Goals are the intended outcomes for actions that we are taking, e.g., a goal of purchasing our own home; a goal of completing a college program and graduating with a college degree; or a goal of establishing a family with two parents and two children. In each of these cases, we intend to accomplish some outcome and we can measure success by whether or not, or to what degree, we have a achieved the outcome. Values on the other hand, are guidelines for what goals we choose and what actions we take, e.g., Honesty, Kindness, Creativity, Love, Adventure, Financial Security. For example, when choosing a goal, are we choosing goals that manifest our values? If we have a value of Financial Security, does the goal of taking expensive vacations every year manifest that value? If not, does it manifest another important value, e.g., Adventure? If there are conflicting values, we can prioritize our values to resolve the conflict. For example, let’s say that the value we have for Adventure has priority over Financial Security, so we take the vacations.
Another consideration has to do with whether the actions we take in the pursuit of a particular goal manifest our values. For example, if we have a value of Honesty, are we engaged in honest actions when pursuing our goal of Financial Security? In a sense, values represent the kind of person we want to be, both in terms of the goals we seek to achieve and the actions we take to achieve the goals.
It is best to describe goals in an objective way (See posting “The Secret of Effective Action” on 3/27/23), so that we can know when we have achieved them, or at the very least, know how close we have come to achieving the goals. For example, we could have a goal “be an excellent student” or a goal “obtain a GPA of 3.5 out of a possible 4). The second goal is clearly more objective and it will be much easier for us to know when we have achieved it, or how close we came to achieving it.
Values, on the other hand, are inherently subjective, not objective. We ourselves will have to determine what we mean by “Adventure”, “Honesty”, “Friendliness”, “Learning”, etc. and no one else has to agree with us as to what is meant by these terms; in fact, there are likely to be many people who disagree with how we define out values. Since the terms are subjective, when we characterize other people as “Adventurous”, “Honest”, or “Friendly”, that is simply based on our definitions of these terms and not on objective reality. When people do agree on the definition of a particular value terms, such as honesty, their agreed-upon definition is still not based on objective reality, but rather is a shared opinion. The term “manifest” is used to describe how “value thoughts” appear in the world, just as the term “achieve” describes how “goal thoughts” appear in the world. While goals can be described objectively and the degree they are achieved can be measured, values are not objective and it is not easy to measure to what degree they have manifested in the world, i.e., to what degree and in what way they are influencing our actions in the world.
The concept of “Sacrifice” is interesting when considering the nature of values. Parents often want their children to know how much they sacrificed for their sake, or spouses might want their spouse to know much they sacrificed for their sake, e.g., a husband sacrifices for his family by taking a job he hates so that he can provide for his wife and children. The concept of sacrifice seems to imply we are letting go of values that have a greater value in order to manifest a lesser value. If someone was letting go of a lesser value to gain something of greater value, that would not be considered a “sacrifice”. When a man says he has made the sacrifice of doing a job he hates, in order to provide for his family, he is saying that job satisfaction is a higher value for him than the welfare of his family. If parents complain of sacrificing fun vacations in order to pay for their children’s clothing, they are saying that they value having fun on their vacations more than they value having their children properly clothed. If job satisfaction and fun vacations are NOT considered to be higher values than our family’s welfare or our children being clothed, then we would not be making sacrifices, but would simply be manifesting our higher priority values.
A suggestion is that you take some time to generate your personal list of values, including the priority of each value on your list, and then periodically consider to what extent your values are actually guiding your goals and actions. For ideas about what values might be on your personal list, do a google search for “lists of values”. The AWBW/Sample Values list is one of the more useful ones.