By Dan Munro
Before we talk about the 7 deadly sins of value-breaching, let’s first discuss what it means to live by your values. This concept is core to all of my work, and I believe it to be the foundation of self-confidence. It is the cure to neuroticism, helplessness, and lack of purpose.
Living by values is about knowing the difference between the Real Self (who you are being right now), the Ought Self (who you’ve been conditioned into believing you ‘should’ be), and the Ideal Self (the person you wish you were, living by your values consistently). Quite often we are confused about the difference between our core values and the expectations of others. If you’re not sure, I suggest you read this
When you live by your values you won’t feel any need to explain your behaviour to yourself (e.g. “I didn’t say hi to that girl because she’s on the phone”), because you’ll feel deeply satisfied with your actions. You’ll know deep down you did the right thing for you. Explaining it to others will seem pointless, because you’ll feel that it has nothing to do with them.
Conversely, whenever you have to justify, rationalise or otherwise explain your own behaviour to yourself or others, there’s a good chance you’ve breached your values and are trying to rid yourself of the guilt associated with this.
With valued-living you are following a code, but it’s about motives, not rules. You are not bound to what you do, instead you focus on WHY you do it. It’s all about reason and purpose. Values may look different in actions from one day to the next, but the reasons for those actions are consistent, e.g. to be honest, or courageous.
This style of living is all about action – thinking and talking about your values is not the same as living by them. Stop telling people you are [insert value here, e.g. honest], and show them you are instead.
HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE ARE NOT LIVING BY OUR VALUES?
Learn to recognise the feeling I call The Authenticity Gap – a shameful sensation of conflict between your Real Self and your Ideal Self (after filtering out the distraction of the Ought Self). This guilt usually arrives some time after the action is taken, and often is most recognisable as regret for missed opportunities. Any time you think “I should have done X”, you are probably experiencing The Authenticity Gap.
This guilt about past actions, based on how they let you down, is related to your beliefs about what is ‘right’. In an emotional moment, such as feeling afraid, it’s easy to forget what we believe is right. Later on, upon reflection, we realise we did not live by our values. Valued-living, when done right, will never leave you feeling guilty.
The Authenticity Gap is caused by your normal human desire to stay in your comfort zone. It’s all about safety. We are most likely to sacrifice our values for the perception of safety, such as a secure relationship, career, or finances. To engage in valued-living, we must be willing to risk all of these things and more.
Values require you to accept that you have nothing to lose.
Generally the question becomes “Would I rather be safe or have integrity?” – you will rarely be able to guarantee both at the same time. Think about this: people can stop loving you at any time, redundancy is always a marketplace-shift away, and money is easily lost; so there’s no such thing as safety! You may as well aim for values; at least you have control over those.
THE 7 DEADLY SINS – HOW ARE YOU BREACHING YOUR VALUES?
So let’s have some fun with this and look at how people breach their values. For the sake of context I thought it would be interesting to use the 7 deadly sins as a basis for this. After each I’ve listed some values you could focus on to rid yourself of the sin. Here we go…
WRATH – Trying to get retribution because you feel something has been taken from you. This often follows irrational blaming of external sources for your internal pain, such as thinking that society is at fault for you having low self-worth. Wrath builds from feeling that life is somehow “unfair” and that you are entitled to ‘pay-back’. At its worst, wrath involves wanting others to suffer to appease your own suffering.
Examples: not allowing someone into your lane when you’re mad about traffic; talking crap about someone when you feel they have betrayed you; hitting someone when you’re upset.
Values breached: abundance, acceptance, giving, love.
GREED – Neediness through seeking of external validation, often demonstrated by attachment to possessions. You’ll find yourself allowing others to be harmed in order to externally benefit yourself, such as sleeping with someone on false pretences. Greed stems from being unable to find internal satisfaction without external rewards. Like all of these sins, it is based on core insecurity (ironically, this is exactly what valued-living cures).
Examples: selling something you know is low quality; hiding something from others that you would feel forced to share if they knew; keeping secrets; hoarding possessions and money.
