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Aligned: Putting Your Values Where Your Mouth Is

Updated on June 28, 2013

Aligned: Putting Your Values Where Your Mouth Is

June 28, 2013

Winston Wayne Wilson


Good health, including eating right and exercising, is a priority for me. You could not tell that from the high stack of oversized pancakes, fried eggs, chicken wings, hamburgers, French fries, nachos, burritos, refried beans, guacamole, loaves of bread lathered in butter, sugar-laced beverages, liquor, and sweets that I have had so far this week. You also cannot tell that from my attendance record at the gym – which is a whopping three hours, or less, in well over a year. But, please don’t judge me. I suffer from the same commitment malady that countless American’s suffer from: being two-faced about our values, which results in the chronic misalignment of our values versus our deeds.

I have fallen off the good health band wagon and I can’t get up. Help! The irony is that I started out this week, bent on making it the week that I got back on the band wagon – I was determined to go to the gym every day. I had it all planned out in my head – I even mentioned it to a couple people, so that I would be held accountable. Well, it’s Friday and, despite being ridden by guilt like a racehorse, I have not done even a single pushup. Worse yet, how could I have gone from such a lofty health redemption plan to having the biggest bad food convention week that I can remember in a very, very long time?

Why can’t I be more like the lion in the picture, who tells his buddies that yoga is a priority for him and, after he hunts, consumes his prey and releases a macho-burp befitting his “King Of The Jungle” title, he rolls over on his back and does an elegant yoga pose, stares at his buddies and say, “See, I told you I was into this stuff?”

About five years ago, I participated in an executive leadership program at Kenan-Flagler Business School, at the University of North Carolina. One of the professors engaged the group of executives in an exercise in which she asked us to write down, on five separate pieces of papers, the five things which are the most valuable to us. I wrote down family, friends, significant other, career and health. The professor then chuckled and said, “Guess what guys? Life is not so generous. You can’t have all those five things. You have to get rid of one of them.” We all gasped and then fumbled, while trying to figure out which one of the five things we valued would get voted off our priority lists. I knocked off my friends first, sorry friends who are reading this. I figured I could not get rid of my family or my health and I was not sure if my significant other would stick around, without me having a career, so I kept both of them. “Phew, that was tough”, I thought. However, that was just the beginning of the grim choices.

The professor then told us that life got even more exacting and decided that we could only have three of the things we valued. It was time to put another one of the things we valued on the chopping block. I got rid of my career. I needed my health and my family for sure. I also gave my significant other the benefit of the doubt and figured she would stick around if I had no career. “Love trumps money”, I thought to myself. These choices were getting really difficult. However, as you might have guessed by now, there was another newsflash that life had gone rogue and decided that we should only have two things. What? Anyway, I decided that my family and my health were my top two most valuable things. Since I did not want to be a burden to my significant other, I threw her a mental kiss and bid her adieu. “I’m never gonna tell her about this exercise, for sure”, I tittered to myself. Not sure if I ever did, but I digress.

Finally, the professor told us that life changed its mind, yet again. Life had now gone gangsta and dictated that we could only have one of the five things we valued, and that was the final verdict. What did I choose? You guessed it, health. As we all sat there, most of us looking “bewitched, bothered and bewildered”, while mourning the loss of four of the things we valued, the professor gave us one more news flash. Life changed its mind again – but this time it was good news. She told us that life is not a bully, or a thief, after all and that we could keep all the things we valued. There was a catch though. The catch was that we had to treat each day like an empty bucket, our values like rocks, and distractions like sand pebbles and water. We would have to put the rocks (i.e. our values) in the bucket first; otherwise, the sand pebbles and water (i.e. daily distractions) will take up all the space in the bucket, at which point we would go back to picking and choosing which of things we valued would get bucket space, if at all.

By the way, the exercise the professor walked us through was based on Stephen Covey’s rock, sand pebbles, water challenge, in which he would ask an audience member to come on stage and try to fit rocks, sand pebbles and water into an empty bucket, without anything overflowing. Invariably, the person struggled to fit everything into the bucket. As mentioned above, the key is to put in the rocks first, then the sand pebbles and then the water, which will easily be absorbed into the sand pebbles and glide around the rocks, without overflowing. The things we value the most are the rocks that we should prioritize each day. Unfortunately, our daily lives tend to be dominated by water and sand pebbles. We will only put our values where our mouths are when our buckets contain all our rocks.

The professor then engaged us in a discussion to see whether (1) we were surprised by our top choice; and (2) whether our daily actions were aligned with the one thing we valued the most . For me the answers were a resounding “Yes” and “No”, respectively. I don’t think that I even thought about health very much prior to that exercise. That it made its way to the top of my list was ludicrous. But, hey, it was there. I chose it, so it must mean something. After I flew back to New York, I decided to address my misalignment issue. Knowing that I had tried, and failed miserably, in the past, I knew that I had to be creative with my solution to achieving better health. Eating right – more water, vitamins and vegetables along with a low-sugar, low-carb, and low-cholesterol diet – was actually fairly easy. Exercising regularly was not. However, I eventually came up with a creative solution. I rented a locker at my gym, took all the toiletries out of my house and put them there. That way, I had to go to the gym to shave, wash my face, brush my teeth and de-funk myself. If I skipped the gym, I would also have to skip work because I would not be, to put it mildly, “presentable”. I could not miss work; therefore, I could not miss the gym. Makes sense, right? Draconian, yes, but it worked. For a full year, I went to the gym religiously and I got in the best shape I had ever been in my life. The gym later closed its operations, I unceremoniously moved my toiletries back to my apartment and, absent a backup gimmick, I have been off the healthy lifestyle band wagon ever since.

So five years later, I am back to the drawing board, trying to realign my values with my daily actions. On the one hand, I recognize that my clever solution to going to the gym worked but, on the other hand, I am still asking myself “Why can’t I simply have the will power to go to the gym on own volition, without some razzle-dazzle approach?” Again, why can’t I be like that fearless, gimmick-free, yoga-addicted lion? By any means necessary, I guess; however, a part of me wants the solution to be ingrained in my lifestyle versus being a “here today, gone tomorrow” tactic. This personal debate is hot off the press so I have no answers to these questions, yet. Awareness, however, starts with a bunch of questions, so I am halfway there. The purpose of today’s article is really to highlight the struggles that we all face in trying to do what we say we value. In a follow up article, I will share information on a study that was done, which explains why some people are able to do what they say while other are not. Until then, my challenge for you today, is to do the exercise I described above. Write down the five things that are most valuable to you and see how you would have prioritized them. Then, to see if you are aligned, ask yourself whether, in your daily actions, you are putting your values where your mouth is. Enjoy your day.


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