Sensemaking and Mapmaking: What’s the Point of Aligning with Your Values?

“Sensemaking,” a term coined by psychologist Karl Weick, refers to a person’s effort and ability to make sense of the world and its seemingly random events, creating patterns of connections between people, places, and events. You create your awareness and understanding of a confusing situation so that you’re able to make decisions that line up with your personal values

Weick compared the process of cognitive sensemaking to cartography. When some of the earliest cartographers rendered maps, two representations of the same area may have looked different depending on factors the individual mapmaker chose to focus on, as well as what they experienced. Cartography and sensemaking are both acts of creativity and analysis — identifying and interpreting facts amongst a continuous wave of data. 

Our values are an intrinsic element of cognitive sensemaking. When your life falls out of line with your values, it might feel like it doesn’t make much sense. Conversely, when your life is aligned with your values, you can reach what feels like a state of flow

Keep in mind, values are not static. They evolve over time according to our experiences and interpretations. If your life feels chaotic or like it’s lacking sense, start the process of sensemaking by identifying your values.

Identify Your Values

  1. Gather data by asking yourself some of the following questions: What’s important to me? What drives me? What qualities do I admire in others? What qualities do I dislike in others? When do I feel most energized and alive? If you’re having trouble, it can be helpful to work from an existing list of values.
  2. Consider whether or not your choices and actions reflect the values you’ve identified as essential to you. How do you apply these values? Do you see other opportunities to practice them?
  3. If there are elements of your life that don’t align with the values you’ve identified, examine your actions. Ask yourself whether the misalignment is connected to some other value. For example, you might keep a certain job, even if it’s not ideal, because you value providing for your family. In this case, your family is your most sacred value. If there is a misalignment you can’t connect to another value, think about how you might realign, and think big! Don’t limit yourself by getting too attached to your comfort zone.
  4. Practice aligning your choices and actions to your values. For example, you might change how you respond to things you’re already doing, or look for small ways to add value to your day. For example, if you value gratitude, start each day by sending a sincere thank-you to someone

It’s easy to get sidetracked and find ourselves living according to someone else’s values and priorities, but life makes the most sense and ultimately holds more meaning when we’re honest about what’s important to us. Once you have a solid list of values, keep them with you to reference throughout the year. They can serve as a reminder to analyze events and creatively map out your life.