Source: World Values Day website.
What do we mean when we talk about our values? Often they are mixed up with concepts like ethics or morality, but we have a different way of looking at values. Values are the things that matter to you most, the things you want to stand for. On our ACTivate Programme we define them ‘as our chosen life directions’.
When we live and work in ways that are aligned with our values our life takes on greater meaning and purpose, which in turn enhances our resilience, well-being and effectiveness. In fact, there has been a great deal of research which has found that when our life and work has meaning and purpose for us, we are healthier and live longer. Therefore, it is vitally important we ascertain and define our values, allowing us to use them as a compass, directing towards our purpose and meaning. This suggests that our values are fundamental to our core being.
As children, it’s common to internalise the values of those around us – our parents and our peers. We then bring them with us into adult life. These values may or may not be appropriate for whom we are or the situations within which we find ourselves. Therefore, it could be the case that living with these inherited values may not best promote stable levels of resilience, well-being and effectiveness. If we are not flexible with our values, allowing them to grow and change as we ourselves do, we can cling to them, and possibly pass them on to our children, regardless of how well they are working.
Clare W. Graves (1914 – 1986) was a professor of psychology and developed the ‘Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory’ (ECLET) which he used to describe adult human development. Graves theorised that in response to external conditions, humans develop new bio-psycho-social coping systems to solve existential problems and manage with their worlds. He theorised that our “nature is not a set thing, that it is ever emergent, that it is an open system, not a closed system”. This theory has been supported by the research of Robert Kegan, Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development at Harvard, who has found we develop a new ‘psychologic’ each time we overcome a significant challenge in our lives. Psychologics are essentially a psychological system for how we perceive, experience and understand our world. In other words, they are our ‘world views’.
Graves’s work was made popular by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan in their Spiral Dynamics model and his coping systems can be described in terms of ‘Value Orientations’. These are essentially a person’s ‘world view’ in terms of their psychological integration within a particular environmental context.
Graves’s and Kegan’s work suggest that our values do in fact change as we grow and develop. However, this is somewhat contrary to how we tend to see ourselves, which is commonly as stable and unchanging. Instead, we often believe that our present self is the culmination of our personal growth and that we have now finally become ourselves. The psychologist Dan Gilbert has called this the “end of history illusion”. From this mindset we perceive our values to now to be fixed and that they will not change in the future. Even though right now you may feel you have peaked, Gilbert believes, as he said in his TED Talk, that “the person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been”.
To continue to change, grow and develop, Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaten Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, suggests we cultivate what she calls a ‘growth mindset’. She says people with a fixed mindset consider personality and mental qualities to be stable and intractable. These people are driven by the need to prove themselves in every facet of their lives, and they tend to respond to setbacks and challenges as if they are personal attacks on themselves. This view inhibits their learning, development and growth. With a growth mindset, Dweck states that people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for growth and development.
On our 'Whole Person Growth' work we help people to live their values so they can enhance their resilience, wellbeing and these combine to enhance effectiveness. To ensure people develop and maintain a growth, rather than fixed, mindset we encourage people to hold their values lightly.