Clarifying your values is ultimately pretty pointless unless you’re acting in accord with them, and that often means changing your behaviour, which can take courage and self-discipline.
Try to think of specific ways in which you can live more consistently in accord with your core values. Most people find that they need to identify quite specific activities in order to actually change anything. However, you may find it helpful to brainstorm a list of both general strategies or categories of things you can do, such as spending more time with your children, and veryspecific activities that would fall under those headings, such as preparing lunch together, etc.
You may also want to consider two ways of living in accord with values or virtues:
- Acting consistently with a virtue, such as ways of exhibiting wisdom or fairness in your actions, etc.
- Cultivating a virtue within yourself, such as spending time reading about good role-models or meditating on what it means to be a good friend or parent, etc.
It may be that you’re already acting in ways that are very consistent with your core values but nevertheless failing to make the connection in your mind. Being conscious of the link between your actions and values can be very important for some people, otherwise we can easily lose sight of the ultimate reason for our actions: why we’re doing the things we do each day. Regaining the connection between our actions and values can make subtle but important differences to the way we go about doing things. For example, you may work on a computer all day because your circumstances make this a prudent way to support your family and you consider that part of being a good spouse or parent. It may be easy to lose sight of that core value, though, and allow the task and its external goals, such as finishing work on time, to predominate.
Each morning plan at least one specific activity that you can engage in that will allow you to live more consistently in accord with your core values, and be the person you want to be in life. This week’s audio recording will help you to do that. At the end of the day, you’ll be reviewing how well you’ve done by rating yourself in terms of your core values or virtues. Remember that this usually consists in making very small steps to begin with – a small practical change can often have a big significance in life.
The Stoics employed an important psychological strategy called the “reserve clause”, which consisted of undertaking every action with the implicit caveat: “if nothing prevents me.” That’s because we can’t guarantee that we’ll succeed and our future actions and their outcomes are therefore viewed with detached indifference, as merely “preferred”. (Sometimes, in more theological language the Stoics would say “Fate permitting” or “God willing”, much as followers of Islam say “Inshallah” and Christians would once write “Deo Volente“.) In practice, this means we should be prepared in advance to accept failure with equanimity. As the Stoics liked to point out, obstacles or setbacks to virtuous action merely provide another opportunity to exercise a different sort of virtue, such as patience, perseverance, or Stoic acceptance. Notice that this is yet another form of the basic Stoic distinction we met in Week One, between things “up to us” and things not. Our intention and commitment to act in a certain way is up to us, but whether not we succeed may be partly down to external circumstances.
How else might you help yourself to live each day more consistently in accord with your conception of virtue? You can share your ideas with others in the Comments section.