4 + 4 = 8

There's something very mathematical about our Universe, and that the more carefully we look, the more mathematical scenarios we seem to find. Some people take this a step further. For scientists such as Max Tegmark, their hypotheses stipulate that absolutely everything is made up of numbers - numbers, that is, which make up  an external physical reality completely independent of us humans. And thus we needed to construct formal structures to express the universe in its mathematical form, and for our tiny human brains to even fathom what 'this' all means (according to Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy, specifically, that would be 42...) in a way that is constant and never changing. Equations. Sums. Geometry. All leading up to Tegmark suggesting we have four different levels of multiverse. Pretty cool right? Let's use for instance, the sum 4 + 4 =8.

(Trust me, I'm going somewhere with this post...)

But humans aren't like maths. We are tricky beings. In fact, as opposed to being constant, we only have one constant - and that is change. We change our minds about whether or not we're going to hit the gym after a heavy night out and some questionable life choices. We change our hairstyle or personal dress sense in accordance to what makes us feel most confident or comfortable. We change our perceptions of people according to how well or poorly they treat us. In essence, we are creatures of indecisiveness and change - ironically, despite the fact that change and new circumstances tend to terrify the living crap out of us. Remember when I said that maths is constant, that 4 + 4 = 8 will never be wrong? Humans are naturally insecure, social animals, striving for acceptance in their circles in order to feel protected - in evolutionary terms, to get the biological 'A-OK' that we can survive and thrive. And so, we need a 4 + 4 = 8 in our lives to help give us that anchorage in a sea of uncertainty and mess ups life throws at us. What humans need are core values.

Much like the mathematics used to display formula and find solutions - the 8 to your 4 + 4, so to speak - these core values are unwavering; they do not change in the face of circumstance, situation, or mood. The 8 in the sum is a non-negotiable. You can't argue your way out of a mathematical proof. Hey, maybe when you're a kid - naive, in denial with reality, and generally wanting to be a bit of a snot-rag for the sake of things - you might pipe up and insist it's a 6, not an 8. Just because. But that doesn't change the fact that you're wrong and deluding yourself. Your '8' might not look like a mathematical sum, but it sure as hell will look like a life principle or value that you use to direct your life. And it sticks with you.

Our core values are what drive our decisions on a daily basis. Look, I'm gonna be honest. A lot of the self-development, pseudo-spiritual stuff out there is amazing at talking up the profound effects of the mind and meditation and being all unicorn sparkly happy rainbow dust when your loved ones die, but there is a toxic pattern underlying this trend of self-help which is toxic and unhelpful for our own health overall. Rather than taking responsibility to how we respond to situations, (note that I do not say that it's our fault bad things happen to us) we play the victim and assign ourselves, in the most defeatist way possible, to the hands of fate. Core values prevent victimhood from happening. They instil within us a yardstick to follow when life is at its toughest. That's why it's important to ask yourself these questions - to avoid finding yourself surrounded by manipulative arseholes, or in situations which fail to make you grow or fulfil your sense of purpose.

• What is it in the most that I value from my partner/colleague/friend/family member?

• What kind of impact do I want to be imparting onto the world on a daily basis?

• What traits do I admire in successful people around me?

• What values represent your way of living (or aspired way of living?)

• In what ways in life can I be a little bit less of a douchebag?

Once you really start asking yourself what exactly that you value in life, you begin to get a clearer picture as to how to manifest all that good stuff in. Not by magical voodoo chanting and clutching amethyst crystals whilst feeding your fifteenth cat, mind you - through action. Take the courage to speak up more about your feelings if you value Honesty. Be less of a slob at work and make an effort to contribute to the team if you value Responsibility. You can dive straight in, or if you feel as if you need to visualise your values a bit more and see which direction to go in, make a similar table to the one below and begin to identify your perceived values which need a bit more supporting and growth. Visually speaking, it might give you the kick up the bum to actually live your values and not live your life through a narcissistic eggshell. The lower the score, the more actions you will need to implement.

