Understanding the Role of Values in Supporting Your Parents

It takes time and energy to support others.  Why do you do it?  Does it fit with your values? If not, that can lead to resentment, anger, frustration, fatigue.  Many of us in medicine have pushed our own wants and needs so far to the back of our psyches that we don’t even know what we want!

Time to remedy that a bit if we are going to live our best life while supporting others.  Obviously supporting others is on your value list or you wouldn’t be on this blog.  But, let’s explore some of your other values and see how they fit together.  So you can make the best choices for you.

Why Values?

When we focus on our values, we know how we want to live.  Further, there is increasing evidence that, once you have identified your values, there are interventions that strengthen those values in the face of chronic disease (or supporting others with chronic disease) to improve and expand your quality of life. 

Clarity on virtues and character strengths have been associated with better emotion regulation, protection against the effects of stress, and a lower frequency of mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression in many studies. Persons who practice gratitude, forgiveness and spirituality may be less likely to become clinically depressed . Those that cultivate character strengths lead psychologically healthier lifestyles. 

Values for Your Parents Too

This exercise may help your parents too. Evidence suggests that individuals with other chronic illnesses benefit from virtue and character strengths-based interventions for improving psychological well-being. Notably, positive interventions aimed at cultivating hope have shown some efficacy in improving quality of life and reducing symptoms of depression in populations with neurological disorders. 

Positive psychology posits embracing all aspects of living with difficult life experiences, such as navigating a terminal illness, benefits wellbeing and may be a source of inspiration. Studies suggest wellbeing is best achieved by transforming struggles or the “dark side” of life to positives. 

Your Values as A Guide to Living Your Best Life

It can be tough to figure out what steps to take when faced with so many choices and so much change – as can occur when supporting someone in the aging process. That’s where values come in. Values are the things that matter most to us, the guiding principles that help us through tough times and make us who we are. By taking a ‘values’ inventory, we can get a better sense of what’s important to us and use that knowledge to make decisions about how we want to live our lives and navigate any difficult decisions or transitions more mindfully on a day-to-day basis. Having a clearly defined set of ethics and beliefs will also provide clarity as you review your life successes, setbacks, losses and triumphs – allowing you to both celebrate them and learn from them. A sense of purpose is something that’s often difficult to put into words, but taking the time to figure out and honor your underlying feelings will make all the difference in optimizing how you spend your energy going forward.

Let’s look at how you can explore your values and use them as a guide for living your best life – living it now and planning for it in the future.

Performing  a Value Inventory

Identifying your core values is an important part of a life review and sorting through what makes you unique is empowering! Examining your values can be a powerful guiding force when making decisions – it’s not always the fastest or most popular choice, but something that will bring alignment with your authentic self. Taking a look back on your life and using your values as your guide can be an eye-opening experience. You have the power to develop a deeper understanding of where you’ve been and where you’re going. By reflecting on moments which highlighted significant aspects of your character, interests, or accomplishments, you can gain tremendous insight into what it is that truly matters to you. 

A life review allows us to express gratitude for the chapters we may have looked over multiple times yet never quite appreciated until now. With this newfound focus in hand, we can move ahead with clarity and purpose.

Living your best life means aligning with what you value. 

How Do You Accomplish a Value Inventory?  

I have looked at several strategies and I think that doing the Miller card sort works very well. There are several value lists available online, if this doesn’t appeal to you.  The reason I like the Miller card sort is that it provides an example under each word, so that you spend your time reflecting on the value rather than contemplating what may be meant by that word.  It allows for a quicker sort and I think quick can be helpful as it bypasses some of our resistance to the exercise.  

I highly recommend you print out a pdf and each word to make its own ‘card’.  There are 50-100 value cards (depending on the version of the sort you find online) and a few extra , in the event that an important value to you is not included.  You could also just copy each word onto its own note card or post-it note.  Will will sort all 50-100 cards (extra cards are optional) into one of 5 categories.

The 5 categories that the cards can be placed in are: Least important, not very important, neither important nor unimportant, somewhat important, and most important. 

Now review each word from the cards and place them in one of the 5 categories – each word can go in any ONE of the 5 categories – it doesn’t matter how many cards are already in that pile. 

Suggestions that may help you sort the cards – consider the people you admire most and consider your previous experiences. 

Once you have the cards sorted, count the number of cards in the most important pile.  Are there at least 5?  If no, review the somewhat important pile and priortize which card could be moved to the most important pile until you have 5 cards in the most important pile.

Once you have at least 5 cards in the most important pile, rank them from the most important to less important to you.  

Our goal is to come up with your top 5 values.   

Sit with this and take in those 5 values.  Take at least a few minutes if not some protected time for reflection. 

The Case for Following your Values

Personal values are the things that are important to us, the characteristics and behaviors that motivate us and guide our decisions.  Believe it or not, writing about your values is an effective psychological intervention.  In the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.

The 5 Core Values of a Great Doctor

Once you know what your values are, it’s important to use them as a guiding light during decision times. Then, once you’ve figured out how to direct your energy in service of these values, you can really maximize the impact of things like medical decision choices, relationships or personal goals. Take some time to reflect on how these values can inform decisions and shape experiences – it will empower you to make smart movements going forward that line up with your authentic self!

Most people have 5 values they can identify with. One of my core values is curiosity/learning – discovering new countries, gaining new experiences, enlightening myself about new cultures. Once you have arrived at your list of 5/7 values, put them in order of priority.

How to Use the Values 

Now that you are clear on your values, ask yourself:

How would I behave differently?

  • How would I work and perform differently?
  • What would I start doing?
  • What would I stop doing?
  • What goals would I set and work towards?
  • What difference would this knowledge make in my closest relationships and the people I work with?
  • How would I talk to myself and treat myself differently?
  • How would I treat others differently?

We’re all different, and what makes one person happy may leave another person feeling anxious, hemmed in or disengaged. Defining your personal values and then living by them can help you to feel more fulfilled and to make choices that make you happy, even if they don’t make sense to other people.


Begin with the end in mind is something that Stephen Covey is known for saying.  If you know your values, making decisions on how you spend your time, how you offer support, how you parse out your energy will make sense.  It will be done consciously.  Authentically. 

And that is the essence of a very good life.

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