True North Mastery Blog

Values: The Compass to ‘Know Thyself’

I read a book some time ago (the title of which I cannot remember) which stated that we need to have a compass and a watch in life. The compass sets the direction and destination for us while the watch ensures that we reach our destination within a given timeframe.

This idea sounds about right. However, it is my recent discovery that our compasses are, for the most part, grossly misaligned with our individual value systems. In other words, our dreams, goals, desires and what we wish to achieve are incongruent with what we actually value in life.

Great wisdom lies in the ancient Greek aphorism, “Know thyself”. Yet do we really know who we are? Personally I do not think so. Yes, we may think that we know who we are and what we want, but until and unless we examine our core values, we will never be aware of our true interests.

Expounding upon the maxim, the philosopher Socrates apparently uttered the famous dictum, “The unexamined life is not worth living” before being put to death. In a widely reposted online commentary, Karl W. Palachuk summed up the circumstances surrounding its production and weighed in on the topic (Click here to read the article).

Palachuk captured the essence of this quote in his excellent exposition. However, my question is: What do we examine? I believe we should examine our core values, for they are our guiding compass in life. Our values are formed through formal education, family upbringing, traditional culture, religious indoctrination, social networking, and the greater society at large. For instance, we are told from young to educate ourselves, obtain a good degree, get a safe and secure job, settle down and start a family.

Now, someone tells you to forget this old route and begin on a new path of freedom to achieve whatever your heart desires. This resonates with you and you want it, but when you embark on the journey, you start encountering challenges and quit after the first few setbacks. WHY?

The answer is simple: there is a flagrant misalignment between your present core values and what you want, i.e. the new, emergent values. The old operating system (OS) in your brain simply does not allow for these new values to take root. To upgrade your OS, you need to confront your current values. Question your personal beliefs and societal norms just as Socrates did, when he encouraged his students to think for themselves and challenge the accepted beliefs of their time.

The opportunity to do so will naturally happen because you are bound to encounter difficulties on your new journey when you have newfound dreams and goals. As you question your accepted beliefs and values, you begin to acquire new thinking and habits (OS upgrade) in the process. This following formula was taken from an unknown source:

Current Thinking + Current Habits + Short-Term Viewpoint = Predictable Consequences

Current Thinking + Current Habits + Long-Term Viewpoint = Potential Consequences

New Thinking + New Habits + Long-Term Viewpoint = New Consequences

Based on current thinking and habits, your consequences are always predictable. When you want change and start adopting a long-term viewpoint, but continue to approach life with the same thinking and habits, there is only potential for better outcomes. However, when you combine new thinking and habits with a long-term viewpoint, i.e. having challenged your current values, the consequences are no longer banal or merely latent, but instead vastly different from before.

I implore you to examine your life by constantly questioning and challenging the beliefs, values and norms that you have internalised from birth till present. Remember Socrates’s parting words and counsel to the world, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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