Values and Goals…similar but not the same….

In my coaching conversations I often encounter confusion as to what we mean by values. They are often confused with goals or desires or wants.? A useful term to describe values in the context of the coaching relationship is ?desired global qualities of ongoing action? (Hayes, Bond, Barnes-Holmes & Austin, 2006, p.16)

Ongoing action: Values are about ongoing action in that they describe how we aspire to act on an ongoing basis. For example, being loving, acting in an environmentally sustainable manner, treating? yourself and others with unconditionality and respect are all examples of values that we might aspire to enact in our daily life. Goals differ from values in that they are about what you want to get, have or complete. Therefore if your ?value? is not something you can do on an ongoing basis then it is not a value in the sense that we are discussing. For example, ?happiness? is not a value - happiness is something you can experience, it is not something you can do. Being valued and respected is not a value - it is not something that you can do, it is only something that you can (hopefully) experience.. To get a promotion, a better job, to find your ideal partner, to lose weight? - these are all examples of goals: When met, they will be complete. Values on the other hand are constant and continual, and may be aligned or misaligned with the goals being pursued.

Global Qualities: Not all ongoing action is automatically about values. To be a value there must be some global quality attached to the action. For example, ?playing netball? is clearly something that can be done on an ongoing basis. However, playing netball is not a quality of action. To clarify this, here are four possible qualities of the ongoing action of playing netball: playing netball skilfully, playing netball? poorly, playing netball aggressively and playing netball energetically. However, whilst these are qualities of action they are not necessarily global qualities of action.

When we talk about global qualities we mean a quality that unites many different patterns of action. For example if your value is ?being supportive? to your team mates, then there are many different actions that your can take to express this quality of supportiveness. In the same way if you have a value of ?fairness? then there are many different actions you could take to express this whilst playing netball on an ongoing basis. For us to understand what values might be relevant to the ongoing action of playing netball we need to ask ourselves questions like: ?How do I want to play netball?? What qualities and strengths to I want to bring to the game?? How do I want to behave in my relationships with my team mates, opponents and officials??. Answering these questions might uncover values like being competitive, being respectful of self and others, a commitment to team work, a commitment to fair play and a commitment to challenging yourself,

Theses qualities of action are available to you in any given moment - you do not need to be playing netball to be respectful of others, to be committed to being respectful of self and others and so forth. You can apply these values to all aspects of your life, not just netball. This is what we mean when we say that values have ?global qualities?.

Desired: Values are statements about how you want to behave, how you desire to act and what?s important to you. They are not about what you should and have to do - that is about other peoples? values. Values are consciously chosen by you as qualities you desire in your actions and you consciously choose how to employ.

So, in light of the above we can define values driven behaviour as ongoing action, or actions, that? show identifiable global qualities that express consciously chosen values.

Values and Goals

When working with clients around values I might ask questions like: ?What really matters to you?? ?What kind of person do you want to be and what do you want to stand for??. It is quite common for clients to initially answer these questions with goals rather than values. for example: ?I want to be successful?, or ?I want to be happy?.? These are goals - things that we want to achieve or complete , whereas values are akin to directions in which we want to continually move in our lives: We can continually express our values in our actions but we never ?achieve? or ?complete? our values. It is not surprising that people are often confused as to the difference between goals as values as we live in a goal focused, rather than a value focused society, as reflected in our general lifestyle, the media and the political dialogue.

A simple illustration that can help to clarify the difference between values and goals is that of the difference between ?finding my ideal partner? and ?being loving and caring?: being loving and caring is value - it?s an ongoing action with global qualities that can be expressed in your actions throughout your life. At any moment in your life you can choose to be guided by, and act on, that value or choose not to. Getting your ideal partner is a goal: it can be completed, achieved and crossed of your bucket list. It can also be achieved even if you completely neglect your values of being loving and caring.

Here are a few more examples: Losing ten kilos is a goal, a commitment to your ongoing health is a value.? A commitment to caring for the well being of your family is a value whereas to want a big and expensive house is a goal. To want to reduce the feelings of anxiety associated with having necessary but difficult conversations is a goal, whereas a commitment to doing what is right is a value. To stop criticising your partner is ?dead man?s goal? (someone who is dead will never criticise their partner!) whereas being accepting, understanding and appreciative are values..

So finally to five key points about values:

  1. Values are in the present, goals are in the future.
  2. Values are freely chosen.
  3. Values need never be justified - they are simply statement about what is important to you. Incidentally, if many people agree with your values then they tend to be seen as ?virtues? 🙂
  4. Values are best held lightly - be aware of your values and let them inform your actions but don?t become fused with them. If we fuse with them they start to feel oppressive and restrictive and we can begin to forget that they are freely chosen. We might then find our values dictating our actions rather than informing them
  5. Values often need to be prioritised: All of our values are available in each moment so often we will have to prioritise which ones will inform and guide our actions. Like the faces of a dice - some of our values are clearly visible, others not so, but all of them are there. Learning to contextually modulate which values will guide us in given situations is a very useful skill to develop in today?s complex and changing world..
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