I was working with a client the other day who struggled to find motivation to move in the right direction. So we took a step back to try to figure out what her goals are; Goal Theory is the idea that we are most motivated to meet goals which are broken down into reachable, feasible goals, often which have an educational value or provide a sense of meaning in the work. However, she couldn't quite pin down her goals. We took another step back to uncover values.
There's empirical evidence that values are what lead to goal formation.
What are values? According to the Ethics Unwrapped blog at the University of Texas, "Values are individual beliefs that motivate people to act one way or another. They serve as a guide for human behavior."
They can be with us from birth, but they may also be shaped by the cultural and social interactions we have as we develop.
How do we figure out values? There are plenty of activities which help us understand what we prioritize. You may think to yourself: "What am I doing when I am happiest? What feels right? What does my gut instinct want in these moments?"
Or perhaps you could do a value card exercise, in which you create or find cards with different values written on them. In this exercise, you can list them in order of most important to you to least important. Then pick out your top 10 and re-order them from most important to least important. What do your top 5 say about you?
There's also the Values in Action Character Strength Survey, which is a free empirically-based tool which helps you learn about your top character strengths as related to the values that you have. These character strengths are not only great for building self-esteem, but for helping you understand more about how you can use your best strengths and highest ranked values to solve problems.
So values help us figure out goals, and pave the way for greater motivational factors in a given situation.