When you’re clear on what you stand for, it’s easier to weather a sea of distractions. Most people are fairly clear about their personal values, but sometimes it’s difficult to stay true to those values, especially at work. When I interviewed Hyrum W. Smith for his latest book The 3 Gaps (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2016), he described a simple process he uses to help people keep their values foremost in their mind.
First of all, Smith says, everyone has a set of governing values, whether they realize it or not. Interestingly, he says the exact nature of those values doesn’t matter. “I never suggest what those values ought to be. That’s none of our business.” Smith has been teaching people how to verbalize their values for over 40 years and he finds that the themes of family, physical and mental well-being, financial wellness, education, and integrity are those most often mentioned. Of course, your values list may differ and that’s OK.
To help you identify your values, Smith advises you create a “social constitution.” He says it’s a simple three-step process:
- Write down your governing values.
- Write a statement describing what those values mean to you.
- Prioritize your values.
Why do you need to prioritize your values? They’re all important, or else you wouldn’t put them in your constitution, right? Here’s the thinking behind prioritization: you need to prioritize your values because knowing what you value above all else helps you stay on the right path. Smith offers this example:
Let’s say you have a value that says you are loyal and then you have a value that says you have integrity. If you put loyalty above integrity and you are asked to do something at work that isn’t quite right, you will probably do it. But if integrity is ranked above loyalty and you are asked to do something at work that is not quite right, you probably won’t do it.
Smith says that when people create their social constitution, they in effect create a “shield” that allows them to deflect incompatible values. Or, at the very least, you will understand when you’re not in alignment with the values you hold most dear. People become more comfortable saying “no” to requests because they understand that it doesn’t line up with their value system.
And the benefits of doing this exercise can have some really profound impacts. Says Smith:
We’ve had people tell us that when they wrote their personal constitution, it had such an impact. We’ve had people stop doing drugs, stop drinking, stop smoking. We’ve had marriages saved. We’ve had all of these things, just by people identifying, “Hey this is what matters to me. Why does all of this other crap matter? It doesn’t.” It really centers people.
What do you stand for? Are you willing to write it down? As the modern proverb goes, “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” When you write a personal “constitution” you’ll ensure that you won’t fall for something that’s not in line with what matters most to you.
Jennifer Miller is a freelance writer who covers leadership, careers and the workplace. This article originally appeared on her award-winning blog The People Equation. Join the conversation on Facebook and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why Is It So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK Before You Speak.”