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Clarify Your Values and Reduce Stress

Your own values can affect your level of stress in your daily life. Here are several exercises designed to help you discover and clarify what values and goals are important to you. These exercises aren’t about passing or failing or being right or wrong, so just be honest.

Does this mean some values are less stress-resilient than others? Absolutely. But you alone can determine which of your values and goals you should hold onto, and which of your values and goals you need to revamp or even throw out altogether.

Values: The tombstone test

Contemplating your own demise may seem like an overly dramatic way of getting in touch with your core values and central goals, but it can be remarkably effective. The following exercise was designed to give you the ultimate perspective. Take a pen or pencil, and a piece of paper (or your keyboard), and answer the following question:

When I’m gone, what would I like my tombstone to say about me? (Assume you have a very large tombstone.)

Include in your tombstone description the answers to the following, more specific questions:

  • How would I like people to remember me?

  • What would I like to have accomplished in life?

This exercise should help you step back and look at the bigger picture. It forces you to consider what exactly you value as worthwhile and important.

Values: Five years to live

In this one, you aren’t dead yet, but you will be shortly. You’ve been told that you have at least five years left, but not much more. You’re reassured that you will experience no pain, and you can carry on a totally normal life until your death. This exercise differs from the preceding “tombstone test,” in that it looks less at the “big” picture and asks that you re-consider and re-evaluate your present day-to-day involvements and concerns.

Ponder the following question:

If you had just five more years to live, would you spend the time you have left any differently than the way you are spending it now?

If yes, what would you do that is different? Would you stay at your job? Would you live where you’re living? Would you finally call your mother? And so on . . .

Values: The rating game

One of the simplest ways of uncovering your values and goals is to rate a list of the most common ones. Use this simple ten-point rating system, where ten means “extremely important to me” and zero means “not at all important.” You’re not ranking the items in order from least to most important. You’re just considering each item individually and rating it on a scale of one to ten. Take a stab at it:

____    Achieving financial success
____    Being seen as smart
____    Being powerful
____    Being a leader
____    Winning at most things
____    Helping others
____    Being seen as physically attractive
____    Being admired
____    Being seen as honest
____    Spending time with family
____    Spending time with friends
____    Achieving fame
____    Being respected
____    Being loved
____    Having a strong spiritual foundation

The purpose of this exercise is to get you to re-assess specific goals and involvements in terms of their value and importance for you. After you rate these values and goals, take a moment to consider which items you rated a seven or greater.

Values: Things I love to do

Simply list 15 things you really enjoy doing. It can be anything — traveling, playing a favorite sport, reading pot-boilers, learning, gardening, sleeping, watching TV, or whatever else you really like to spend your time doing. Sometimes just putting these activities down on paper can trigger a realization that you’re missing out. Then ask yourself:

“Why am I not doing more of these things?”

If you love playing golf or you’d like to spend more time traveling, ask yourself why you’re not spending more time on these kinds of activities.

Values: Other intriguing questions to ponder

If your brain isn’t completely drained by now, here are several questions that you can ask yourself to get to know your values and goals a little better. If you’d rather not ponder these questions now, jot down the questions and pull one out next time you find yourself waiting in a long line or sitting on a plane or train.

  • If I could come back in another lifetime as someone else, who would it be? Why?

  • If I had oodles of money, what would I do with it?

  • If I could make only three phone calls before I had to leave this world, who would I call? What would I say?

  • And the old job-interview favorite: Where do I want to be in one year? In five years?

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