Real Values vs. Wanted Values

Everyone has values. Values determine who we are, how we live, and what we do. Some of our values are obvious; someone that drives a fast sportscar values cars, for example. But, I find that most values aren’t obvious. 

If you were to ask most people their values, they could probably list them out quickly, but in my estimation, the values they will likely list aren’t real. Most of us live by values we haven’t taken the time to think through or identify. So, when asked, we will reach for the values we want or know we should want rather than the values we hold. The values that guide our lives tend to lie beneath the obvious until we take the time to uncover them.

When asked, “what are your values?” most of us will reach for our wanted values, not our real values. 

Wanted Values 

Wanted values are the values that we want to have. These are the values that society teaches us we should have. These values might be things like: 

  • Time with family
  • Working out
  • Excelling in work
  • Tidiness 

In his book Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty states, “No matter what you think your values are, your actions tell the real story. What we do with our spare time shows what we value. For instance, you might put spending time with family at the top of your list of values, but if you spend all your free time playing golf, your actions don’t match your values, and you need to do some self-examination.” 

In that scenario, the person may have the wanted value of spending time with family, but his actions show his real value is time on the golf course. 

Having wanted values is not a bad thing; in fact, it’s essential. But, believing that a wanted value has become a real value in your life, without the actions to prove it, is a mistake. You can’t say you value learning if you don’t take the time to learn. You can’t say you value family time if you constantly tell your child to go away while you watch TV. You can’t say you value success if you aren’t willing to work hard for it. 

Real Values 

Real values are the things that guide our actions. In the golf scenario above, the golfer may not value golf over family time. It may be that he values time with friends on the golf course over family time. Or, it may be that he values time alone on the golf course over family time. None of these things is wrong, but it’s essential to understand what motivates us so we can be honest about our actions and the values that drive them. 

Real values tend to be things that are less glamorous and more practical. Things like: 

  • Sleep
  • Time with friends
  • Alone time
  • Downtime 

Comparing real and wanted values 

By understanding our real values and comparing them with our wanted values, we can begin to make decisions that will shape and improve our lives. This requires some work and a lot of thought. If you have the real value of needing alone time on the golf course after a stressful week, how will you balance that with the wanted value of family time? If you need some chocolate to help you deal with some stress, how will you reconcile that with the wanted value of eating healthy? 

It’s not easy, but we must take the time to think through these things. If we don’t, we will live on autopilot, never realizing the subtle forces that are guiding our thinking and actions. 

Questions to ask yourself to get started 

  • What am I struggling with that is counter to what I think my values are? For example: Do you think you have a value of being healthy but struggle to eat healthily? 
  • What comes easily to me? These are likely your real values. These could be things like: 
    • Spending time with friends (being social)
    • Playing video games or watching TV (down time) Writing (creative time) 
  • What isn’t easy for me, but I wish was easy? These are likely your wanted values. These could be things like: 
    • Playing tea with my two-year-old (playing with kids)
    • Hosting family game night (time with family)
    • Working out (getting healthy)
    • Going on a walk or run (getting healthy and resting your mind) Meditation (resting your mind)

Knowing our real values brings our actions into clear focus; only then can we decide if we want to improve on them or if we are okay with them as they are.