Much like the structure of mathematics outlines the way our universe works, our core values system sets us up to avoid pitfalls in life and take the far more fruitful, fulfilling direction. Value Honesty? Then you'll be a far better communicator in all walks of life, as you begin to make the effort to speak your own voice and opinion more. Have Compassion at the top of your list? By sticking to your principle of not being such a douchebag to others, you'll just find that the right kind of people will surround yourself in life. Or are you a Responsibility kinda person? Emulating your inner Elon Musk by reminding yourself of the importance of this life value will ensure you actually get the most of your days working and contributing to your family and society - which is pretty cool if you ask me. And that's the beauty of having your own set of values - odds are they won't be the same as your friend or family members', so you really do have the opportunity to shape the life that you want on the basis of what you believe in.

Moreover, mathematics has rules, structures, and of course, boundaries in the way equations function. Humans too need boundaries - but if you don't have your own set of mathematical structures (hint: your values) then how an earth can you implement them healthily?

This is why people tend to get walked all over - personally, professionally, you name it. Lack of values often leads to lack of boundaries. And lack of boundaries means you are headed for a life of pain, my friend.

Because I've talked too much about maths today, let's give you a fun little case study for you to get your heads around the concept of core values. There's a reason why they're so useful. Girl really likes Boy. He's shiny; fun; engaging and witty to 19 year-old hapless Girl. He's pretty to look at and says the right jokes at the right time, but also disrespects Girl hugely. Girl overlooks these ordinarily obvious red flags - emotional unavailability, apathy and disrespect - because she hasn't set the standard yet on what she values in a partner - or even, in people generally. Because she has no core values of what a person around her should be emulating according to her own life rules, (let's say, Honest, Open, Compassionate) she has no boundaries - and allows herself to be walked over almost immediately. It's the perfect recipe for the human sacrifice of self-respect at the altar of external validation. Because Girl had set no core values of her own - of what she stood for, of how she wanted to lead her life, of what she expected from others - there was no way in hell she could set the boundaries in this scenario. Long story short, Girl was heartbroken - but learnt a very valuable lesson in self-respect, speaking up, and yes, finding her core values.

Just incase you hadn't guessed, that 19 year-old Girl was me, (boy, I love sharing humiliating backstories to try and get you guys to think clearly about what you want from life) but I do not regret that experience one bit. That's the funny thing about values - we tend to take them for granted (much like those maths classes in school...) and only really uncover what we want from life when disaster strikes - in other words, it is experience which shapes who we are and what we believe in. Kinda sucks that we gotta get the full sphere of our values the hard way, but isn't that the point of life? To grow and become a better, more well-rounded, less self-centred individual through suffering?

So this is where 4 + 4 = 8 kicks in. That unwavering, concrete boundary which just is. Your job is to make sure your values dictate your actions and responses to life stimuli in a way that ensures you are living the life in accordance to your own values. If self-respect, confidence, productivity and a healthy mindset are what you're after, then this method is just the ticket for you.

The 4 + 4 = 8 method reminds you of your values, your worth, and the ability to stand up for yourself.

It doesn't matter who the person is. It doesn't matter if your closest relative treats you disrespectfully in front of everyone at that goddamn awful Christmas party. It doesn't matter if Tom Hardy asked to see you last Saturday night but is now treating you indifferently. There are no special exceptions. Everyone meets your standards of being treated respectfully - not the other way around. You recognise the issue, speak up calmly and politely like an adult, and remember that your values are as constant as 4 + 4 = 8.

• Boss manipulates you to work for longer hours despite no pay increase? 4 + 4 = 8.

• Guy you really fancy makes excuses for his poor treatment of you as a human being? 4 + 4 = 8. (seriously. The dopamine system makes us all susceptible to be idiotic.)

• Loved one always demanding you for money despite never giving anything (including non-material) back in return? 4 + 4 = 8.

When you remember that your core values are as standardised and concrete as the mathematics that describe our whacky and wonderful world, it becomes a lot easier to set healthy boundaries for yourself, set goals for personal, professional, and social development, and become a better, happier, kinder, and stronger person overall.

So remember...4 + 4 - 8. Always.

Sophie Thomas