Lacking Purpose and Motivation? You Don’t Know Your Values.

Values. After 20 years of executive coaching and being the CEO of a multi-million dollar non-profit, I am convinced of this truth: Most people struggle to achieve their life’s purpose – and lack motivation to do so – because they do not live their values. In fact most people don’t even know their values. This happened to me and it led to a severe case of burnout.

If I asked you to name the 5 most important values that direct every decision you make, could you do it? In other words – could you tell me, without hesitation, why you do what you do? If you can’t, you are not alone. photo_catholic_church_oldman copy

Whether you know it or not, you are directing your life by a specific set of values. But they may not be the values you want. Why? Because most of us adopt the values of our parents and the dominant values of our society. The values you internalized as a child remain with you through adulthood, according to Jim Taylor, PhD in this Psychology Today article.

This is true because many of our values were shaped before the age of 5. As a 5 year old child, you are incredibly vulnerable. You are learning about the world and you are receiving information about right and wrong, fear and safety, and a host of other important issues about life. You can’t even filter this information. What you see and experience shapes your values Those who grow up in abusive homes adopt different values than those raised in a more stable environment.

How about society? What do they teach us to value? Turn on the TV or open your internet browser. Sex, money, fame and body image. Those pursuits don’t seem to get people very far down the road towards their life’s purpose and what’s really important.

What about the values of our children and this generation? A recent research study reveals that one of their key values is materialism and money, but they are not very motivated to work for it. So, give me the money while I sit on my butt. You can read about it here. I’m not a child psychologist, but I don’t think that’s going to work. Could this be one of the reasons so many millennials are moving back in with their parents according to this Wall Street Journal article?

Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. — Parker Palmer

My son has recently been struggling with his purpose in life. He has spent a lot of time in his life focused around a certain sports activity – and he has been incredibly successful. He’s loved it and it has brought him a lot of joy. But lately, he has found himself losing his vision and passion for it. He’s questioning himself and doubting why he is doing what he’s doing. We all do this and it is completely normal for a teenager.  So, I took him through a simple values exercise to help him more deeply connect the things that were important to him.

Your Values Are More Important than What You Are Doing

The fog lifted and the clouds cleared. His countenance transformed and his hope was renewed. Why? Because he was able to deeply connect to the things that mattered to him the most. His values were important, not his sport. If what he was doing eventually led him to live out those values, fantastic. It’s a win-win. But if it didn’t – then he was going the wrong direction. The values are more important than the thing. Understanding this changed his life, and it will change yours too.

Almost 1 year ago I moved to Barcelona, Spain with my family. Yes, I know. It’s a crazy thing to do. Why did we do it? Because the move was the best way to completely live out our values for this time in our lives. “Family” is a core value for me. My wife and I felt that our lifestyle was fighting against the time we wanted with our kids and the memories we wanted to build. For the first time in my life I was making a ton of money – but money is not one of my core values. Some people thought I had lost my mind by turning my back on a lucrative salary. But I had made a clear decision to stop my own hypocrisy. I absolutely, 100%, have to live out my values. Otherwise, I’ll be looking back over my life wishing I would have made different decisions. I am choosing to live a life with no regret – at least to the best of my ability. I may not be making near the annual salary I had – but I am infinitely richer in the things that deeply matter to me. (Of course this was connected to other values besides family. Other values were critical in our decision).


Here’s something you can start doing NOW to reinforce your values and live for what matters to you. This is research and it really works.

Thanks to James Clear for revealing this study.

A group of college students at Stanford University headed home for winter break. They were given the task of keeping a daily journal. In this journal, some of the students were asked to write about their most important personal values and then describe how the events of each day connected with those values. Another group of students was simply asked to describe the positive events that happened throughout their day.

After the break, the researchers discovered that those students who wrote about their personal values were healthier, experienced fewer illnesses, and had better energy and attitude than the students who merely wrote about the positive events in their lives.

As time has gone on, these findings have been replicated in nearly a hundred additional studies. In fact, according to the book The Upside of Stress, by Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal:

“It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. In the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.

In the long term, writing about values has been shown to boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing drinking. It helps people persevere in the face of discrimination and reduces self-handicapping. In many cases, these benefits are a result of a one-time mindset intervention. People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.”
—Kelly McGonigal

So get yourself a journal and start connecting the dots. Write down the things that are deeply important to you – these values are at the very top of who you are and why you do what you do. They are things like: family, faith/spirituality, integrity, hope, passion, generosity, service, adventure, decisiveness, education, hard work, creative, motivated, positive, inspiring, loving, etc.

Now, take the Stanford challenge and write about your values and how they connect to your daily activities for 30 days. This will help you gain clarity on the things that really matter to you. When you find that you are spending too much time on things that don’t matter – reduce the time you are giving to those activities and switch the time to values driven activities.

It’s a simple shift, but one that will make huge impacts in your life. Spend time on you and things that matter to you! You are worth it and your time is one of the most precious commodities you possess. It’s time to stop surviving and start flourishing.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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14 thoughts on “Lacking Purpose and Motivation? You Don’t Know Your Values.

    • Appreciate it Seth and I couldn’t agree more. Can’t wait to walk through this together with the team! 🙂

  1. After reading this post I realize that often do journal about my values. I subconsciously journal to stay true to myself. I have always felt rewarded after journalling. This post does want me to take some time to actual name my values. I am going to take some time this weekend to do that. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Awesome Neil and thanks for the feedback! As you know, journaling can be one of the most powerful practices to solidify the things that are most important to you. Funny that you mention it because I’ve been doing a lot of study on it this week. Looking forward to seeing you in April.

  2. I have 4 adopted kids who are 23, 24, 24, 25. None of them work, the oldest just had a baby and wouldn’t work during pregnancy (baby is not her husband’s), and one of the 24 year olds is living in my basement and has been unemployed for over a year. He worked prior, and bought a car just before losing his temp job. When I was graduating HS (1977), I would do ANYTHING to get $$ for a car, housing, gas, travel, etc.
    My husband had a business, but couldn’t find/keep good employees. They’d work until payday, then take a few days off until they realized they missed a check, then scrambled around the following week, maybe.
    This mentality is awful!!!
    I sent part of your words to a couple of these kids. Hopefully, they will read it and not be offended by yet another “attack” or “nag” about lack of employment.

    • Jill, I understand where you are coming from. This is a tough road that parents walk with their children. As you are well aware, kids who are adopted struggle even more, at times, to find themselves and understand the, “who am I?” question. As an adoptive parent, I am believing with you for your kids!