Here is a simple test. First, write down all your goals and aspirations, along with a description of the person you think you are. Second, write down everything you do in any given week. Not what you think you do, but what you actually do with your time.
Gandhi famously said that peace of mind comes from complete alignment between thought, word, and deed. That still holds true. This means that the larger the mismatch is between the two lists, the worse you will feel about yourself.
Value Gaps Create Stress
In my previous career as a public speaker, I performed this test with thousands of people and the result was always the same.
For instance, if someone thought that he or she was a great parent but then saw how days went by without quality time with their kids, a value gap had been uncovered. The same was true about people who thought of themselves as intellectually curious but hardly ever read, people who talked a great deal about meditation and relaxation but never made time for it in their schedules… and the list went on.
Value gaps, such as these, influence everything from internal dialogue to how we feel throughout the day. The amounts of stress, irritation, and sadness they create depend on both the size and number of gaps and I’ve noticed that many small gaps created by wishful thinking can be just as stressful as one large gap.
How to Narrow Value Gaps
It’s rare to meet people who have completely closed all their value gaps, thusly achieving the state of alignment that Gandhi described above. I mean, even he had aspirations about himself that he never achieved (stated clearly in his autobiography).
So, perfection is out of the question.
That’s no surprise.
But everyone can narrow their value gaps.
As I understand it, there are only two approaches that work:
- Do more
- Aspire less
Both work equally well.
Buddhist monks and spiritually inclined yogis, for instance, have chosen the second approach with great results. Letting go of attachments and aspirations can do wonders for mental health. When people no longer hold onto false mental self-portraits or ‘should’ all over themselves (as Tony Robbins puts it), they uncover inner space that allows them to focus on the most important things.
However, if doing more is someone’s preferred method, then clear goals based on absolute realism need to be implemented and hard choices often have to be made.
My Yoga Studio or My Son?
Let me give a personal example. I ran a successful yoga studio for five years in the early 2000s. In the second year of running the studio, my son was born. Within the first year of his life, after he became old enough to go to daycare, I realized that I was in a losing situation. He came home from daycare around 3.30 PM and I worked from 4 PM until 9 or 10 PM most days. That meant I only saw him during breakfast and over the weekends (when I wasn’t working then as well).
I was in a bind.
My value of being a good father was in conflict with my longing to run a studio. So, I accelerated my public speaking career and was able to close the studio within two years and spend more time with my son. It was a tremendously difficult decision, but it provided me with peace of mind knowing that I valued my son more than my yoga studio. Wishful thinking would never have achieved what decisive action did.
An Ongoing Effort
Thankfully, not all value gaps are that difficult to close. Sometimes it is enough to watch less TV and read more to narrow a value gap.
The question that guides me in this ongoing effort is: Should I make an effort and do more or simply let go of this aspiration?
We’re in a Complicated New Reality
There is no way to write about anything these days without mentioning the virus. Many people are being forced to let go and focus only on basic needs, such as health, safety, and financial security. As I wrote in my piece about the Serenity Prayer, constant discernment is needed to see which things we can control and which things are totally out of our control.
But, once we have settled on what we can control, our values will guide us. And what we do with our time and energy within that limited sphere of influence will tell us what our values really are.
Be safe out there.
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.