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What Matters Most to You~ Personal Values, Strengths, Weaknesses Discovering whats important to you Discovering our values,

strengths, and weaknesses is an exercise in self-awareness. The better we know ourselves the more able we are to make decisions that are in line with what we truly want in life. Knowing our values, strengths, and weaknesses provides a sense of direction and clarity. Our life tends to be happier, easier, and more fulfilling when we make decisions and behave in a way that honours our values and reflects our strengths. Any exercise that encourages us to look within and examine what is most important to us takes courage and honesty. We must be honest about what truly matters to us (not what society, friends, or family think we should value) and it takes courage to determine if we are living a life that is in line with what we value.

Values Values can be defined as things that are important to you. Every one of us has a value system and it is important that you take the time to examine what your values are so you can begin to make decisions that support them. Living a life that is not in line with your value system causes cognitive dissonance. This is a state of discomfort that is experienced when our actions and beliefs contradict one another. For instance, if we strongly value honesty and deceive people through our line of work or lie to our friends and family we will feel a sense of discomfort. Or, if we highly value freedom and work a 9-5 desk job we will feel trapped and unhappy. To live a life that we feel authentically reflects who we are we must become clear about our values and then ensure that our life is a reflection of them. If you are feeling a sense of stress and confusion about your lifes purpose it is usually a sign that you are not living in accordance with your values. When you take the time to examine your values it can provide insight into what your purpose is and what you are passionate about. Another sign that you are out of sync with your value system is feeling constantly busy but like it is getting you nowhere. This can occur when you are giving to much energy to things that are not high on your list of values. This results in feelings of not wanting to start your day. To help uncover your values ask yourself the following questions: 1) What are the things that are really important to me? 2) What makes me feel genuinely happy and at peace? (People, animals, places, things, events, activities, etc.) 3) What are my favorite things to do? 4) What are the things, people, and places that make me feel really good about who I am?

5) Who are the people that inspire me? What qualities do I admire in them? 6) What would I regret not doing or accomplishing in my life? 7) If I had millions of dollars what charities would I donate to? What causes would I support? 8) If I could give an important message to a group of people who would they be? What would the message be? Q1: What are some of the things you value? Does your life reflect these values? If not, what changes could you make to ensure your decisions, and daily activities, are in line with your values?

Activities to help you get clear on what you value Activity 1 1) Make a list of your top 10 values 2) Prioritize them from most to least important 3) Ask yourself what each value means to you. For instance, what does security represent? What does money represent? This will help you identify your core values 4) Once you have identified your core values, on a scale of 1 to 10 rate how much your life currently reflects this value (1= not at all. 10= A big part of my life). 5) For any values that are rated below an 8 go back and reflect on how you can honour this value more in your everyday life Activity 2 1) Examine your achievements 2) Ask yourself if you are proud of them. Do they reflect something you wanted or what someone else wanted you to do? Would you do the same thing again? If not, what would you do differently? 3) After identifying the things you are most proud of try to think of what values they reflect. For instance, why are you so proud of a particular achievement?

Personal Strengths Personal strengths are things that you are naturally good at or that come very easy to you. When you are using your strengths you will feel competent and in control and know you have something valuable to offer. You will also feel in a state of flow where things seem to come easily and when challenges present themselves you feel prepared to meet them. We tend to like doing the things we are good at; although this isnt always the case. We may also be stuck in a job or lifestyle where we have neglected to utilize our strengths, or have not taken the time to examine what our strengths are, and as a result we feel like we are in a constant struggle. Strengths and values work together nicely; once we know our values we can draw on our strengths as a way of applying our values. It is important to remember that you can also acquire certain strengths. If you have an interest in developing a specific skill it is possible to do with focus and commitment. It is also possible that you have not yet uncovered your greatest strengths. Exploring new activities and trying new things is not only fun but it can also shed light on natural talents that you have. Once you become clear about what your strengths are draw upon them as often as you can in your everyday life. An important time to recall your strengths is when you notice youre comparing yourself to others. When this happens remind yourself of all the gifts you have to offer the world and all of the things that you excel at.

