In today's episode, we explore the profound benefits of living in alignment with your values. Having guided numerous clients through transformative journeys, I've witnessed the positive outcomes that come with aligning with one's core values. This marks the final installment of a three-part series setting the foundation for meaningful conversations on achieving work life balance.
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Episode 3 - How to gain surprising benefits by aligning with your personal values?
[00:00:00] The surprising benefits of living in alignment. Welcome to aligned and thriving the podcast that has strategies for work life balance. I'm your host, Judith Bowtell, and I'm so happy to have you join me today.
[00:00:16] This is the final episode of three that will set the foundation for the conversations we will have on Aligned and Thriving. These are with people who have developed a range of long term strategies to create work life balance in a way that is meaningful them.
[00:00:31] If you are truly challenged with work life balance or have lost meaning and purpose in your working life, I encourage you to take the time to listen to these first two episodes to understand why this is happening, that it is completely normal, and what you can do to make your life more fulfilling.
[00:00:49] Today, we are going to dive more into the positive outcomes and benefits that come with aligning with one's values. I founded my career coaching and leadership development business, Albany Lane, with the belief that everyone can make positive change in their working lives. And through working with hundreds of clients, I have proof that this is true.
[00:01:09] On completion of our six session program, our clients report a greater level of satisfaction with their working lives from very unsatisfied or unsatisfied to very satisfied or extremely satisfied. Many have changed jobs, securing promotions and or more flexibility and better work life balance. Some have secured senior or executive roles or have become leaders in their sector or community. Others have started businesses, monetizing their creativity.
[00:01:37] Some have embraced a lifestyle change or a long held dream. What they all have in common is that they are navigating the challenges of a working life with greater ease due to having connected to an intrinsic and emotional level to what is most important to them. So what else can alignment with your values provide you beyond a more satisfying working life? Well, let's dig in. The results may surprise you.
[00:02:04] First off, I wanted to share with you some of the findings by researchers into how values can improve your mental and emotional wellbeing. By understanding the neuroscience and the evidence, we can trust this approach works beyond the pop psychology articles that may be clogging up your social media feeds.
[00:02:20] Note that this will be a lay person's explanation, so feel free to provide comments if I get things wrong, or if I got something right, that would be great. So first of all, values are associated with the brain's reward systems, particularly the mesolimbic dopamine pathway. Remember the emotional regulating parts of our brain, the nucleus accumbens and the ventral media prefrontal cortex that we've spoke about in episode one.
[00:02:51] When individuals act in alignment with their core values, it activates reward circuits in the brain. Leading to feelings of pleasure and reinforcement, this contribute to a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Secondly, decision making processes related to values are often mediated by the prefrontal cortex.
[00:03:13] So engaging in activities that reflect one's values has also been linked to increased prefrontal cortex activation. This brain region is crucial for executive functions, including self control, goal setting, and emotional regulation. So aligning with our values connects our limbic system and our prefrontal cortex, our feeling and our logical thinking parts of our brain.
[00:03:38] This is essential for emotional regulation and well being. A third benefit is that values can reduce stress and strengthen our resilience. Neurobiologically, this may involve dampening the activity of the amygdala, a brain region involved in the processing of stress and emotions.
[00:03:58] That is the part of our brain which triggers our fight or flight response. And disconnects the feeling and thinking parts of our brain. It also triggers the production of adrenaline and cortisol, which can be harmful to our internal systems over time. By calming the amygdala before it starts this response, we are more likely to deal effectively with challenges and problems that come our way.
[00:04:25] And finally, consistently engaging in activities aligned with one's values may contribute to long term changes in brain structure and function through neuroplasticity. The brain can adapt and reorganize itself based on experiences. Living by one's values may lead to enduring changes in neural pathways associated with well being and positive emotions.
[00:04:53] It's essential to keep in mind that individual experiences can vary, and more research is needed to fully understand the intricate neural mechanisms underlying the relationship between values and mental and emotional benefits. It's not a magic bullet and will not solve everything. Systemic and social justice issues like access to mental health care will continue to impact us at an individual and population level.
[00:05:19] And as a consumer of mental health services, I know that a variety of interventions are often required to support good mental health, including medications and other therapies. The next area of benefit I want to explore is how your values can improve your relationships with others and promote more meaningful connections.
[00:05:39] Being with people who share our values make communication, conflict resolution, problem solving, and decision making much more straightforward. If our values are unaligned with the people around us, we may experience greater frustration, feel misunderstood, and generally disconnected, even lonely or isolated.
