The hardest question in life is asking ourselves what we want. I often say that if we don’t know what we want or where we’re going, we’re walking aimlessly. We’re walking with no direction. Just try thinking about this for yourself right now: What do I want? What do I want out of my career? What do I want out of my relationship? What do I want out of my social life? What do I want out of my sobriety? What do I want out of my marriage?

I hear you though, you’re saying, “What if I don’t know where I want to go?” You’re right – we may not always know exactly where we want to go, but we can start walking in the right direction. We may not know that we want to travel from Los Angeles to New York, but we know we want to go east. Soon enough we realize that as we move further east, we learn what our endpoint is. We may take one step back or go a little too far north, but in the end, we’re always guided back to our direction. Similarly, we may not know what kind of job we want, but we can pick an industry we want to try out. We may not know exactly how much weight we need to lose, but we know we need to start losing weight.

It can be difficult to make specific, tangible goals, but if we can clarify where we’re more generally going, we can create more direction. Values are a way of doing this. To be clear, values are fundamentally different than goals. Goals signify “what” you’re doing; values signify “why” you’re doing it. Goals can be achieved, whereas, values are more like compass directions that point you in the direction you want to head in. For example, we may have a goal to reduce our substance use and place that under the value of healthy relationships and physical health.

There are many areas of our life we can find value in. Here are a few to think about:

  1. Family relations
  2. Marriage/couple/intimate relations
  3. Parenting
  4. Friendships/Social relationships
  5. Employment
  6. Education/Training/Personal Growth
  7. Recreation
  8. Spirituality
  9. Citizenship/Community
  10. Physical well-being

Go through these different areas and write down what you might value. Start with the area that is most important to you right now. How important is this value to you on a scale of 1-10? How closely does your behavior align to this value? From these values and their level of importance, you can begin to think about potential goals in that specific area. If you value physical health, nutrition, and well-being, your goal may be to eat 3 servings of vegetables. It’s simple, specific, and manageable. 

We can begin to apply this type of exercise to life’s bigger questions of purpose, fulfillment and meaning, or we can apply it to the day-to-day decisions. When we get into arguments with family, friends, or spouse, take a pause and think about what you want guiding your decisions and reactions. Every choice we make moves us either in the direction of harmony or chaos; fear or love; connection or disconnection, etc. Pick your direction. article continues after advertisement

The good news is though that we can’t fail at our values. Even when we stray off path from our values, we can always realign ourselves with the direction it’s pointing us in. If it were that easy to be living it all the time, everyone would be doing it. The truth is that no one always lives according to his or her values. We are all works in progress. Even when we think we’ve reached enlightenment, we still have to maintain our awareness. Even when we’ve finally become sober, we still have the choice to stay sober tomorrow. It’s one thing to take action and reach our goals or to live in our values, it’s another thing to maintain it. Make the choice now to be gentle with yourself as you move your life in the direction you truly desire.

As the Ancient Eastern saying goes, 

“If you don’t decide where you’re going, you’ll end up where you’re heading.”

You can either let the winds of life take you somewhere you don’t want to go or you can use your sails and decide where you’re heading. That’s not to say strong winds won’t come to take you off course or that you might make a wrong turn, but if you know the direction you want to head, you can always course correct. So use your sails and thrive.