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Where Does Your 'True North' Come From?

Where do our values and beliefs come from - and do we want the ones we were given?

Your life is a result of your choices. Your choices are a result of your values, beliefs and fears. If you’re not happy with your life, then you need to make different choices. In order to make different choices, either your values and beliefs need to change or you need to overcome your fears. Let’s first take a look at your values and beliefs.

In one of my first articles, I talked about a person’s "True North." I used the phrase as a metaphor for the direction a person’s choices take them when they make choices that seem "right" to them.  But where does this sense of right come from? Is it the same for all people? Obviously not.

We all start off in life basically with a clean slate. We’re just a bundle of nerve impulses – when we’re hungry, we cry. When we’re tired, we sleep. Pretty simple. As we grow up, we learn a set of values and beliefs that we then use to help us make choices.  But where do those values and beliefs come from?

Most of the time, our values and beliefs are "programmed" into us by our parents, family, church, schools, society and media. And we don’t get to choose which values we want or not. When we’re really young, we simply absorb what we are exposed to. And because we’re too young to question things, we simply accept them as truth.

The problem here is that by the time we’re old enough to choose, we are so indoctrinated with other people’s values and beliefs, that we think they’re some kind of natural law that everyone should follow. They aren’t. They are just someone else's interpretation of what they were taught growing up from their parents, society, etc. and then passed along to us. This is how our own personal compass gets calibrated to "North." This is how we make choices and decisions.

The problem arises, first usually in our teens, when we begin to think for ourselves and begin to question what we were taught. Instead of just accepting them, we hold these values and beliefs up to scrutiny.  We measure them against the real world to see if they hold up. Many times, they don’t.

The missing step is to look at the values and beliefs that we absorbed as children and ask some simple questions.  Do these values and beliefs really serve me? Do they serve those around me? Is this really who I want to be?

Many of us find ourselves in later years unhappy and following a course we really don’t want to be on, but we’re not sure why. It’s because we’re following someone else’s True North.  So, for a more fulfilling and successful life, I suggest you examine your current set of values and beliefs to see if they are a good fit for you.

Self examination of your values and beliefs can be an exciting and liberating exercise.  Most people find that most of the values they learned as children serve them just fine.  Few people scrap the whole lot and replace them with new ones.  Many times, when people in general, and parents in particular, hear me suggest actually looking at your values and beliefs with a critical eye, they freak out.  They immediately think that if you start to choose your values yourself, you’ll immediately choose bad ones.  Actually, what they are really afraid of is that you’ll choose different ones than they did.

Here’s a simple process for reviewing your values and beliefs:

  • Think of each value or belief as a single brick out of many that build the house called You.
  • Instead of tearing down the whole house and starting over from scratch, simply pull out each brick and ask those three questions I mentioned earlier - do these values and beliefs really serve me?  Do they serve those around me?  Is this really who I want to be?
  • If it does, wonderful! Put the brick back as something you now choose.
  • If it doesn’t, discard it and replace it with another value or belief that you feel serves you and others better.

When we do this exercise honestly, we get rid of limiting values and beliefs like prejudice, entitlement, hatred, victimhood, etc. Now, wouldn’t that be much better world?

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