from different sides. But knowing he’s got an ally helped dissipate some of that pressure.

Living into Efficiency

Over the past few years, I’ve reduced the amount of stuff I own, especially clothes. I’m no Marie Kondo, but through a gradual process of giving away, donating, and gradual replacement, my ‘wardrobe’ follows these principles:

  • It’s all color, mostly black: This eliminates the need to wash ‘whites,’ so I also don’t ever need to buy white detergent.
  • Sustainable / ethical: If I need to buy something, I get it from an ethical company. If I can repair or upcycle things, or get things second-hand, I do that instead.
  • No ironing: I find ironing to be incredibly inefficient. But I still don’t want to walk around looking like a wrinkly mess. So only I own clothing that doesn’t need to be ironed.
  • Quick-drying: Hang-drying clothes helps get rid of wrinkles, but it also eliminates the need for a dryer. That saves lots of money and electricity! But having clothes that dry quickly also allows me to do my own laundry when I travel, which allows me to pack less (I usually only ever travel with a carry-on).
  • Outdoor-ready: All my clothes (except maybe my pajamas) are outdoor clothes. In other words, I don’t have or need separate outfits for work and hiking.
  • Uniform: I like to have multiple ‘copies’ of the same piece of clothing, so I don’t need to make any choices about what I wear every day. The black t-shirt I’m wearing now is exactly the same as the one I wore yesterday, except this one’s clean.