Living in Your Feelings Versus Living in Your Values. What’s the Difference?

Many of us define who we are not by the things we do but by the things we feel. Our opinions and beliefs are mostly conditioned into us over a period of time in our early years, the impressionable stage. Our emotional concepts form and we learn to apply labels to the sensations we experience in our bodies that we call feelings. All this while we are clueless that we are implicitly carrying out this operation. It makes perfect sense that we tend to define who we are by what we feel and believe. The thing is, what we feel and what we believe are subjective and malleable. And when it comes to our behaviors the rudder of consistency is always floating left or right if anchored to our feelings because feelings are not static. In order to chart a path of consistency and stay the course we must anchor ourselves to our values.

How many times have you declared what your values are in pursuit of creating something? Whether you set a specific goal, whether you’ve made a decision to make a change, or whether you decided to chart a path in your life, have you anchored it to what you value?

We are very adept at verbally declaring things that are important to us but do our actions and behaviors display this? For most, we are simply not congruent. This is because we are living in our feelings. We do dumb shit because we are anchored to our emotions and feelings. For many of us this is an operation that is so below the cognitive radar, some will not be able to follow. The brain has no circuit for happiness. Everything marketed to the masses that promises happiness is just that, marketing. There are pleasure circuits in the brain linked to those things that evolutionarily speaking were important for survival. They are affectionately referred to as the four “F’s”; fear, fight, freeze, and sex. Marketing heavily exploits this in us all.

Values are the axis that allow us to self-govern ourselves. We can not rely on our emotions and feelings to do so. We will lose the majority of the time. Its difficult, it is not always fun, it could be painful at times, but like the old mob bosses used to say, “We are survived by our rules.” For two million years we evolved and have had things naturally selected for our survival which makes modern living challenging. Ten thousand years doesn’t register on our evolutionary scale which is why we find ourselves doing some of the dumbest Saturday Night Live type of things imaginable from time to time. A great way to level this is to start to anchor yourself to your values. Write them down, declare them. Consciously drill them into your subconscious. When we live in our feelings and makes decisions guided by them, we tend to reverse engineer reasons and values to support these decisions. This results in chaos. If it doesn’t it is dumb luck. When we live in our values and make decisions in accordance with them and use our emotions and feelings to support them, this lets us access our infinite potential because we are congruent. Our values can change but this usually happens only after a conscious effort to do so. We don’t have the same luxury with our emotions and feelings. There is too much going in the adaptive subconscious for us to know and understand particularly when we are triggered. We can develop the ability to create space and recognize when an emotion or feeling takes us offline of what we value. Most importantly, once you train yourself to do this, you will then be able to consciously engineer your environments and situations to be congruent with what you value and create habits that support them minimizing the probability of making an irrational and possibly damaging decision rooted in emotion and feeling.

Action and behavior rooted in what you value creates feelings congruent with the action which then become self-reinforcing. Contrary to what many believe and feel, our actions create our feelings. This is why John Gottman emphasizes that when people have marital problems, that is the most critical time to act lovingly to one another to create love when one feels it is lacking. Strong values create power moves which create self-reinforcing feelings. If you lead with feelings you are subject to numerous external and extrinsic nudges you are wholly unaware of and eventually will find yourself questioning why you do some of the things you do. It is the difference between cause and effect and causing the effect.

Elliot is a personal development author. His latest book, "The Bitter & The Sweet: Benefits of a Balanced Perspective in Life, and How to Achieve It" out now.