Programming for (Your Definition of) Success

As I embark on a new chapter in my life, I’ll be setting some corresponding goals and then writing here to coalesce my thoughts and introduce an element of accountability. In doing so I also hope that I can help others who may find themselves in a similar predicament - whether it’s starting a business, getting to optimal health, creating rewarding relationships, or generally living a more fulfilling life. At one time or another we all find ourselves clouded with uncertainty, and it is in those moments that we need to step up and be the author of our own lives. 

However, before plunging headfirst into external goals I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the mental patterns that have gotten me to this point, or more precisely, I wanted to make sure that I have the right values and beliefs guiding my actions during this next phase. I do not believe that the past equals the future; we humans have the ability, the free will, to make decisions that change the trajectory of our lives. And we can do this in an instant - whenever we want! Here’s hoping you find my case study helpful.

The brain is not too dissimilar from a computer when looked at from the perspective of neural networks. Although many have made the analogy before, they often don’t go on to include an operating manual for how to program the software on our brain ‘hardware’. Consciously choosing our values and beliefs is a critical first step in this process.

 

There are 4 steps to defining your values:

1) Gain awareness of what your current values are so you understand why you do what you do - actual behavior not wishful thinking. Just like we all have a philosophy, we all have values. Whether they are based in reality, integrated, consistent, and consciously chosen is dependent, but we all have them.

2) Make conscious decisions about what values you want to live by in order to shape the quality of life and destiny you truly desire, and deserve, aka “What’s most important to me in life?” It can be helpful to look at role models to get some initial ideas. Be mindful to not just inherit the values of those you grew up around; do not live by inertia, live on purpose. 

3) Edit the list for inclusion and exclusion - “What values should I eliminate from or add to my list in order to achieve my ultimate destiny?” 

4) Put your values in order and commit - not according to how you’ve been living, but how you need to live to achieve the vision you have for your life. This is where you really customize things and set the stage for all your future decision-making aka how you will make trade-offs. “What’s the effect of having this value in this position on my hierarchy?”

 

My Example

My values based on how I had been acting the last 3 months:

1) Learning

2) Personal Freedom

3) Personal Growth / Self-Knowledge

4) Family

5) Friendship

6) Play

7) Helping

8) Pleasure

9) Loyalty

10) Adventure

11) Prosperity

12) Ambition

13) Excellence

14) Achievement

15) Health

I had to get the list down and then work through it multiple times with rigorous honesty to order them because what I thought and how I had been acting were different. When I was honest about how I had been spending my time that is the list I came up with. 

Since I had just quit my job and transitioned out of your typical structured career path that list might not seem too surprising. However, there are always trade-offs and a natural consequence of this list is that I have been in my own head and not mixing it up in the world, achieving etc. I have been turned inward as I plan my next move, and as I build up the emotional reservoir to take action. Grouping these values shows that I have been keen on Mastery, Lifestyle, Self-Expression, and Relationships.

Also… 15 values? I mean sure, we’ve all got lots of things we value, but in my opinion that is simply too many. We need to focus on what’s essential, what is unique to us and our position in life, not boil the ocean.

One surprising specific: health was on the list, but at the very bottom! This is one that started near the top when I started this exercise based on my typical mental dialogue, but fell to the bottom after I honestly reflected on how I had been neglecting good eating habits, not exercising with any regular cadence etc. 

 

Below is my list of chosen values and chosen rules based on answering the questions: 

1) “What is most important to me in life now?”

2) “What has to happen for me to feel that I am achieving that?” 

The goal with the latter question is to make it easy to feel joy vs. setting up a nearly insurmountable (aka perfectionist) rule that either means I am likely to fail after trying or potentially means failing to get off the starting line in the first place.

 

1) Vitality: 90% Rule - Eat to live, High-intensity training, Meditation, and Quantification

2) Love: Invest time and energy into relationships that matter.

3) Achievement: Work to my own substantial independently-derived income.

4) Impact: Increasing benefit to others.

5) Growth: Progress in mental, physical, or emotional.

6) Passion: Showing emotion and energy for my values.

7) Freedom: Independent thinking and financial security.

8) Adventure: NEW experiences.

When I read through this new list it strikes a serious emotional chord within and I just know that these are the things that matter to me. In other words, if I live to achieve these things, and in this order, that I will be fulfilled and without regret. I also smile when I read the corresponding “rules” because I know I can be fulfilled on Day 1, not at some later date. It’s important to make the journey, this present moment, the reward. 

I also chose to spell out what I like to call “Table-Stakes Values and Virtues” while I was at it. For me they are the following:

Table-Stakes Values: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem

Table-Stakes Virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride, Independence, Integrity, Honesty, and Justice

 

What’s Next?

With my core values and associated rules spelled out clearly, I can use them as guides to action and as filters for trade-off decisions as they inevitably come up. They have helped shape my goals for this next year, but more on that next week… 

 

Related Resources

Individuals should check out Tony Robbin’s work on values. Families would benefit from looking into the Values Edge Discovery System for helping to facilitate individual and family values exercises. Best of luck. This is simple on the surface, tough to do with rigor, and incredibly rewarding. We only get one shot at this life - do you what you love