A Coaching Power Tool Created by Paul Chang
(Coach for the Working Millennial, CANADA)
I was brought up on values of stability and predictability. From a young age, my parents instilled in me the need for a consistent and conventional lifestyle, in which happiness equates to living a low-key, modest life. I readily accepted this and adopted these values without questioning. As children, it is easy for us to take on our parents’ values without questioning them, but this raises the question – at what point do we actively decide to adopt or discard our parents’ values? Instead of cruising along in an unexamined life, when is the trigger for us to start to be mindful and live a life that is wholly our own, rather than a life that is a product of our upbringing?
I began exploring the start of these questions precisely in September 2014. I had been working in the corporate world for 9 years in the same company, earning my stripes and money, moving upwards on the ladder. My life was everything I thought I wanted – regular income, predictable activities, stable friends, low-key existence. However, in the back of my mind, I had wanted to travel and see more of the world for years, and the working holiday visa scheme (offered by Canada and the UK to Australians) was going to be my ticket out. However, inaction took over until I was jolted into realisation, 3 weeks after my 31stbirthday – I’d missed the opportunity to apply. How did I let life happen so mindlessly for me to miss an opportunity that I wanted so much?
Inaction vs. Intention
The consequence of inaction, in my case, was a strong sense of regret. This inaction came from an unconscious and mindless acceptance of my adopted values, and from not being aware of what it means for me to be authentic. In other cases, an unexamined life with no awareness of one’s values and purpose can lead to deep discomfort, dissatisfaction, disengagement and disconnectedness (Caprino, 2016). Because the importance of aligning one’s life to his or her values is neither discussed at home nor taught at school, it is conceivable that many people go through life without playing an active role in examining and defining how they want to live.
On the other hand, for someone to live a life of intention means that he or she has a complete awareness of who they are, what they value and who they want to be. The sense of purpose and awareness of one’s values can be cultivated by practising mindfulness and exercising self-awareness. When one is intentional about discovering one’s values and being aware of what those values are, this can lead to a life that is more aligned and purposeful. According to the Greater Good Science Centre at the University of California, this can also mean a happier, more content and satisfied person (2019).
What Happened Then?
In the end, I did begin to find alignment in my life (albeit in a more roundabout way), only because I was forced into action and intention by regret. With the benefit of hindsight, I wonder whether I could have achieved the same alignment earlier, with less confusion, and with more control. Therefore, the questions I am asking myself are:
- How do our adopted values differ from our intended values? At what point in our lives do we make the distinction?
- What caused my inaction? What causes inaction in general?
- What is the better alternative to inaction?
- What role does mindfulness play in us living a more intentional and purposeful life?
A search online for “parental values in children” returned nearly 64 million results, and the topics span across cultures, religions, and scenarios. One example can be seen in the paper titled “Transmitting Sports Values: The Importance of Parental Involvement in Children’s Sport Activity” (Danioni, Barni, & Rosnati, 2017), in which the authors highlight the importance of parental values in children’s sporting activities, particularly in socialisation, and assert that young athletes are generally willing to accept their parents’ socialisation values in sport. This type of transmission was also demonstrated in a study conducted with German and Indonesian families, in which transmission of values in adjacent generations in both cultures were observed (Albert, Trommsdorff, & Wisnubrata, 2009).
Adding to the depth of the research, a study was done in the US also shows that families not only transmit values, they intentionally transmit values that are common across families, such as the sense of responsibility and hard work (Parker, 2014). This study also demonstrated that among the less common values transmitted are independence, creativity and curiosity. An interesting perspective to consider is that if parents are not actively instilling these values in their children (presumably because they place less importance on these), does this mean that they passively transmit the opposite values of dependence, rigidity and predictability?
If parents actively and passively transmit their values to children, it is conceivable that children – at least when they are young – adopt them without question. A further curiosity is sparked while reviewing the paper titled “The Influence of Children on Their Parents’ Values” (Knafo & Galansky, 2008), in which the authors show the reverse influence of children’s values on their parents. Through the paper, the authors discuss the implication that children not only develop their own values as they mature and that they wrestle with values that are different to those that they hold and assert them in different ways back onto their parents. At what point, then, do children develop values of their own and independently assess whether to adopt their own values over those of their parents, especially if they do not overlap?
Of course, one’s value adoption extends beyond parental influences. People adopt values also from their peers, from society, from religion, and an infinite number of other sources. Similar to the way that we adopt values from our parents, which remains the largest influencer, adoption of values from other sources occurs subconsciously and without intention. Unlike the subjects taught at school, the awareness and intentionality of our values are not taught to us, nor are they openly encouraged or discussed. One can speculate that the reason for the lack of visibility and discussion is that it is sensitive and difficult to facilitate. Values reside in our core, and any threat to destabilise them can elicit strong and emotional reactions. However, being aware of our values, where they came from, and whether they are our own or transmitted on us by others are important in getting to know ourselves and what we want to achieve in life.