[00:06:00] Not everyone can be our soulmate, but having values in common can make for smoother and easier friendships and intimate relationships. For me, I've found that values greatly improve my understanding and acceptance of changes and friendships over the years. One of my greatest friends is someone who I met in university, and we shared a lot of values back then, mostly around fun, friendship, humor, adventure.
[00:06:27] We did lots of great stuff together and kept our friendship going, even when we both traveled the world and began our independent lives living in different cities. Whilst our friend groups, personal lives and life challenges were very different, we kept our connection due.
[00:06:42] To those underpinning of values, including a high value associated with the value of friendship itself. However, over time, our lives changed. We went from being single to partnered and began journeying into the world of assisted reproduction and infertility treatment. For my friend and her husband, the result were three babies, including twins.
[00:07:04] All born within three years. And for my partner and I, it was a stream of miscarriages and the decision to stop trying for a baby and deal with the damage this journey had on our respective mental health. After this happened, we were out of contact for a few years, both occupied with personal challenges and prioritising what was most important to us.
[00:07:26] But the good news is that we eventually reconnected and began to revive our friendship. However, this time our life experience had brought us to be aligned to a whole new set of values than the ones that brought us so much reward in our uni years. Now we shared values of kindness, compassion, courage, authenticity, and yes, friendship.
[00:07:49] I may have a stronger alignment to making a difference. My friends might be stronger to community. So there are differences, but where we connect makes for a wonderful and supportive relationship that I treasure and go out of my way to cultivate. I've had the same experience with other friends over the years, where we share a common value, we can reconnect, even with years apart. This is especially so with my school friends, who I rarely see, but sometimes we reach out when someone is celebrating or going through a rough time. We often discuss how growing up with shared values of social equity and justice had a major impact in our lives, affecting our decision making, political affiliations, causes we support and for some of us, the careers we pursued.
[00:08:34] I also have found that your friends and even your intimate partner do not have to share Thank you. All of your values and if different people connect with you in different ways, I have friends and colleagues where we connect on the value of art and creativity and others on fairness and social equity, each relationship is enriching in its own ways.
[00:08:54] And social settings. I also find that being able to assume some shared values provides me with an extra sense of safety and ability to be my authentic self. For example, I was a volunteer for the Yes 23 campaign, supporting the Yes vote on the referendum to create a First Nations voice to the Australian Parliament.
[00:09:13] As we inevitably ended up at the pub to watch the Prime Minister concede that the Yes vote had lost, it was something to be with others who were also disappointed and upset by the outcome. Afterwards, I had some great conversations with people I had never met about the campaign. And I felt totally safe in a way that is rare when you are in a room with strangers.
[00:09:38] I believe this safety and therefore the connection came from knowing that the people around me shared my values of fairness, equality, justice, kindness, and compassion.
[00:09:50] It is a rare experience to have, and maybe the closest example I can give is when we share a great sporting achievement. For example, Cathy Freeman striding home to victory in her superhero suit in the 400 metre race at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Or Ash Barty having a winning Barty party at Wimbledon in 2021.
[00:10:11] And of course, who can forget that penalty shootout where our Matildas won over France in the World Cup quarterfinal this year. A shared experience that will forever redefine what nail biting really means. So again, why does this happen? Our good friends in neuroscience have a few ideas. Shared values have been linked to increased empathy in social interactions.
[00:10:39] Mirror neurons. Specialized cells in the brain that activate both when we perform an action and when we observe someone else performing that action may play a role. When individuals share values, it can lead to a stronger emotional connection as mirrored neural responses contribute to understanding and resonating with the feeling of others.
[00:11:04] Values aligned interactions have also been associated with the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the bonding hormone or love hormone, a feel good hormone. Oxytocin is linked to social bonding, trust, and positive social interactions. Values can also play a crucial role in conflict resolution within relationships.
[00:11:29] The prefrontal cortex involved in decision making and impulse control is activated when individuals consider and navigate conflicts in line with their values. As we now know, this region of our brain helps in regulating emotions, understanding different perspectives, and finding mutually beneficial solutions.
[00:11:52] Engaging in activities or behaviours that align with shared values activates the brain's reward circuitry, which includes the release of neurotransmitters, like dopamine. When these rewarding experiences occur within the context of a relationship, It can enhance relationship satisfaction. This neurobiological reinforcement contributes to positive feelings and a sense of fulfillment in the relationship.
