Everybody has values–the real question is, “Are they actual or perceived?” A value is a principle, belief, relationship, or priority that we hold so high that it trumps everything else–it is at the core of who we are. The problem is, what we say we value and what we actually value are not always the same.
Think about it–what married man or woman with half a brain is going to say, “I don’t value my spouse.” Or what leader is going to say, “I don’t value my team?” Or what Christian is going to say, “I don’t value my relationship with God?” It’s easy to say the “right” answers when we are questioned about our values. But what we say really doesn’t mean much–what we do means everything.
The difference between an actual value and a perceived value is one word–behavior. If my stated values and my actual behavior don’t line up, I have nothing more than a perceived value. To differentiate between the two, list your core values on paper and then practice the following two exercises to help you determine if your values are actual values or perceived values:
1. Ask yourself, “What specific and ongoing personal behaviors and practices can I point to in the last 30 days that show evidence of what I say I value?”
2. Ask those who know you best, “Based on how I use my time, what would you say are my highest values?”
These are two tough questions, but they will reveal what you actually value and will help you face the brutal reality of perceived values. When you come face to face with perceived values, you will have to make a difficult decision–do I stop kidding myself and admit that it’s really not a value OR do I make visible changes in my behavior resulting in the value shifting from “perceived” to “actual.” The real goal is not changing terminology, it’s changing behaviors that profoundly shape your relationships and priorities.