Value-Setting is the New Goal-Setting

Photo: Sally Griffiths

The best people are those who come into your life by serendipity. That’s how I met Dr. Sasha Heinz, a developmental psychologist and life coach. Over the past year, friend after friend expressed how she’d made them think about their life, career, relationships, and personal anxieties differently. When we finally connected, we bonded instantly as recovering overachievers and perfectionists in pursuit of happiness not just accomplishments. Understanding our values was the first critical step. I asked Dr. Heinz to write a guest post on how to clarify your own values for a happier, more fulfilling life. Here’s what she had to say…


Recently, a colleague told me about a 40-day challenge at her local yoga studio.

The premise was simple: attend one yoga class every day, 40 days in a row.

Tons of people signed up to participate in the challenge, happily dreaming about toned shoulders, flat stomachs, Instagrammable photo opportunities (#40daysofyoga #omshanti), glowing skin, and of course, an enviable aura of enlightenment.

There was a big chart by the front desk with a list of everyone’s names. For every class you completed, you got to put a shiny gold star sticker next to your name. (Who doesn’t love a gold star?)

The first week of the challenge, the chart was crammed with gold stars. Everyone was showing up daily. But after the first week, attendance dropped off noticeably. People stopped showing up for classes consistently. Throughout week two, there was just a scant smattering of stars. Week three? Almost none at all.

In the end, almost nobody completed the full 40-day challenge. Most of the yogis decided to nama-stay home instead of showing up for class. Womp womp.

Feel familiar? Whether it’s a yoga challenge, a healthier way of eating, a writing project, or financial goal–why do you lunge after your goal with tons of optimism and gusto at first–only to have things rapidly fizzle out after one week? (Or less?)


You’re not weak or lacking self-discipline. You’re experiencing what psychologists call a goal conflict. What does that mean? Exactly what it sounds like: You have goals that conflict with one another. For instance, you have one goal–practice yoga every day—and, simultaneously, you have other goals that compete with that goal—you know, like sleep, work, kids, down time, seeing friends, life.

When experiencing a goal conflict, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed or destined to fail. It just means approaching your goal in a different way to resolve the conflict.

The best place to start is to connect your goals to your values. Roll with me for a sec and I’ll explain how this works—and why it’s such a life-altering thing to do.


Your values represent the kind of person you want to be, how you want to show up in the world. It’s a big question. If you’re stumped, try conjuring up your inner 9-year-old. What was she like? Loyal, authentic, curious? That’s a great start. A value, however, is only as meaningful as the action behind it.
For instance, to be loyal is to stand up for your friends, support your partner’s big bodacious goal, or tell those you love the truth (especially when you’d rather not).

To be authentic might mean saying “no” even when it feels unpopular or seeking your own approval first or being your quirky self with abandon.  If curiosity is one of your top values, you might love to ask questions, read, visit museums, or find yourself falling down a Google-search rabbit hole.

Your values, in essence, help you create a coherent self.

How do you figure out your top values?

If you’re not sure what your top values are, ask yourself questions like these:

What do you want people to remember about you?
What qualities do you most admire in other people?
What qualities do you want to develop in yourself?
What really matters to you at a soul level?
How do you want others to feel when they’re in your presence?
How do you want your daily life to feel?

Try this exercise to personalize your values even more:

Imagine it’s your birthday party, 10 years from now. Three people make speeches about you expressing what you mean to them and what you stand for. Try writing down what you would most like to hear. Who is giving the toast? What stories did they tell? How did they describe you?

Choose five words that embody the answers to these questions. These are your top 5 values. If you need help brainstorming words (most people do!), go to www.drsashaheinz/value-setting for a comprehensive list.

(PS. That birthday exercise comes from my Value-Setting Workbook, a book I give to all my new clients when we first start working together.)


Value-setting is when you sync up your goals with your values.

It’s actually pretty simple to do. Start by completing the following statement:

“I’m going to [describe your goal] because [explain how this goal connects to one—or more—of your top values].”

Let’s say that integrity is one of your top values. For you, a value-setting statement might look like this:

“I’m going to complete the 40-day yoga challenge because I want to be remembered as a woman of great integrity, a woman who follows through and keeps her promises—including the promises I make to myself.”

Maybe integrity is not a top value for you. Instead, let’s say vitality and strength are two of your top values. Here’s how your statement might look:

“I’m going to complete the 40-day yoga challenge because I want to feel vitality and strength.”

Try this out. Choose an important goal—which could be something you really want to do (like a 40-day yoga challenge) or something you really need to do (like filing your annual tax return) and then create a short statement where you’re syncing up your goal with your values.

You can also do value-setting in reverse. Flip it around. Identify your top values first—then choose a goal that aligns with your values. (For instance, you could say to yourself, “If my top values are strength, vitality, and quality time with loved ones, what’s an exciting goal I can set that supports one or all three of those values?”)

Either way—whether you choose a goal and then sync it with your values, or whether you identify your values and then choose a related goal—the key is to form a connection in your mind between your goals and values. By syncing these up, you’ll feel powerfully motivated—the type of motivation that sticks without fizzling out.

Psychologists Edwin Locke and Gary Latham—founders of Goal Setting Theory—have found that goals improve our performance, increase motivation, and increase our subjective wellbeing (which is a science-y way of saying, pursuing goals make us feel happier about ourselves and our life).

Understanding what kind of person you aspire to be, what you value more than anything else, and then syncing up your goals and your values, will set you up for success—not just for the next 40-days, but for the rest of your life.

For more from Dr. Heinz, check out her website