If you want to see what you claim to truly value come to fruition, you can’t leave your dreams as ambiguous ideas for long. You have to break them down into actionable steps you can immediately take. Lofty ideals are a great starting point, but if they remain lofty ideals forever—they will always be dreams and never become your reality.
It’s honorable to say my family comes before work. If I’m always checking my work email at the dinner table when everyone else is engaged in conversation, however, it’s just a perceived value. It’s not a reality. Work actually comes before family even though I keep telling myself it doesn’t.
I may believe fitness is good for me, but if it only ever exists in my brain and not in the actions I take, fitness isn’t actually something I value. Sleeping through an alarm every day instead of getting up to exercise says sleep is a greater priority.
The first step in living a life aligned with our values is admitting what we believe to be true and what actually is true are often different.
When we start to recognize that we think we value one thing when, in actuality, we value something else—what do we do?
When you realize you think meals as a family are a value but you haven’t had one in weeks, how should you feel?
First, here’s something unhelpful: shame. Shame drives us farther from progress rather than toward it. If you want to fuel a short-term turnaround, shame can provide some nice kerosene for your fire--but it won't sustain long-term reformation.
You say you care about staying away from your phone, but you’ve been scrolling through Instagram for three hours. You say you like healthy food, but you’re just going for it on a bag of Doritos. You say you care about generosity, but you’ve deleted the giving line from your budget to make room for something else.
When you wake up and feel the weight of the disconnect, you can easily allow yourself to be driven by how bad you feel about it. This is shame. It tells you you’ve messed up again and aren't going to make it, but you might as well slap yourself on the wrist and replace the chips with carrots. You keep trying to do what you think you believe you should do, but a voice in the back of your head just keeps reminding you of your past mistake—about how you can try hard (again) but will probably fail.
If, however, you want to build a lifestyle that ultimately lines up with meaning rather than passivity, you have to be drive by something else: opportunity.
Shame constantly reminds you of the past. Opportunity gives you vision for the future.
It means you’re able to paint a picture of what working out consistently will provide you rather than beating yourself up for punching your snooze button. It means you see things for what could be, not as a way to prove your past self wrong.
So when you’re driven by the right thing, opportunity, but just can’t seem to get moving on what you claim to care about—you might be facing a next-level problem. Opportunity hasn't turned into grit. It hasn't driven you to formulate an actual plan for execution. It's simply remained in the future but hasn't translated into what that means for today.
The best thing you can do to line up your life with the values you think you embody is to let opportunity drive you toward breaking the journey up the mountain into what step you need to take today.
Right now, in this moment, what decision do I need to choose to make what I value become true?
I am a committed Christian. As a follower of Jesus, I claim to believe the Bible is the actual word of God and provides direction for my life. Today, this means I have an opportunity to read it, and I should take that opportunity. Reading even a few simple verses helps me live what I believe.
I believe giving generously is important, fun, and an essential ingredient for a meaningful life. Today, this means I should think critically about where my money is going and what it’s doing in the world. It’s an opportunity to see generosity come to pass.
Take a conviction you hold and break it down into the most actionable steps possible.
I believe eating healthy is important. Choose accordingly at your next meal.
I believe friendships are worth building. Give your full attention to what your conversation partner is saying.
I believe investing in my kids is a valuable way to spend my time. Get on the floor with them. Tell them what they mean to you. Open up.
All of us are hypocrites to some degree. We all don’t do this perfectly. We all binge on Halloween candy and find ourselves drifting sometimes. What we believe is often contradicted by what we do, but we can mitigate some of this by breaking what we believe down into what we should do about it right now.
Receive God's grace and remind yourself of the opportunity ahead. Break what you value into specific, actionable steps. It’s the only way our beliefs prove themselves true.