Q: Between my job, my children, my spouse, exercise and my love of travel, I sometimes feel like I have trouble identifying what comes first. How can I better prioritize?
A: First ask yourself whether your inner world is in line with your outer world. People often set goals for what they want in life, but their daily and weekly activities don’t reflect their values. Think of the people who say they put family first, yet work so much they don’t have time to spend with their loved ones. These people miss baseball games, are no-shows at dance recitals, and miss dinner because they’re constantly at the office. The stress continuously builds up because there’s a gap between what they want and what they do.
We’ve all been there. I got into some financial difficulties halfway through my career, and for several years I feared I would lose everything I had earned. When I was in the deepest part of the struggle, I had a heartfelt talk with myself and evaluated where I was. I picked up a pencil and a pad of paper and wrote down my assets, which were good health, freedom, family, friendships, reputation, relationships, wisdom, strong work ethic, success, integrity, being a mentor, being a leader and enjoying lots of love—the list went on and on. In fact, the only thing I could not put on the list was money.
I felt sorry for myself before I made the list. But once I saw all of my assets in writing, I felt like a very lucky man. I realized that if I had to give away one of my values, it would have been money because I could always get that back, while I could not regain some of the other assets if I lost them. I quit feeling sorry for myself and started living in a way that reflected how I was grateful for what I did have. During my financial recovery, I read voraciously, flew helicopters, wrote a book and used the excess time to rebuild my business, all in addition to traveling the world with my family.
Once you list all of your values, you will realize just how fulfilled you are, too, and that money is only one of your many assets—and often not the most important one. In all likelihood, it is the first thing you would give away if your other assets were threatened.
Make a list of your core values and align them with your activities. Once you know what your values are, let them guide your actions in everyday life.
Related: Go Value Shopping to Be Successful
Select 10 of the following:
Once you understand what your priorities are, assess your life and goals to see whether your actions actually line up. Documenting your values can help identify areas where change is necessary, and it makes future decision-making simple and clear.
Now think back to what you’ve done in the last 24 hours and write down the activities and times. Take your list of values and match each activity to one of them. Some activities might connect strongly to one or more, while others will be a stretch. Some might not support your values at all. You can discard these.
When your behavior conflicts with your values, the result is a mental conflict. Psychologists call this cognitive dissonance, and it is a source of pain and stress in your life.
Your goals will become a reality faster and with less stress if they align with your values.
Once you have focus, then it’s time to use the power of visualization to make your goals a reality. Remember, your goals will become a reality faster and with less stress if they align with your values.
When I studied helicopters years ago, I learned there are several gauges you must use to fly. It is absolutely essential to learn how to operate these gauges because when you hit a storm, you live by them. What will you do when you hit the storm? Learn how to focus on your values now so you can live by them in all seasons and avoid the pitfalls in life.
My priorities center on health, freedom, happiness and integrity. When I hit patches of chaos, I refer back to my core values.
We’ve all known people who get into trouble and then cave. They turn to affairs, alcohol or some other addiction to handle stress. They stop exercising, stop their habits of success and enter a downward spiral. That’s because they didn’t have a plan for the tough times, and they got derailed.
This doesn’t have to be your fate. Know your values and keep your focus.
Related: Top of Mind: What Do You Value Most?
Tony Jeary is an author, executive coach and presentation strategist. Jeary has published more than three dozen books about making presentations and strategic effectiveness. He coaches the world's top executives from companies such as Wal-Mart, Ford, New York Life and Texaco.