The ElenchusDec 26, 2022
It's the day after Christmas and I don't know about you but this time of year usually causes me to do a lot of introspection.
I think about everything I did during the year - how I spent my time, who it was with, things I might've accomplished and so on.
Did I spend my time in a way that I said was important to me or were my thoughts and actions misaligned?
I'd say I was somewhere in the middle for 2022. And I'm striving to do better in 2023...
If you asked the Stoics, I probably wouldn't have been considered a wise man for 2022.
A wise man, according to the Stoics, is someone that has aligned their thoughts and actions.
Whereas a fool was one who had contradictory passions and would bounce from one thing to another.
In other words - their thoughts and actions are misaligned.
Now I'm not saying I was a fool this year but I could've leaned a bit more towards the wise man.
I want to take this post, the last of the year, and talk about a way to start the new year with better alignment between what we say we value and our actions.
First let me ask you this...If I were to ask you to create a list of your values, could you do it?
Right now - on the spot.
Do you value freedom, adventure, success, family, something else?
In my experience, most people would struggle with this exercise - I did up until recently.
Let's clarify what I mean when I say your values...your values are things that guide you and are important to you.
We all have 'em - whether we recognize it or not. They're influenced by how or where you grew up, how your parents treated you, your education, your life experiences, etc.
And therein lies the problem...
They're influenced by outside forces. So the question becomes are the values we say we have truly our values?
It's not uncommon for that answer to be no.
This is because it's not what we say our values are, it's what our actions say our values are.
Figuring out what your values are can be tough...
So I want to introduce two tools to help.
The first is a Stoic tool..
The Elenchus. It's a unique method of Socratic questioning.
It goes like this...
Socrates would let someone state their position - in our case this would be their values.
He would then question them and expose contradictions until they would have to admit they were wrong.
So how can we use this to understand our values?
Having a partner to do this with would be ideal but you can do it yourself as well.
Look at two things - your calendar and your bank account.
How you spend your time and how you spend your money will show you what you value.
This will show the contradictions between what you say you value and what you actually value.
Often times we spend on things we care little about while refusing to spend on things that matter.
Our mental accounting gets messed up.
The same goes for our calendar.
We value time with our spouse or our kids...but we schedule late meetings that take that precious time away or we "have to get this project done right now."
Remember at the beginning I said Stoics thought that the wise man was one who aligned their thoughts and actions?
A wise man would be one whose calendar and bank account align with what he says is important to him...what he values.
If you state that family is important, your calendar and accounts better damn well show it.
The second tool I want to introduce is actually from my friends at Elements.
They recently created an exercise called the Value Cards. It's a deck of cards, each with a value on it. You start out by sorting the values into 3 categories - really important, kind of important, not important. You then discard everything except the really important deck.
The point is to get down to your 10 most important values.
I've included two pictures below - my value cards and my wife, Bri's.
Top - my cards. Bottom - Bri's
The cards are sorted in order of importance from the top down.
Bri and I have been together for nearly 13 years but this isn't something we have ever really talked about, so it was a fun exercise to do together. It was interesting to see where we were similar and different.
One of my favorite parts about this exercise, especially when doing it with a spouse or partner, is talking through each of these top 10 values and learning what each means to each other.
For example, wealth to me does not mean simply having a lot of financial or material wealth. I define it more holistically as thriving in different areas that include relationships, health, finances, and balance in life(in some form). Contrast that definition with the one Bri would apply to that card, which would simply mean financial wealth, and you'll see why it's important to discuss beyond the word to understand what you truly mean.
I really enjoyed this exercise and recognized the value (no pun intended) it could bring to my conversations with clients, and even friends. But it would be a bit difficult to complete virtually considering it's a deck of cards.
So I created a simplified version on my website.
Take a few minutes and give thought to what's important to you, what you value.
You may be asking...What if I don't don't want to? What's the cost of not taking the time to figure out my values?
Usually it leads to some kind of inner turmoil.
I'm sure you could ask any advisor and they'd have a story about a client, or clients, whose values were misaligned with their calendar and bank account.
They were likely stressed and feeling like they were never doing enough or never doing the right thing.
Until they took the time to review what's truly important to them and then took action to align those values with how they spend their time and money.
I know I said I was giving you two tools but I want to leave you with one final exercise.
It's from one of my favorite books, Think like a Monk by Jay Shetty.
Jay gives an exercise that goes like this...
"For the next week, whenever you spend money on a non-necessity or make a plan for how you will spend your free time, pause, and think: What is the value behind this choice? Ideally, this momentary pause becomes instinctive, so that you are making conscious choices about what matters to you and how much energy you devote to it."
Keep your values close - use them to help guide the decisions you make during this new year.
I know I will be...