Asking yourself the following questions can help to shed light on your personal strengths 1) What comes easy to me? 2) In what areas do I excel? 3) When do I feel competent and empowered? 4) What is a rare talent that I have? 5) What things do people ask me for help with the most? 6) What are some difficult times that I have overcome? What personal skills/abilities helped me through the difficult times? 7) What makes me stand out from the crowd? 8) In what areas do I receive the most compliments? What do people notice when they are around me? 9) In my group of friends what role do I often play? What do I add to the group?

Q2: What are your personal strengths? How do you use them in your everyday life? Are any of your personal strengths related to your values?

Activities that help you explore your strengths Activity 1 1) Make a list of 5 things that seem to come natural to you 2) Look over this list and describe each of these strengths using your own unique words; dont feel like you have to conform to a stereotypical list of strengths. Once you think of a creative way to describe your strengths it resonates more with you 3) Examine how you use each of these 5 strengths in your everyday life. If you dont use them, how could you start drawing upon these strengths more often? Activity 2 1) Look over your list of strengths 2) On a scale of 1 (not at all) to 10 (very much) rate the amount of enjoyment you experience when using that strength. 3) Next, rate how much energy it takes to use this strength (1- no energy, 10- all of my energy) 4) The strengths that provide the most enjoyment and take little energy to use are the ones that you want to draw on the most, and are likely the ones that are aligned with your values.

Personal Weaknesses Just as discovering your values and strengths is an exercise in self-awareness so is taking the time to examine your weaknesses. We all have weaknesses, and this is not a bad thing. We also dont want to become overly focused on them which can cause us to feel insecure. This is especially true if we believe that we are stupid, inferior, or flawed in some way because of our weaknesses. In reality, this is not the case. When a weakness is revealed to us it is important that we are patient and understanding with ourselves. We are all gifted in different areas and a weakness does not mean you are inferior in any way. Knowing your weaknesses provides an opportunity for personal growth. With practice, direction, and focus you can acquire almost any skill. It is possible to turn our weaknesses into our greatest strengths. However, before you give your energy to developing certain skills and abilities take the time to reflect on whether or not its worth developing. For instance, will it help you in actualizing your values? Is it something that you really want to achieve or is it something you are being forced, or feel pressure, to develop?

Taking the time to reflect on our weaknesses also provides insight into areas where we may require extra assistance. It can also provide direction. For instance, we dont want to accept a job or volunteer position that would require us to use skills that are not fully developed. If we do, we are likely to end up feeling frustrated, confused, overwhelmed, and less confident in ourselves. Questions to help examine your areas of weakness 1) In what areas do you seem to struggle or have difficultly? 2) In what areas of your life do you think you would benefit from improving? 3) When given a work review what areas for improvement are recommended? 4) What are the times when you feel you need to work extra hard to get a job done, achieve a goal, or meet certain requirements? 5) When do you feel out of place or insecure? 6) Have friends or family members mentioned certain weaknesses that they think you have? Once you uncover your weaknesses you can determine whether or not you wish to turn them into a strength. You will also have insight into how your weaknesses can prevent you from achieving certain goals. Q3: Have you ever turned a weakness into a personal strength? Can you recall a time when you worked to develop a skill? Were you proud of yourself for this achievement?

Working with your Values, Strengths, and Weaknesses Create a Personal Mission Statement Review your values and strengths and ask yourself if there is an underlying theme that holds them together. For instance, how do your values relate to one another? How do your strengths reflect your values? Are there certain themes that keep popping up? Write a statement that incorporates your core values and strengths and that can provide direction in your everyday life. For instance, I will live with kindness and love and inspire other people through my positive actions. I will laugh every day and use my sense of humour to bring joy to other people. A mission statement will reflect what is most important to you and provide you with a sense of direction and purpose.

Once you complete your personal mission statement you can examine your goals. Ask yourself if your goals reflect your personal mission statement. If not, are they worth pursuing? Make a list of the things you spend your time doing. Do they align with your personal mission statement?

The secret to living a fulfilling life is incorporating your values and strengths into what you do every day. It is important to be clear on what YOU value; not what you think you SHOULD value.

Kara Melendy, MA, Counselling Psychology