[00:12:20] And finally, values may contribute to neural synchronization. This is where the brain activity of individuals in close relationships become more synchronized. When individuals share values, their neural patterns may align more closely, fostering a sense of connection and understanding in the relationship.
[00:12:45] That's all pretty impressive, but it's really important to note that while neuroscience provides valuable insights, the riches and complexity of human relationships involve a combination of psychological, social and cultural factors. Also, we have not explored how values alignment interacts with forms of neurodiversity, such as autism or ADHD and dyslexia.
[00:13:12] I personally have just not found much literature about how neurodiversity and values alignments interact on an individual levels in terms of neuroscience. But again, I'm not a neuroscientist, but just an interested lay person. So if somebody else has found any articles that do connect the two, I would be really interested in hearing about it or seeing them.
[00:13:36] So this is a call out to the neuroscientists, the psychiatrists, the psychologists, or anyone else who's in this field of research to just please get in touch. But I have found plenty of articles, encouraging workplaces, educational institutes. And community leaders to take a neuro affirming approach to developing cultures and networks where neurodiversity is valued rather than something to be fixed.
[00:14:03] This is how values can be used in a social context to promote pro-social behaviors that may support and be part of major social change. So this is, the third surprising benefit of aligning with your values. Going back a bit now to the early part of the 21st century, when many social researchers in the West were concerned about the increasing fracturing of social values, a perceived drop in social cohesion, and the rise of increasing fundamentalism and separatism in political movements.
[00:14:39] Of even greater concern was the lack of action on major global issues like climate change. Despite the warnings of catastrophic outcomes for the planet and humanity, if action was not taken. Research by the Common Cause Think Tank in the UK at this time, found that there was a perception of a major values gap in society.
[00:15:01] That is 77 percent of survey respondents believe that their fellow citizens prioritize selfish values over compassionate ones. And institutions, including media, schools, politicians, were seen to be reinforcing these attitudes, leading to a misconception that they were promoting self interest. And remember, this research was done pre Brexit, which highlighted a deep generational and geographic division in the UK.
[00:15:33] However, the research also found that positive social and communal change is possible by promoting compassionate values through role models, conveying accurate information about others values and challenging assumptions. Institutions and individuals can actively engage in these strategies to reshape societal perceptions.
[00:15:54] foster public concern about social and environmental challenges and reduce their feelings of apathy and alienation. The public response to the COVID pandemic in 2020 highlighted just how this can be done with public figures promoting communal action and care for others. NHS staff became public heroes and for a moment in time the UK and other countries turned from the question of what is best for me
[00:16:24] So is this a once in a lifetime event where kindness trumped selfishness? According to work by the Public Interest Research Center, individuals are more open to acting in line with the values that connect and support us as a collective than we think we are. That is contrary to our shared belief that we will always take the most selfish cause of action.
[00:16:49] If issues are framed or values based, we will be more likely to take pro social actions than not. It is the campaigns that trigger fear based responses, like threats to security, be that personal, financial or communal, that encourage us to act in our self interest. So how does this work? How can our shared or community values support pro social actions and contribute to major social change?
[00:17:17] Well, community values establish shared norms and expectations for behavior. When individuals within a community align their action with shared values, it creates a social environment where pro social actions are encouraged and expected. This collective reinforcement helps shape the culture of kindness, cooperation and empathy.
[00:17:41] Think recycling your bottles and cans, a communal action every bin night. Community values also contribute to the formation of social identity and a sense of belonging. When individuals feel connected to a community that upholds values such as cooperation, altruism, and social justice, they are more likely to engage in pro social actions to strengthen their sense of belonging and contribute to the wellbeing of the community.
[00:18:08] Think about how we respond to national disasters like the 2019 bushfires, with huge levels of donations to assist the care of those stripped of necessities. Pro social actions are often reciprocated within a community that values cooperation and mutual support. The expectation of reciprocity fosters a cycle of pro social behavior, where individuals are more willing to contribute to the community, knowing that their actions are likely to be reciprocated by others.
[00:18:39] This creates a positive feedback loop that strengthens community bonds. Again, our response to national disasters is done with a sense that it could be any of us, and we connect to the common humanity of human frailty and to the experience of people impacted by the disaster. But compare that to the political messaging and how it can dehumanize people in need due to perceived personal failings.
[00:19:07] Members in our community can be labeled as homeless, addicts, dull bludgers, housos, refos, et cetera. Not as people, but as problems. And in those cases, our generosity And our giving and our willingness to for the benefit of others is considerably lessened. Community values also exert a normative influence, shaping individuals behaviors through basic social pressure.
