NLP & Values 1: the feelings you want

Values: the feelings we want or don't want

If you have ever worked in selling you will likely know about hot buttons. They are the values or emotions which drive our behaviours.

Although many of us like to think of ourselves as rational human beings, in reality all of us are emotionally driven - by our values.

Knowing your values, and their relative importance, is a key to a happy and a healthy life. Because it is such a critically important subject both this edition of the newsletter and the next will deal with it.

What is a 'Value'?

A value is a 'hot button' that drives a behaviour. Whatever you do is done in order to fulfil a value - even though you are unlikely to be consciously aware of that value.

For example:

You swim to fulfil the value of improving your health, benefiting from the relaxed state it later produces, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the sea, etc.

You drink alcohol to fulfil the value of feeling less inhibited, to enjoy the social scene involved, to enjoy the taste of the drink, etc.

You buy fashionable new clothes to fulfil the value of looking good, looking right for work, or not looking dowdy, etc.

Pleasure and Pain

Everything you do is a means to an end and this end is the fulfilment of a value. You do what you do to either move towards pleasurable feelings or values. Or to move away from or avoid painful values or feelings. (In NLP the Pain values are called Away From Values and the Pleasure values are called Towards Values).

Values are not neatly either Towards or Away From - there is a little of each behind everything we do.

Everything you do will move you a little towards fulfilling a pleasurable value and a little away from feeling a painful one. For example: you wash your face in the morning because you want it to feel and look clean and/or because you don't want other people to think badly of you for not looking clean.

We feel good when we are successfully fulfilling our Towards and avoiding our Away From values - and may describe this as 'happiness'. Unhappiness is when we are doing the opposite.

The challenge with Values...

Values Challenge No. 1

Few people have any awareness of their values. They are on auto-pilot. Driven by values that they do not know exist. We do things because we 'want to' but we rarely know 'why' we want to. We usually do things because they felt successful in the past or because others have told us they are appropriate.

Values Challenge No. 2

Most of our values were established many years ago. Many were laid down when we were very young children. Yet they are likely to be still driving our behaviours decades later - simply because we don't know about them and have therefore never got around to updating them.

(A man came to see me some years ago - a millionaire - who had an impoverished childhood and, as a result, decided to move 'away from' poverty. He worked hard for decades to build up wealth. In his seventies he was still doing so - despite now being a very successful businessman. He'd never looked at his values - and so couldn't stop to enjoy his success. He felt he had to keep working - even though he rationally knew it was no longer necessary. We looked at the values, changed them a little, and he now enjoys his life a lot more.)

Values Challenge No. 3

We usually have only one way of fulfilling a value. Take, for example, the value of excitement. Many people fulfil this by driving their car too fast for their own safety or that of others. Yet there are hundreds of other ways of fulfilling this value which are safer and more socially responsible.

Excitement is an important value of mine - I fulfil it by climbing the poles and trees of the High Ropes course and by wind surfing in high winds. I am now currently looking for further ways of fulfilling this value so that I will have lots of choice and variety - because variety is another value of mine.

Values Challenge No. 4

Some values are more important than others and, again, this ranking of values is likely to be both out of date and out of awareness. As a result we can spend lots of time, energy, and money attempting to fulfil a value that has relatively little importance while ignoring ones that are much higher on our list. This is a very common phenomenon.

Many people rank earning a living higher than looking after their health because they have never considered, seriously, how critically important is their health. Yes, it is important to earn a living. But if, in doing so, you damage your health what use is your wealth?

Many people rank immediate pleasure and gratification higher than how they look. So after a hard day's work they slob out in front of the TV and eat and drink the night away. They call it 'relaxing'. This is done through the winter evenings in higher latitudes such as the UK. Then, as Spring approaches and they start to think of summer beaches and clothing, they panic about their appearance, begin a furious programme of dieting and exercise, become disillusioned after a few weeks and go back to eating the night away - miserably. Because they do not remain aware of their values all year round.

The value of knowing your values

Knowing your values enables you to:

Be more control of your actions and your emotions.

Make better decisions, since you have greater awareness of what is truly important to you.

Recognise what you need to do to feel good

Find lots of different ways of fulfilling them - rather than doing the same old things as before.

Action Step 1

Get to know your values. Make two lists. One will list the feelings you would like to feel and the other will have those that you would like to avoid feeling. (Avoid words like 'happiness' since this is the result of having successfully moved towards pleasure values and avoided unpleasant ones.)

Make this a thorough list. I once did an experiment to see how many values' words I could find in the dictionary. I came up with over 1000 Towards and Away From values. (Yes, it's true, I was very bored at the time! I had a two-hour journey each way every day for two weeks and reading the dictionary was my alternative to reading newspapers!)

Common Towards values include: loving, secure, successful, healthy, stimulated, excited, peaceful, serene, fun, humour, relaxed, etc.

Common Away From values include: anger, depression, worry, insecurity, loss, boredom, guilt, hurt, lonely, etc.


Values must be feelings that you can achieve by yourself without requiring others to behave in a particular way. So 'loved' is not a value. It is an objective or a wish - because it requires another person to behave in a certain way. However 'Lovable' is a value because you can feel this without others behaving differently.

Action Step 2

Now take both lists and create your Values Hierarchy. This will be a short-list of your most important values.

This is best done through the Guarantee Game. Pretend that you have a guarantee that one value from the entire list will be fulfilled on a consistent basis from now on. So which of your values would you select? For example, would it be to feel secure, or healthy, or have peace of mind? Or to be guaranteed that you will not feel bored, or ill, or depressed? And pretend that you can only have one guarantee.

Whatever you choose becomes your No. 1 Value.

Now continue the Guarantee Game. Pretend that you have been given a bonus choice. You can keep the guaranteed No. 1 - and select one more from the list. This becomes your No. 2 value.

Continue this process until you have at least 6 or 7 values listed. This is your values' list in order of their current importance in your life.

(Click here for the follow-up article)


The Pegasus NLP Newsletter

Most articles on this site originally appeared in The Pegasus NLP Newsletter - which has been published continuously since January 2001.

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By Reg Connolly, Director of Training, Pegasus NLP