Your Values, Part 1: Goals vs Values

Values direct you to live a life that is congruent with the person who you want to be. This article explores the difference between goals and values, why this matters, and how this is especially important for those deconstructing and/or making a life for themselves for the first time outside of a high control religious environment.

I talk a lot with my clients about the importance of being clear on their values, especially as they move through making big life decisions, establishing new routines, or prioritizing where to direct limited energy. One area of confusion that I often run into is the assumption that values are the same, or similar, to goals. 

Goals and values are entirely different concepts, although they should inform one another and be made or established hand in hand. 

A goal is a future desire; it can be checked off as it is accomplished. Once you reach a goal, you can move on to another goal, then another, and another. A goal is what you want to get, achieve, have, or complete. 

Values, on the other hand, are the qualities you want to embody in your actions. They encompass how you want to behave right now and going forward. They are the foundational ways that you want to live your life. Examples of values are: to be kind, honest, and to take care of yourself. 

I like to compare goals and values to a pizza. When it comes to pizza, we typically identify it by what is on top; however, the part that holds it all together - the crust - is usually overlooked or completely forgotten. Interestingly, without the crust most of us wouldn’t even consider a pizza to truly be a pizza.  

Values are the crust and goals are the toppings. Both are legitimate and important, but a pizza without a crust is chaotic, messy, and likely not what you had in mind when you considered eating pizza. Like a crust, values offer structure, consistency, continuity, groundedness, and a place for endless variations. Goals, being the topping, are what we add once we have established the values that will determine and hold our goals together. Goals without determined values are like pizza toppings without a crust. Who wants that? 

Although your goals are likely to change depending on the season of life and other factors, values typically don’t change very much throughout your life; however, certain values may be more relevant in specific situations or seasons. Overall, values act as grounding mechanisms to make consistent decisions about what you want to do, how you spend your time, and what really matters to you. 

Did you grow up in a way where you were told what is important, what you should care about, and how you should live your life accordingly? A common characteristic of high control religious settings is that you may have had expectations to uphold certain values, or even that certain values are commanded of us by a higher power. As a result, you may find yourself in a place where you have never had to determine that for yourself.

As you gain autonomy in your life, although there can be many aspects that are exhilarating and freeing, you may also be left with a feeling of not having a foundation. This is why values work is so important for those who are deconstructing, leaving a high control religious setting, or processing religious trauma or spiritual abuse. 

In Part 2 of this series, I will offer some suggestions on how to determine your own values: not as dictated both others, but from a place of autonomy, self-knowing, and congruency. 

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Kelsey Hoff is a Canadian Certified Counsellor who specialises in supporting folks who are working through the longterm affects of religious trauma and spiritual abuse, navigating religious deconstruction, and/or in the process of leaving high control settings. To find out more about her services and to book a free 20-minute consultation, visit her website here. 

Posted March 11, 2022

By Kelsey Hoff

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