[00:19:36] When pro social actions align with the prevailing community values, individuals are more likely to conform to these expectations. The normative influence can drive widespread pro social behaviours as individuals seek to adhere to the valued norms of their community. We saw this with COVID, where expectations of mask wearing, social distancing, staying home when ill were promoted as something we could do to support each other.
[00:20:02] It was fear based messaging and misinformation that created anti vaccine movements that remain, thankfully, in the minority. And finally, communities that share values supporting social justice and positive change can mobilise collective action. When a critical mass of individuals within a community embraces values such as equality, environmental sustainability or human rights, it can lead to organised efforts for major social change.
[00:20:35] These collective actions have the potential to influence policies, challenge systemic issues, and drive broader societal transformations.
[00:20:45] Systemic change takes time and consistent effort, and the results are often not immediate or terribly exciting. There is limited dopamine reward from the results. That is why framing collective actions as aligned with personal or altruistic values can provide a sense of fulfillment in the action, even if it is not immediately connected to a result.
[00:21:10] So in summary, community values provide a foundational framework that shapes individual behaviors, fosters a sense of belonging and reciprocity, exerts normative influence, and facilitates collective action for positive social change. And it works with our shared biology and intrinsic humanity. So, these are some of the surprising benefits that come from understanding our values and the personal and communal power of being in alignment with these values.
[00:21:40] Improved personal well being, stronger connections and relationships. Opportunities for social action and community development. Which is why I encourage you to discover your personal values and understand your own vision for what you want to create in your life. Becoming aligned with your values is one of the most powerful strategies you can employ to effect greater balance in your life.
[00:22:07] And I know this from personal experience, as I shared in episode one, I was once a burnt out government executive experience, maximum work life stress, and very little balance, major physical and psychological conditions forced me to reevaluate what was most important to me. I realized that I had been living by the expectations of others at my personal expense.
[00:22:31] By living in fear of disapproval and rejection, I built a prison around my essential self. By outward appearances, it was a comfortable and even a successful prison, but it kept me trapped, miserable, and in the end, at risk of ruining my life. I was very fortunate and privileged to have the chance to stop and review my priorities before it got any worse.
[00:22:55] And that led me to setting up my coaching practice, where I support others to create their version of an ideal working life. Now, working for myself did not happen overnight. It took years of retraining, supervision, and working on many other projects and with other organizations to realize this dream.
[00:23:14] And there are lots of moments of fear and anxiety that this would never work. There are also lots of people who will prey on you in these moments and promise you the moon if you buy into their sales funnel or systems. And these never work for me or most people. They are kind of the diets of the business world.
[00:23:33] So what did work for me is reviewing and revisiting my values and using those as a base to create a vision for my coaching practice and doing this over and over again over the past 10 years. For those of you who are curious, the core values of Albany Lane, my coaching company and service are courage and compassion.
[00:23:57] And they have supported me for over 10 years. Courage means to keep going, following my inner guidance and principles, and to keep talking about the benefits and importance of creating better working lives. Compassion for myself when I fail to meet my high expectations, and compassion for others as they do their own self evaluation and make changes in their working lives.
[00:24:20] The journey of Albany Lanes development has had many challenges and it's probably will never feature in a Harvard Business Review article or put me on the Forbes wealth list. But it has made money for myself and my family, introduced me to wonderful people, developed some incredibly strong partnerships, taught me more about myself than maybe I cared to know.
[00:24:43] And I believe and have the evidence that it has been a platform to do some useful things in the world. And that's good enough for me. Plus it allowed me to look after two old dogs at the end of their life, be home when my husband gets off work, which is something he likes, travel to my hometown to see friends and family, indulge in my own reading passions, and look after my mental health.
[00:25:08] Plus exercise at a level that works for me. Finally, it's led me to this podcast, Aligned and Thriving. Every Monday morning, you can start your week with a new mentor who will share with us their story and strategies for balancing work and life and aligning with their values. I can't wait to introduce you to these amazing people from different generations, geographic locations, life experience, and personal identities.
[00:25:35] These are people who are interesting, passionate, and creative , and some of who may share similar challenges to you, intensive careers. Some of these guests may also share similar challenges to you having intensive careers, parenting, caring for others, being in a challenging workplace, having financial issues.
[00:25:56] or living with disability, neurodiversity, or chronic health issues. So join me on this journey as I have the pleasure of connecting with a wide range of individuals who have their own tales of what work life balance looks like for them and what it might look like for you.