Well, it depends (bear with me). It can point you to some core building blocks, for starters. Values, explicit or implicit, can be a powerful guide. We want more of what matters to us. And often, values point to a bigger context that also matters. Decisions are then the key way this comes to life.
This is a bit more deliberate, more conscious as we weigh one option against others – in our minds, our hearts and our bodies. Do we have the key information available? How does option A feel vs. option B? Which one is more exciting? Which one would you be proud of telling the attractive individual next to you about? Which one is a story for your niece once she’s old enough? Let these things sink in for a bit. Try not to rush things. That, by the way, is the easy part. Get this right first. Don’t let the numbers overrule everything else (but do check the numbers too).
And then to consider is the short-term vs. the long-term. A hasty pleasure with future pain for self and others. No pleasure now and very limited pain in the future. Excitement versus flatness. Values can help bring in a longer-term view about who you are and what you want to stand for. Values can therefore appeal to your better self, to your future as you would like it to be. Over a past that can no longer be changed. Over a present you are shaping in the moment. This is not perfect either, but it can at least prevent you from some avoidable mess-ups, and can be a building block of being a better person (or at least mess up a little less…).
And then there are the conflicts within yourself. One value against another, in hand-to-hand combat. Safety vs adventure for example, always a fun one… One is not better than the other. Both are your values. Both matter. Both play a vital role in your life. This is where it gets a bit trickier. Sometimes, I think of my values as members of a band, or a high-performing team. Everyone with different strengths and weaknesses and different tasks to look after in the greater whole. Different notes to play, and time to come forward, riff and improvise while the others support in the background.
Adventure gets me out of the house, gets me to meet new people, make new experiences, try out new things and get highly pleasurable little fireworks of excitement. Safety ensures I don’t cause harm to self and others, that I keep my wits about me as I am out and about, and to make sure I live long enough to have a chance to meet the person that I am going to become with all these adventures under my belt. Both are necessary. Both are valid. And oh my lord do these two fight it out. Every single day. The job of both is to look after me. And they do, each in the way they are best at (that’s why they fight). The beauty of this is, I have a darn strong team on your side at all times. So do you. So does everyone.
You’ve got this. Take some time and get to know these key players, what their strengths are, how they interact, and all the amazing things they do for you. It’s worth it. This might not immediately make you a better person, but that reflection bit is a key step. Your decisions and how you implement them are then going to make it real. Now and in the future.