At some point in life, most of us develop personal values. We get this idea in our heads about the kind of person we’d like to be or the kind of life we’d like to lead. If we’re real go-getters, then we’ll achieve this kind of life. The truth is that we throw all kinds of obstacles in our way that make it difficult to achieve this state of being.

The head games we play with ourselves can be brutal. We self-sabotage, diminish our achievements, or feel wracked with self-doubt. We question whether we’ll ever achieve our goals. We question whether we will ever be the person we want to be. There’s a sometimes endless feedback loop in our minds that worsens over time, and it’s a struggle to break free of our habits of thinking this way.

This is why thinking about alignment is useful. Alignment doesn’t need to be about perfection. Alignment doesn’t mean that we must be precisely where we want to be or that we must already be whatever ideal self we’ve set up in our minds for whatever reason. Alignment is forgiving,  a way of measuring if you’re progressing in some way.

[image description: 2 parallel blue lines and 2 parallel red lines stand apart, not aligned

Feeling so out of alignment with your values can make you unhappy.

If you’re living a life where you feel so far off from what you value personally, you’re probably unhappy to some degree. When we’re not aligned, we feel ill at ease. Something is missing. Some quality of life feels beyond our reach and we blame ourselves for it. We think of ourselves as failures who will never reach these goals.

Breaking free of this way of thinking requires practice. It requires building on a habit of thinking more constructively, with a positive attitude, even when you don’t fully believe what you’re saying. It’s the old mantra: Fake it until you make it. Do it until it becomes real.

Sometimes it helps to take a look at every value you have and how one can live a life that honors that value. This could be about how you treat yourself and others, how you spend your time, how you manage your emotions, or anything else you can think of that applies to how a life is lived.

You can make a list of all of these values and their connected actions. A list helps us be mindful, committed, and affirms our choices.

Here’s an activity that may be useful for you:

Get some paper. On each paper, write the value at the top and whatever actions are relevant to that value.

Take a minute to sit there and just let yourself think about that. Mull it over. How do you live that value? How aligned are you at this point in life. Be honest, but try not to judge yourself too much. This is the tough part, because we’re so often quick to judge ourselves, and we do it too harshly.

Then on that paper, draw two parallel lines. Those two lines represent the value in its “perfect” spot. They represent the ideal. You don’t need to get to that ideal exactly.

[image description: two parallel blue lines closely aligned with two parallel red lines

Sometimes we’re not all that far off from where we want to be.

Now draw another set of parallel lines to represent where you feel you are now in relation to those ideal lines. Are you far off from where you want to be, or are you closer than you have been in the past?

Do this for each value, one per page. Be honest, but kind to yourself. Kindness is a much better way to treat ourselves than shame, and we’re more likely to stay motivated in the long run.

Here’s why alignment is forgiving:

You can let go of trying to reach perfection. You do not need to have your actual lines be perfectly aligned with your ideal. In fact, your ideal may possibly be set to such a height that no one can really quite reach. No one is perfect. No one achieves every goal they have 100% exactly the way they wanted. Even the most successful people in the world are not exactly aligned with every ideal they’ve set for themselves.

[image description: two parallel blue lines closely aligned with 2 parallel red lines. They slightly overlap and turn purple where overlapping]

We can learn to be happy with lives that aren’t perfectly aligned, but closer to the mark.

What we need to do is be forgiving. What we need to do is recognize that we can progress toward having our lives be more aligned with what we hold to be true and worthwhile. We can work toward living in such a way that each year we feel more aligned with our core values, even if we’re not at that supposedly perfect mark that’s somewhat arbitrary.

Suppose that somehow we reached that place where one value is so perfectly aligned? What then? There’s nowhere to go. There’s a chance that fear will set in that we’ll mess up, because human beings mess up, and we’ll fall out of alignment as if it were a fall from grace. That’s a harsh way to live.

Suppose that instead we understand that life is this dynamic and mystical thing that is always changing, always moving, never static, and we’re along for the ride. We must hold on tight, because it’s a wild ride, but we can do it. The mark is only a mark. The target is only a target. The quest, the search for making life meaningful, the drive to live our lives as best as we can, all of that is more important than reaching a precise destination.

What can you do with this information, after you’ve decided how aligned you are with your values? You can take some time to reflect each day on what action steps you could take to get yourself a little more aligned. Small steps or big, it’ll all add up. You could let your decisions be affected by simple questions like: will this help me be more aligned to what is important to me? Will this benefit my own happiness? Or is this something that will cause me to feel further away from my own values, leading to unhappiness? These are the mindful moments that make a difference. Don’t shy away from them, because it gets easier if you face these moments head on with as much mindfulness as you can muster.

Yet it’s not always that easy, is it? Sometimes we know what we need to be doing and we don’t do it. We try to get ourselves up and moving, and we just struggle to summon up the strength and courage to take that first step. We sabotage ourselves by doing the opposite of what we should be doing, forcing ourselves to be less aligned each time.

It’s possible that what drives this derailment is that perfection is focused on excessively and needlessly. We think we’ll never reach that ideal, and it’s better just not to try. Or we’ve made a poor choice earlier on in the day, so we write the day off. It’s ruined, we tell ourselves, what’s the point? I’ll do better tomorrow. What if we took those moments as opportunities to recognize that we still have other decisions ahead of us in the day that can help us be more aligned? We don’t have to write the day off; there’s nothing magical about a day by itself. Life is a series of moments, and we have innumerable opportunities to make a new choice.

Seek alignment. That’s worthwhile. The more aligned you are with your own values, the happier you’ll be. A quiet joy, sometimes subtle, that others may not even notice.

The quest is to take steps in the direction of aligning your life in accordance to whatever your own personal values are, and to enjoy the process. Let the compassionate and wise leaders of the past and the present guide you on a quest where all people are valued, including yourself.

We’re lucky, really, to have this quest.


Interested in learning more about changing your habits, including taking habits of thinking negatively and replacing them with habits of thinking positively? Awhile ago, I wrote a book about habits. Being who I am, I couldn’t resist turning all the habits into rabbits — PRESTO CHANGO! — and writing this book with more than a dollop of humor. Check it out today, it’s call The Rabbit List:
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