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Doctors at Work Podcast.

Episode #24

What are values and how can they support a successful and meaningful career?

Mat Daniel


Values describe how we want to behave now and always, and indicate how we want to treat ourselves, those near to us, and the world around us. They are like a global compass that guides the kind of person you want to be. In this episode, I talk about values, what they are, how to find yours, and how to use them to help you create a successful and meaningful career.

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Mat: Welcome to Doctors at Work. My name is Mat Daniel and this podcast is about doctors’ careers. In today’s podcast, I’ll be talking about values. In the previous podcast, I talked about how to make career decisions in medicine. And I mentioned the idea of values. So I thought that I would spend this podcast delving a little bit more into what exactly values are.
I hope it’s useful.
What exactly are values? Values are something that describes how we want to behave now and always. They indicate how we want to treat ourselves those people close to us and the world around us. And values are very powerful because when you know your values, when you follow them, when you behave in accordance to your values, doing that can help you grow and develop.
It creates your present and your future. It inspires you, motivates you, and it makes our lives meaningful. And living by our values means consciously choosing to focus on what matters to us. And when the going gets tough, choosing to behave according to our values motivates us and keeps us going. In this podcast, I’ll share some thoughts about values, what they are and how they can be helpful at work.
So the first thing to say is that values are global qualities that we desire and follow on an ongoing basis. So that’s about how we want to be, how we want to behave. Think of them like the moral compass, our reason for being, what we want to be remembered for, what kind of a person we want to be and what kind of a person we want others to see us as.
What gets us out to bed in the morning? So these are global qualities that basically permeate every single aspect of our actions. We want and we choose to follow them and do so on an ongoing basis. It’s just the way that we are. Values are different from goals. Now goals are about what you want to have achieve or do in the future, whereas values are much more about how you want to behave now for the rest of your life and in every step of the way.
So values is something that’s ongoing, ever present, a moral compass about how we want to be. Whereas goals tend to be much more about what you want to achieve, what you want to tick off. So values describe how you want to act. on the way to achieving your goal, whether you achieve the goal or not.
And that’s quite powerful because sometimes it isn’t possible to achieve the goal, but you can act with your values along the way. And people who focus only on goals and are constantly aiming to tick another box in the future, they might end up missing out on the sense of fulfilment and satisfaction that comes from living and behaving in according to your values in the here and now.
Values guide our own behaviour, but they also guide how we treat others and how we treat ourselves. The thing is that often values have to be prioritized because it’s quite common that you get competing interests that mean that we cannot follow all of our values all the time. So sometimes there is.
a real contradiction that, things are just opposite but more often than not, it’s just a question of time management. So if I say that, one value might be spending time at home another value might be gym. Another value might be a research project. Another value might be. Doing extra clinical work.
And they’re all things that are important. They’re all things that I want to do. They’re all the kind of person that I want to be. But the reality is that I only have so much time. So typically when there are issues with values, it’s usually lots of different things matter to us, but we simply don’t have time to do them all.
So that means that we have to prioritize them and we choose which values we follow in any given situation. So sometimes it’s not possible to follow every single one of your values all the time. It may be that some values are more salient at the moment and that’s why that value takes priority. And on another time, on another occasion.
that value is going to be a little bit lower down my priority list. So that doesn’t mean that values disappear, they’re just not at the forefront at the moment. And of course, the relative importance of one value against another guides our actions. And related to that also is the idea that values are best held lightly.
Now values guide our behaviour. But you don’t want to be obsessed with them because if you do become ruled by them, they can become quite oppressive and restrictive commandments. So if I use the previous example that I say that, there might be a value that the that taking the dogs out is really important to me.
Which it is but equally there will be times when I simply can’t do that. There will be times when I have to do a project or extra clinical work and, and that, that’s okay, isn’t it? So it’s back to that idea of prioritizing values. If I rigidly stick to the idea that I have to walk to the dogs, then what happens to my value, which is about looking after my patients or helping trainees at work?
I’m just setting myself up for conflict. All the values are there. I don’t have to use all of them at the same time. I don’t follow them slavishly. These are the things that inform how I want to behave. But I do have to hold them lightly and occasionally have to juggle them. Values, of course, are freely chosen, so we don’t have to behave in that way.
We want to be like that. Nobody else is telling us that we should be doing that. It is just how I want to be. And I don’t have to justify them. If people ask, why does this matter to you? I don’t have to justify it to anybody. It just does. It’s how I want to be, and it’s how I want to behave.
