How Do You Know When You are Out of Alignment with Your Values

Do you feel any emotional pangs with these scenarios?

  • In a grocery store the toilet paper shelf is empty. In a checkout line you see a person with five packages in their cart.
  • A coworker makes a comment about not caring about the mission, she is just there for the paycheck and insurance.
  • A casual friend of yours, who has not responded to your calls and messages in a couple of months, calls out of the blue asking for a major favor.
  • Your boss is short with you and very passive aggressive. He always makes you feel guilty when you have a request, such as time off.
  • You send emails to a supervisor who never responds.

Take a moment and assess: what did your pangs feel like and what were the emotions attached to them?

I usually get a shot of adrenalin, followed by a clenched jaw, and tense muscles in different parts of my body. My emotions range from outright anger, resentment, and sometimes sadness.

The cause of your discomfort: the actions in the scenarios are out of alignment with your values. Something that is personally important to you was not being fulfilled or was being violated. Those feelings are an internal alarm alerting you that something is not right in your world. You may have even reacted to one or more of the scenarios by stating: “That’s not right.”

Values are our beliefs of what is personally most important to us and provide the motivation and standards for our actions. Therefore, if something is out of alignment with our values, we are going to feel it. Hence the pang and the emotional feelings.

So what? Better yet, now what? You have two choices, 1) do not take any action and live with the discomfort or 2) do something about it. This is not unfamiliar; this is how you live your life. Pick an event that made you feel uncomfortable.

A scenario may be a professional event at work. Maybe a colleague said something, a boss’s action, or a policy had that “pang” impact on you. Chances are you did not act immediately and the event simmered within you for a while. The more you thought and talked about it, the more it bothered you, until the point that you took overt actions. What made you act?

You took action to get back into alignment with your values. Actually, leading up to those actions you were acting all along to get in alignment. It just took time. The conversations with colleagues and family members about the issue were all actions to gain alignment. You were determining your path.

We do not live well out of alignment; it takes too much work. It drains our energy and makes us unproductive. I believe as humans we are constantly seeking alignment with our values.

What to do? Recognize your triggers and build responses that will get you back in alignment quickly. This is not easy. Let’s take a hypothetical example. Suppose a top value of yours is authenticity. You have a colleague at work who continually talks behind the backs of peers. They are very personable when face to face, but cutting and critical when talking about them privately. When approached in the lunch room by the colleague you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach. You know what is coming. Not dealing with this issue has you at odds with yourself. You feel, by listening you are being inauthentic. You are out of alignment.

That feeling is your trigger. Your values are telling you to do something. What do you need to do to move the needle back to straight up-and-down? Easy? Absolutely not. How much of a difference will it make in our life? Only you can answer that. The action could be a simple conversation, a more substantial confrontation, a change, or even a move.

What would be the impact on you to live aligned with your values? You have been there and know exactly what I am talking about. What do you need to do to get there? Triggers are sending you a message.

Here is a potential step to make positive progress. Pick one area in your life where you are regularly triggered by an alignment issue. Partner with someone who knows you well. Together build an action plan, to execute when triggered. With your accountability partner assess specific triggering events, your response, and the personal impact on you. My guess is you will move the alignment needle closer to vertical.

Effective leaders do the hard work to consistently live by their values.