Values breached: presence, compassion, empathy, abundance, acceptance.
SLOTH – Most often demonstrated as procrastination and avoidance of doing what is right for you. Laziness is a common way of describing it. The short-term focus on being comfortable right now, rather than creating a long term rewarding life, leads to constant instant-gratification decision-making, which is the cause of most peoples’ long-term suffering.
Examples: putting of what is important; sleeping too much; bingeing on television and other unproductive time-wasters.
Values breached: courage, determination, decisiveness, leadership.
PRIDE – An unhealthy and insecure attachment to an externally-validated identity. Proud people often take credit for good luck instead of being grateful for their privileges. Pride creates a belief that you are better or worse than other people, as an entire person, and facilitates a constant comparison with others. You’ll find you are not able to enjoy situations unless you ‘win’, and you’ve lost joy in the process of living in the moment. Life for proud people tends to only exist briefly, when achievements occur, and the rest of your time is spent just worrying about the next win.
Examples: feeling attached to identity (e.g. “I am the Nice Guy”); avoiding things you feel you won’t be good at; getting upset when someone challenges your beliefs.
Values breached: gratitude, honesty, presence, patience.
ENVY – The toxic and cowardly state caused primarily by being attached to external measures of self-worth. Envy is the process of attributing excuses to your failure to live by values, by claiming others have advantages over you, so that you can relieve the guilt of not taking courageous action yourself. Through feeling entitled to rewards without requiring effort or having to endure discomfort, you’ll blame others for taking away opportunities you believe are yours by right.
Examples: blaming others for your negative mood; coming up with reasons why you can’t succeed the others do (e.g. “They are naturally charismatic, I can’t do that”); disliking people because they are successful.
Values breached: honesty, responsibility, courage, passion.
LUST – Simply put, lust is about wanting to GET; having an unhealthy attachment to external rewards. If you feel entitled to receive external pleasures without having to earn them, and you are focused on instant gratification, this is probably an apt translation of lust. The entitlement leads to a lack of restraint and patience – you’ll start bulldozing your way to gratification rather than enjoying the process of getting there. Then you’ll feel resentment when rewards are withheld.
Examples: lying to get what you want; manipulating others into doing things for you; forcing someone to give something to you by guilt-tripping them.
Values breached: giving, respect, gratitude, presence.
GLUTTONY – Through an excess of external comfort sources, wasting resources, and an imbalanced use of fuel, you become a glutton. Your neediness drives a desire to consume as much as possible, most likely to relieve pangs of perceived scarcity. By deriving comfort from consumption you become locked into a cycle of bingeing and avoidance of pain.
Examples: pigging out on high-sugar foods; hoarding; watching the entire Game of Thrones series without break (actually, I’m OK with this one).
Values breached: respect, presence, discipline, abundance.
You can always go back to living by your values, there is no ‘failure’. When you commit one of the value sins, it means that you simply went off track. Your values are patiently waiting for you to re-join them. No matter how long you’ve been off track, all you have to do is live by your values in a single moment and everything is OK again!
I once worked with a gang member who had consistently harmed people for over 20 years. Then one day he started being honest, caring and productive. As soon as he started doing that he felt an immediate boost in self-worth. The past no longer mattered to his measurement of self. Valued-living is what you are doing RIGHT NOW, and to quote Metallica; nothing else matters.
The key to redeeming yourself after sinning is to take action. Rather than trying to ‘not do’ something, identify which value has been breached and create an action to live by it. Trying to not sin gives you no direction and nothing to work with. Aim to eliminate the sin through positive action instead, e.g. ask yourself “What could I do to be more honest today?” and follow through on the answer.
You’re human, which means that you will always have times where you breach your values. So forget about being perfect. It’s about getting back on the horse and reducing the amount of time you wallow in sin. You can’t undo your past errors but you can make up for them. Rather than wishing for a different past, create a rewarding or reparative present action.
Self-honesty and acceptance are the key elements to managing value-breaches. First admit you did it, then accept it happened – only then will you be able to do something to get back on track.