And that kind of serves as a bit of a standard and criteria. And I use that. to evaluate myself, how I see myself in relation to values. Actually it’s also it’s also a way that we evaluate and judge other people which can be problematic because, my values are my values. And if I’m judging other people against my values my values might not be another person’s values.
So something worth remembering that each one of our values, we will all have different values. And that’s okay, isn’t it? The world is richer for that. So knowing what your values are is a key step towards values based living. And if you follow your values, that means you’re doing what matters to you.
And that’s an important step towards being at your best. And no matter what, no matter how difficult things are, you always have a choice about what to do next. So instead of reacting in ways that self destructive, counterproductive or unhelpful, if you choose to act in accordance with your values, And you move in a direction that matters to you, that’s something that’s very powerful.
It protects against burnout and it helps build resilience. You might already know what your values are or perhaps not yet. Or perhaps your circumstances or your values have changed over time. So it is always useful to, to ponder and think, okay what is it that actually motivates me?
What do I want my life to be about? What kind of a person I want to be? In other words, what my values are. And there are lots of different ways that you can find what your values are. So you could start by asking yourself, what are the most important things to me? How do I want to behave? What do I want to stand for?
What do I want my legacy to be? When am I at my best? And even what really annoys me? So all of those things will help you tease out what your values are, what your guiding compass. You can ask your friends and family what they see as the main things that matter to you, or indeed what are the main things that annoy you.
There are numerous questionnaires available. If you search online, you might find things like Schwartz portrait values or the VIA questionnaire which allows you to determine that. Or you could pick them from a list. And I’ll go through a list of some common values in a moment.
And the way that you might pick values from the list would be that you go through the list. And then you sort it into things that matter a lot. And from the group that matters a lot, you maybe pick the top five, six, seven, eight, something like that. That would be your top values. So some examples, I’m going to go through this quickly just to give you an idea about what values are.
Acceptance, adventure, assertiveness, authenticity, caring, compassion, connection, contribution, generosity, cooperation, courage, creativity, curiosity, encouragement, engagement, fairness and justice. fitness, flexibility, freedom, friendliness, forgiveness, humour, gratitude, honesty, kindness, love, order, persistence, respect, responsibility, safety, skilfulness, supportiveness and trust.
There are lots of other values and lots of other lists also. If you’re not sure what your values are, then picking them from a list or doing one of the online questionnaires can be helpful. But Actually, it’s often much better if your starting point is asking the questions about who am I, what kind of a person I want to be, what makes me angry when am I at my best, and identifying values from things that are already within you now.
Or from past events because you’re going to have a different name and if you look at your own events, you’re going to give it a name that is meaningful to you, whereas if it’s something that somebody else has named, it might not directly relate to you. So if you’re at the beginning of your journey of identifying values, then the questionnaire or list can be useful.
If you’re a bit more value savvy already, then spending time thinking about what you want your life to be about, what kind of a person you want to be what your peak moments have been, what gives you life meaning and what makes you angry, that’s probably a better point. Of course there’s no such thing as a right or wrong values, we all have different ones and what matters is that you know what yours are and that you use them to guide how you live your life.
And value based living is about how you want to behave now and always, what you want to be known for, how you want to treat the world around you. And living by your values means consciously choosing to focus on what matters to you, and then when the going gets tough, choosing to behave according to your values motivates you and keeps you going.
When we’re talking about target based living as opposed to value based living, yeah, so we were talking about targets, we tend to focus on the next target, on the next achievement. And when we get the next achievement, we celebrate and we move on, and then we start another long haul to another target.
So an example for that for me might be passing a big exam like the FRCS. So you know, you build yourself up to this exam, and then you pass it, and then you feel that you should be exuberant and celebrating. But really, I just felt tired and I was glad that it was all over. So I did hit the target, I did pass.
But I’m not sure that I necessarily got much satisfaction once I got there. And in some ways, when you hit those targets, that’s fine. And that’s okay. But if you don’t achieve that target, or if it’s something that’s simply out of your control, then that becomes much more difficult and much more challenging.
Okay, so in targets, we focus about, what’s going to be my next achievement? What’s going to be the next box that I’m going to tick? In contrast to that target based living is values based living. And the focus there is about how you want to behave every day. So not about what I want to have in the future, what targets I want to have but it’s about what I can start doing now how I want to behave.
And no matter what happens, there’s always a choice that I have about how I want to behave in the here and now. So slightly different ways of viewing the world. And your targets are fine, look, focusing on the target helps you pass exam, that’s okay. But what people sometimes forget is people sometimes forget to live in the here and now they’re focused on what the future is going to bring.
