We all have principles, priorities and convictions that matter most to us. Some of our values are deeply rooted and never change. But some of our values are related to our current circumstances and will change as our life focus changes. For example, priorities for most people change dramatically as soon as they become parents. The change in priorities affects every aspect of their lives, influencing job-related decisions, social activities, budgeting and so much more.
That’s a stark example, one that is easy to understand. Smaller changes in our life can also trigger shifts in what we prioritize. Or at least in what we say we value most and prioritize. The challenge we have to wrangle with when it comes to these subtler changes is that we don’t have the profound emotional and practical reminder like a newborn baby to cause us to re-evaluate our actions.
Ideally, our actions and choices would mirror what we value. Oftentimes, though, there is a dissonance. We say or think one thing but our actions suggest something different. Consider these examples:
- A high school student says that nothing is more important to her than family. But her evenings and weekends are packed with extra-curricular activities, studying and college applications, and social time with friends. Her siblings and parents barely see her because she is not available for family dinners, family outings or even family trips.
- A college sophomore plans to work her way into medical school. At this time, she believes her number one priority should be earning top grades. But her time in the science labs and with study groups has been minimal because she is a strong advocate for several children’s causes and spends a great deal of time volunteering and fundraising.
- A newlywed man says and feels that his marriage is the most important thing in his life. But he has been golfing with clients every Saturday and attending football games with his buddies every Sunday for the past three months. His long commute, workout schedule and after-hours work networking generally keep him away from home from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. most weekdays.
- A hard-working mom is the family’s sole breadwinner, and the stay-at-home dad manages the household very well. This mom, like most, believes her children are her top priority. She says “I would do anything for them” and “they are my life.” But as her work responsibilities increase, her time at home, at school and at their sports activities has been steadily decreasing.
- A middle-aged woman commits to herself to lose weight, exercise and get healthier. She joins a gym, starts a diet program and gets into a new routine. As the seasons change, her commitment wanes – getting up early to hit the gym is more difficult in the cold and dark. Soon, she tapers off going in the evenings, too, because it’s dark sooner and she has a lot to do getting ready for the holidays.
What each of these people have in common is a mismatch between what they say they value and what their actions say they value. Intentions are not the same as actions, and what we truly value needs to show up in our day-to-day actions. When there is a mismatch, the risk is the loss of credibility and others’ trust. Additionally, we begin to doubt ourselves.
That’s not to say that it’s easy to set and live by your priorities and values at all times. Here’s a quick exercise to help you check in and, if needed, to course correct.
1) Write down the five top priorities in your life right now.
2) Audit yourself. For each item on the list, look back over calendar for the past month and for one month into the future. How much quality time are you spending on each of your priorities?
3) If you have a mismatch, spend some time thinking about why that is. There are only two choices. Either you don’t value what you wrote down as much as you think you do (and that may be okay – only you can decide) OR you do value it but you’ve let other things encroach and are now aware of the mismatch.
4) Decide what to do about it if, in fact, your actions do not reflect your true priorities. Change your time allocation to put time into the people and priorities that matter most to you.
5) If you are spread too thin to give adequate time to your top five priorities, prune back your commitments. Make a conscious effort to align your activities with your priorities and to maintain that alignment.
Like so many of the CONNECT! Blog posts, this is something I am working on, too. It’s easy to accidentally get misaligned. But this is one of those things that matters a lot to the people in your life and to you, too, as you work on improving your connections.
Keep connecting with the people and priorities that matter most to you! When you are ready to CONNECT! for professional and personal development, count on People First Productivity Solutions. We offer coaching,leadership development programs and resources for companies and for individuals. Join the CONNECT! Community on LinkedIn or Facebook.