The consequence of letting adopted values lie in our subconscious – without bringing them to our awareness – is that we would do things that we think are right or good for us, but in reality, they do not fulfil our purposes and we are left empty and unsatisfied. An application of this theory can be seen from my story– I thought stability and predictability were priorities for me, but it turned out that I wanted something very different. Living an unexamined life of inaction and blind acceptance led to regret and time wasted. It took a significant catalyst for me to become aware, but in hindsight, I would have much rather have done so in my own time and on my own terms, than to leave it to chance.
One of the most important steps in moving from inaction to intention is the act of pausing. Modern life has instilled in us the perception that being busy is good – it means that one is being productive, is making progress, is climbing upwards on the ladder, is a valuable and contributing member of society. It may be true in many cases, but a consequence (among many) of being busy is the inability for the busy person to see the wider perspective, to see the overall purpose behind the busyness, and to be intentional about what they do. A busy person hurries along with life, who is so focused on the detail of achieving tasks that it is very easy for them to lose sight of the larger picture. Without pausing, the busy person is oblivious to their surroundings, to other people, and to opportunities.
Of course, the mere act of pausing is not sufficient to reach the point of full awareness and alignment in life. However, it is a necessary catalyst that gives space to the possibilities and allows the time required to work out the direction, and what needs to be done to get there. By pausing, the busy person moves from a state of frenzy to one of calm, from a state of turbulence to one of tranquillity, from a state of agitation to one of serenity. It is only through the act of pausing that breakthroughs and revelations can begin to take place.
Because values exist deeply and often at the core of who we are, it can be an emotional and sensitive journey to discover them. As explored previously – this can be a reason that this is not a regularly and openly discussed topic. This also highlights how essential it is that the discovery process is one that is free of any judgement – either from others or from self – so that these values are not easily dismissed or overlooked.
Mindfulness is a process of self-discovery free from judgement. It is a “moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment” through a lens of non-judgement and acceptance, as defined by the Greater Good Science Centre (2019). It originated from Buddhist traditions but has since filtered into western mainstream culture as a practice that can help with improving one’s overall physical and mental wellbeing. One way to exercise self-awareness (and therefore awareness of our values) is by practising mindfulness. Among the many benefits that mindfulness can provide, it can enhance “a stronger sense of self” and people seem to “act more in line with their values” (The Greater Good Science Center, 2019).
By carefully cultivating mindfulness, which is a discipline that can be exercised and cultivated, one is able to practise letting things surface to awareness without applying judgement. A common way to practise mindfulness is through meditation – taking the time to breathe and focus on nothing else, becoming completely aware of all the bodily sensations that are being experienced at any point in time. Through meditation, one can experience how to let feelings come and go with no judgement or attachment. By practising how to be aware of the physical sensations without judgement, one is able to extend this practice to discovering values also without judgement.
In the modern, fast-paced society in which we all create our own busyness, it can be a significant challenge for anyone to pause, realign, and restart. Often, the act of stopping can be seen as a waste of time and can be judged by others to not be productive, or in some cases, even weak. However, pausing and taking time to discover one’s values and intentions can lead to a more purposeful life that is fulfilling and satisfying.
In hindsight, I live with regret. My experience has highlighted the stark contrast between inaction and intention, and the drastically different outcomes that these two mindsets have on one’s sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in life. In this paper, an exploration of the origins of inaction demonstrates how easy it is to fall into the danger zone of comfort and complacency. By my inaction, I was unaware of my state of being and how far my life was from the values that I held true. Had I known what my values were earlier, I could have achieved fulfilment and contentment sooner, and with less effort and confusion. I wish I understood the benefits of being intentional – of pausing and exercising mindfulness to be more aware of my fundamental values, which I now realise is in contrast to my adopted values.
Now, having exercised intention, I no longer feel the helplessness of inaction. When I paused and began searching, my values slowly started to surface, and I am now able to choose to do things that are aligned to my own values, instead of things that I thought were important. It is becoming ever more apparent to me the necessity of having a strong awareness of one’s own values, and only through this can we achieve a more gratifying existence.
Albert, I., Trommsdorff, G., & Wisnubrata, L. (2009). Intergenerational Transmission of Values in Different Cultural Contexts: A Study in Germany and Indonesia.
Caprino, K. (2016, August 4). If Your Values Clash With How You’re Working, You’ll Suffer – Here’s How To Fix That. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2016/08/04/if-your-values-clash-with-how-youre-working-youll-suffer-heres-how-to-fix-that/
Danioni, F., Barni, D., & Rosnati, R. (2017). Transmitting Sport Values: The Importance of Parental Involvement in Children’s Sports Activity. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 75–92.
Knafo, A., & Galansky, N. (2008). The Influence of Children on Their Parents’ Values. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1143-1161.
Parker, K. (2014, September 18). Families may differ, but they share common values on parenting. Retrieved from Pew Research: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/09/18/families-may-differ-but-they-share-common-values-on-parenting/
The Greater Good Science Center. (2019). Mindfulness Defined. Retrieved from Greater Good Magazine: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition#why-practice-mindfulness