And they’re focused on that all the time and they forget to enjoy the present. And living in accordance with your values is a way that you can enjoy living in the present. How does all of this relate to happiness then? Values based living means knowing what you want and consciously choosing what to do.
But that doesn’t necessarily bring you happiness. And some people think they should feel happy all the time, but that just isn’t the reality of life. Now, evolution has given us brains designed to spot danger so we don’t get eaten. And our brains are constantly comparing us with others in our peer group, so we don’t get thrown out of our peer group.
And our brains are always wanting more, because who knows when the next apple in a tree is going to be, and we might be hungry. None of that has anything to do with happiness. It’s to do with our survival. So the evolutionary consequences of our survival focused brain means that our brains always worry in comparing and wanting.
And the brain is a problem solving tool, and it’s very good at survival, of course. That’s why the human race has done so well. But the same problem solving approach that has been so helpful to help us survive as the human race, when that’s applied to our inner experiences, feelings, or emotions, we hit a problem.
And then our inner lives become a puzzle to be solved instead of something to be experienced. We try and use logic. That applies to the outside world, but we try and use that logic to our own emotions. And of course, it’s just nonsense, because who knows where our emotions come from and how one manages them.
So then the myth of happiness is born. So we expect that life should always be happy. We expect to be able to solve all of our internal emotional problems. We expect to resolve all of our difficult thoughts and be happy. And The reality is that a lot of the time, it’s just not possible to do that.
The human mind isn’t naturally positive and happy. Often it’s negative, criticizing, judging, catastrophizing, because of course those are all the things that gave us an evolutionary survival advantage. And I think when it comes to values, values are a way that we can convert and get ourselves out of that mind that’s always worrying.
If we focus on how we want to be and what we want to do in the present moment choosing to take actions that are in keeping with our values. That’s a way that we can convert and move away from the internal turmoil that we might be experiencing, and instead focus on the actions that we can take and become the kind of person that we want to be.
So values describe how we want to behave and what’s important to us on an ongoing basis. And I’ve talked before about targets. I’ll talk here a little bit about goals next. So goals are usually described in terms of what we want to have, what we want to get or achieve. In other words, ticking a box. And there is a problem with goals because striving for goal achievement can turn out to be toxic.
If goal achievement is your main measure of success. We can’t control many of the outcomes and many of the things in life. So if you focus on a goal in life, where actually it might be something that you can’t really control, then often, everything falls apart because it’s really difficult to try and achieve a goal, and then when you can’t for whatever reason, that’s very difficult to deal with.
So we can’t control what happens in the future. But we can’t control who we are now and how we interact with the world around us on a daily basis. So for a rich and meaningful life, it’s better to focus on how we act in keeping with our values rather than worrying about what targets or goals we’re going to have in the future.
And we’re always told how important it is to have smart goals and objectives. And there is a problem with goals because they describe what we want to have, get or achieve. These are outcome goals. Now they can be useful when one is dealing with performance in the workplace or things that are entirely under our control.
So simple task, they lend themselves well to goals and smart objective. The reality is that there are many things that we simply have no control over, or we have very little control, or all the time we’re doing things that are very complex, and we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. If we try and set outcome goals as the main measure of success, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.
If we don’t achieve them, we become a failure. And if we do achieve them, then we often discover that it’s just another box fixed, and our lives are just the same as they were before. So goals relating to how you feel for me are in the same category. None of us can guarantee how we will feel, and trying to control our feeling again is just a recipe for disappointment.
So a better thing than outcome goals is process goals. And again, this links back to values. So process goals means that you relate a goal, that you set a goal relating to how you will act and behave. And of course that is under your control. Yeah. What you’re going to achieve in 10 years time or how you’re going to feel very difficult to control, but setting a goal about how you will act and behave.
That’s much more under control. And that’s where values come in. It’s more satisfying in the long term. If you know what you stand for and how you want to act and behave, then that means that every day you can go out there and you can act in a way that you want to act. So that’s a conscious decision that you’ve made.
And that’s a more reliable route to reaching meaningful life. So goals are something to be careful with. In the right context for a simple task, yes, they can be powerful if you set an outcome goals. But a lot of the time, it’s much better to set up something that relates to the process about how you will act and how you will want to behave.
So values based living means knowing what you stand for and in a way that’s in keeping with the kind of person that you want to be. And no matter what happens, nobody can take that away from you. And while values based living is there for an incredibly powerful way towards a life filled with things that matter to you.

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