Values – Our Unconscious Motivators

“Cheshire Puss”, said Alice.  “Would you please tell me which way I ought to go from here?”  “That depends a great deal on where you want to go”, said the Cat.  “I don’t much care where”, said Alice.  “Then it doesn’t matter which way to go”, said the Cat.

Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  1865

 As we know, to achieve what it is we desire in our life it is vital that we have a clarity on what it is we actually want.  We need to be clear about what it is that we want and then focus on it.  If we were a pilot flying to the US, for instance, then we need to be a little more specific about where we want to go if we are to develop a flight plan to arrive safely at our destination.  It is quite a different flight path to fly from Sydney to Los Angeles, than it is to fly from Sydney to Miami or Boston, or any other destination.

Even with a clear destination or goal, it can still be difficult for us to achieve what we want, as we have all found out in our own lives.  For us to achieve and realise our goals, our values must align congruently with our goals, otherwise we will not maintain the effort, energy and motivation to persist in “flow” to fruition.

Values are our unconscious motivators.  It is our values that give us our energy and motivation to achieve what it is we want.  It is through our values that we evaluate things as good or bad, right or wrong, useful or not useful, and therefore we either feel good about something or not good about it and either engage or disengage with it.  This is when we either achieve our goals or give up on a goal.

For example: lots of people set New Year’s resolutions.  They maintain a new behaviour for a little while and then before very long, and usually by February or March, they have reverted back to their old ways or given it away.  Someone may say they are quitting smoking as their New Year resolution, and then find pretty quickly that they are back smoking because the good feeling they get from smoking outweighs the effort to give up.  This is because their values are not in alignment with the goal of not smoking.  If values such as fitness and longevity were high on the person values hierarchy it would be much easier to maintain the new positive behaviours and motivation to achieve the desired goal of being a non-smoker.

Simultaneously, if someone wants to loose weight because they have young children and they want to have the energy to play with them, and the longevity to parent them, then they will be highly motivated to make the lifestyle changes that support their weight reduction and maintenance of their ideal weight.

All conflict, whether it be between couples in a relationship, families, friends, teams, organisations, ethnic groups, countries etc are all a result of a conflict in values.  Different people have different things that are important to them.

There are two main levels where we can discover our core values.  By understanding them, and then by aligning our values at these different levels we can more easily achieve our desired outcomes.  This would also reduce conflict in the world and hasten the arrival and maintenance of peace and harmony!

Level 1 – General Life Values

We begin by asking “What is important to me in my life?”  Then keep repeating the question until we have 5-6 values that drive our life.

A couple in a relationship may list their values the following way:

Person A

Person B




fun and excitement






making a difference



We can see how, even at this broad level, there might be some conflict when person. A focuses on family and person B is focused on career – this means that where their energy goes will be different.

Level 2 – Life Area Values

To discover what our next level values are we focus on each life area individually.   Some core life areas are:

  • Career/ business
  • Intimate relationship
  • Children and Family
  • Fun and experiences
  • Physical wellbeing
  • Mental wellbeing
  • Personal Growth & Development  / Spirituality
  • Finances
  • Community / Contribution
  • Environment

For example: if I ask two different people, “What is important to you about your physical wellbeing?”  The different responses might contain values such as:

Person A

Person B

  • Energy
  • Fitness
  • Strength
  • Longevity
  • Health
  • Skiing and riding
  • Relaxation
  • Own time
  • Mediation
  • Balance
  • Reducing my cholesterol
  • Not having a heart attack
  • Loosing 10 kg
  • Not smoking
  • Playing sports
  • Bringing down my blood pressure
  • Getting the OK from my Doctor
  • Sleeping well

We can see that both lists are very different.  Person A is more forward focused and has a positive list while person B is listing things to avoid, or change.  Person A is demonstrating “towards” values and person B is demonstrating “away from” values.

“Away from’s” are useful motivators initially because they drive us to move away from what we don’t want:

eg        Money can be a value as an away from poverty

Fitness can be a value as an away from being overweight or heart disease

“Away from” drivers can be inspiring motivators for a period of time, but what often happens is that as we move further away from what it is we don’t want. Our motivation can begin to decline and we can revert back to old ways or become complacent.  “Away from’s” are also often the result of a limiting belief we have, either consciously or unconsciously.

“Towards” drivers are motivating because they motivate us towards something we desire, and the closer we get to it the more motivated we get.  This means we are able to more easily maintain the momentum as we approach our goal.  The important thing is to ensure that as the change of behaviour is happening that we flip our thinking to a “towards” focus to maintain the motivation and energy to achieve the goal.

The key to successful goal achievement is aligning our values with our goals in a “towards” way, focusing on what we want rather than what we don’t want, and then taking inspired action.

Personal leadership is the process of keeping your vision and values

before you and aligning your life to be congruent with them – Stephen Covey

 As always, I would be delighted if you would share your thoughts and results with me at

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