Find Your Values to Escape the Cycle of Dissatisfaction

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Think Like a Monk" by Jay Shetty. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you know what your values are in life? Why does Jay Shetty say it’s so important to find your values and live by them? Can you change your values?

In his book Think Like a Monk, former monk, author, and life coach Jay Shetty discusses the importance of setting clear values for yourself. Once you’ve set those values, it’s your job to examine your life and your choices and decide whether your current life and decisions align with your values—if not, it’s time to make some changes.

Here’s how to clarify your core values in life.

Finding Your Core Values

Shetty argues that the only way to experience satisfaction and happiness is to focus your thoughts on what’s important to you so that you can find the values that you want to live by. Here, we’ll help you assess whether the values you’re living by reflect who you want to be and how you want to live. First, you’ll decide on what values feel true to you. Next, you’ll evaluate whether your current choices align with these values.

What Values Do You Want to Live By?

According to Shetty, values that inspire positive thoughts, such as compassion or kindness, are true values that elevate you to a state of happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. On the other hand, values that inspire negative thoughts, such as fear, greed, or envy, are false values that demote you to a state of suffering, dissatisfaction, and anxiety.

(Shortform note: In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson agrees that values either enhance or diminish your mental wellbeing. However, he provides a different way to understand whether or not your values are beneficial to you: Positive values arise from an internal focus and have outcomes that you can control. For example, if you adopt kindness as a value, you can shape your thoughts and behaviors to align with this value. On the other hand, negative values arise from an external focus and have outcomes that you can’t control. For example, if you adopt popularity as a value, the outcome hinges on what others think about you. While you can adapt your behavior to increase your popularity, you’ll never be able to control the outcome.)

Shetty suggests that you reflect on what values you want to live by so that you can assess whether your current behaviors align with or work against how you want to live. Consider what types of experiences feel meaningful to you and think about the qualities that you look for and admire in others, such as compassion, empathy, or resilience. Whatever these qualities are, they point to the values that inspire you. 

Shetty claims that finding your values in life is an ongoing process: The more you release yourself from external influences and distractions, the easier you’ll find it to clarify and live by your values.

Shetty seems to contradict his assertion here that you should avoid external influences to make living by your values easier by suggesting that you look to the qualities that you admire in others to define your values. However, up until this point, Shetty has focused on how you’ve unconsciously adopted a wide range of values without considering what these values encourage you to do and how they make you feel. Now, he’s suggesting that you consciously look beyond superficial symbols such as wealth or the appearance of success, and instead consider why certain people inspire or empower you

Psychologists agree that when you understand why other people’s actions feel meaningful to you, you’re better able to bring these qualities into your own life.

Are You Living by Your Values?

Now that you have an idea of the values you want to live by, let’s explore if your current choices line up with what feels meaningful to you. Shetty suggests four ways to examine whether the decisions you’ve been making move you toward or further from how you want to live—practicing these methods will help you release yourself from the values that don’t serve you and give you the time and energy to focus on what matters to you:

1) Track how you spend your time and money: Shetty argues that the way you choose to spend your free time and money reflects the values that shape your life. Consequently, the areas where you spend the most time and money should align with what you value the most. If that’s not the case, ask yourself why you choose to waste your time and money on things that don’t feel important to you.

(Shortform note: Psychologists agree that the way that you choose to spend your time and money reflects your priorities. They suggest that you list your main priorities in each area of your life (relationships, work, finances, mental and physical health) and consider the people or situations that make it hard for you to stick to these priorities. This process of questioning will provide clues about what you can change to better align your choices with your values.)

2) Consider your past choices: Shetty suggests that investigating your past choices will help you to gain a deeper awareness of how you’ve been influenced throughout your life. Ask yourself why you made these choices, what you learned from them, and whether you would make the same choices now that you’re clearer about what values you want to live by.

(Shortform note: If you feel tempted to criticize yourself at any point during this step, remember that the goal of reflecting on your past choices isn’t to judge or berate yourself for decisions you’ve made, but to increase your awareness of what types of decisions feel satisfying to you. You might find it useful to focus on self-compassion during this step. For example, acknowledge that you’ve been doing the best that you can, or consciously forgive yourself for any mistakes that you’ve made. By shifting your focus from criticism to kindness, you’ll be better able to understand your past decisions without falling into the trap of self-defeating thoughts.)

3) Evaluate your current goals: Shetty advises that you also assess how external influences have shaped the goals you’re working toward. For example, perhaps you’ve set the goal to earn a million dollars because you enjoy the challenge. On the other hand, perhaps you’ve set this goal because you feel pressured to prove your worth to others.

(Shortform note: According to research in the area of positive psychology, Shetty’s advice that you assess whether your goals align with your values may improve your chances of successfully achieving these goals. According to this research, you’re more likely to feel motivated and experience an upward emotional spiral (increased feelings of happiness and satisfaction) when you pursue goals that align with your values. This positive mental state allows you to access the best parts of yourself—your unique strengths and talents—and apply them to successfully achieve your goal.)

4) Identify how other people influence you: When you’re truly satisfied with yourself, you don’t feel the need to put on different personas to please different people. However, developing this strength of mind takes practice. While you’re working through the process of cultivating a monk mindset, Shetty suggests that you remember that the people you spend your time with influence you to think and behave in specific ways. Therefore, consider how you feel when you spend time with particular individuals or groups of people—do you feel like you’re getting closer to or further away from the values you want to live by? 

(Shortform note: Research in the area of habit formation sheds light on Shetty’s advice to consider whether your values align with the people you spend time with. James Clear (Atomic Habits) argues that you have a natural tendency to engage in group mentality behavior—imitating others to fit in, to feel like you belong, or to generate the praise and respect you perceive them to have. Clear suggests that you seek out specific social groups that already live by the values you’ve chosen for yourself. This will make it easier for you to behave in alignment with your values because you won’t have to fight your natural tendency to conform.)

Find Your Values to Escape the Cycle of Dissatisfaction

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Here's what you'll find in our full Think Like a Monk summary:

  • Tips from a former Vedic monk on how to find happiness and fulfillment in life
  • The three stages to adopting the monk mindset
  • How to positively influence the world around you

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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