Building our Sense of Self

By Chris Chittenden

"The pathos of man is that he hungers for personal fulfillment and for a sense of community with others.”

… J. Saunders Redding

Over the past few e-zines, I have invited to create a value set based on the following four questions:

  1. What is at the heart of how you want to experience life?
  2. What is most important to you about what you want to create in life?
  3. What is central to how you want to approach life given an uncertain future?
  4. What is the basis of how you want to relate to others?

My responses to the these questions has been "Gratitude", "Balance", "Intuition" and "Trust" (BIG-T). Did you come up with your own responses?

Many people go through a values creation exercise at some point in their life. Sometimes they do it for themselves and sometimes it is within an organisational context. For most of these people, determining their values is the end of the journey. They are often printed out and put on a wall somewhere and that is about it. At best, they may play the part of being an occasional background context to life, however generally life will go on as before. Nothing really changes and it has to be asked why people bothered in the first place. What was the point in doing this?

Indeed what is the point of defining a set of values to live by if you do not make a concerted effort to turn those values from aspirational into a way of being? If we want to make such a change, then it will take more than words on a wall or the occasional reference to a value set. We will have to find a way of consistently applying our values to the situations in which we find ourselves.

If you have been reading Talking About for any length of time, you will appreciate the idea that human beings are very habitual. So, if you want to really live the values to which you aspire, then you have to develop habits to match.

One way of doing this is to anticipate the future moments when we will want to be true to our values, which in theory is every moment, and find a means of applying our values in those moments. We do this is by raising our awareness using a variety of strategies such reflection processes, triggers and feedback loops. With that awareness, we then engage in a process of posing value-related questions to ourselves. Let me use my value set as an example.

The key strategy associated with taking different action in future moments is to have one thing to remember that allows for a flow into other thoughts. My values were Balance, Intuition, Gratitude and Trust. These values can be reduced to the acronym 'BIG-T' which is simple and easy to remember. When I find myself in a situation, all I have to do is recall BIG-T and then ask myself some questions related to my values:

  • What does balance look like in this situation?
  • What does my intuition tell me?
  • What am I grateful for in this situation?
  • How to build trust here?

As I answer these questions in different situations, I do a number of things.

Firstly, I use my value set to help me orient myself in situations. My values are not just a background context. I am using them to assess situations in a way that is aligned with my desired way of being.

Secondly, I am started to build new habitual patterns of thinking and ultimately the habitual actions that are aligned with my desired way of being.

Finally, every time I ask these or similar questions, I am helping myself understand what balance, intuition, gratitude and trust mean for me. I am building a more grounded story of who am I and who I want to be.

This approach may seem simple, but it is by no means easy. As with the creation of any new habit, it takes a commitment to strategies to create ongoing awareness and a commitment to the approach overall. It can mean overturning the idea that we have to always have the answer and be willing to live in the question expecting that better answers will continue to emerge.

However, from personal experience and observing the experience of clients, it can be a very rewarding experience.

More articles on Being Human

© 2015 Chris Chittenden