Your values explain basically everything you do

by | May 7, 2024 | General Productivity

Takeaway: Can’t explain why you act the way you do? Your values may be at play. There are 10 human values that we hold most dear, explained below.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 22s.

When I was a teenager, I ran a marathon. Well, sort of.

Following the instructions from a great book (my memory is hazy but I’m pretty sure this was the one), I trained for hours on our treadmill at home. By a certain point, I was practically running a full marathon in the basement. The book made it so that, once you got to the point where you could run the distance, the actual marathon was easy—you had already done the hard work in training. (Or at least this was how I felt as a teenager—I might feel differently at 35!)

Reaching this marathon milestone, I did what I usually do in such scenarios: I quit. I stopped running entirely and didn’t sign up for a marathon as I had planned to. Once I had proven to myself that I could run the distance, I had no interest in the follow through. There was nothing left for me to figure out.

Reflecting on this experience, as well as where I fall on the list of 10 fundamental human values (refresher below!), my reaction makes sense.


In the values continuum, I score incredibly high on self-direction and relatively low on achievement. Put differently, I care less about accomplishing things than I do about proving to myself that I can. (While figuring out how to do them in my own way.)

Looking back at my life through this lens explains a lot of my decisions that, at the time, didn’t make sense:

  • As a kid I was into magic tricks. But I’d mostly buy them so I could see how they were done—losing interest in performing the trick once I mastered it.
  • My favorite TV show growing up was How It’s Made—nothing else came close.
  • More recently, I’ve written three books largely because I was curious about productivity, focus, and calm, and wanted to get to the bottom of these topics to help people out (myself included).
  • I’ve always thought about achievement as a byproduct of doing something interesting—not as the result itself.)

By default, we make decisions that align with our true nature: our values. There’s always a deeper reason motivating what we do, especially when you find your actions difficult to explain. Values are usually what’s behind this.

When you have the time and space to form your own intentions, you’ll find those intentions typically revolve around what you value. This is a good thing: research shows that our behavior becomes meaningful when our actions are true to what we value. Most of our automatic decisions are the simple result of evaluating our options and considering how they connect with the values we hold.

The next time you can’t explain your actions, reflect on your values. They are probably at play, behind the curtain, pulling the strings of your life.


Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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