Discover Your Core Values

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

Discovering your own values is a process of self-discovery that everyone ideally should take. You will feel better when you live a life in alignment with your values. With so much emphasis placed on happiness in our society, we each need to learn about what our deep core values are — to enable ourselves to live a full and meaningful life.

What are values? Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. They (should) determine your priorities, and, deep down, they are probably the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want.

When the things that you do and the way you behave match your values, life is generally good – you are satisfied and content. But when these do not align with your personal values, that's when things feel... wrong. This can be a real source of unhappiness, anxiety, and fatigue. This is why making a conscious effort to identify your values is so important.

Values exist, whether you recognize them or not. Life can be much easier when you acknowledge your values – and when you make plans and decisions that honor them.

If you value family, but you must work 70-hour weeks in your job, will you feel internal stress and conflict? And if you do not value competition, and you work in a highly competitive sales environment, are you likely to be satisfied with your job?

In these types of situations, understanding your values can really help. When you know your values, you can:

  • Get more clarity of vision and personal direction

  • Make superior decisions for the short and long term

  • Have more consistent behavior in alignment with your ideals

  • Experience greater fulfillment, contentment, and internal consistency

  • Transcend the magnetic pull downward of lower standards

  • Live by your own code of conduct

Author Stephen R. Covey states: “People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value.”

Knowing your values is like having a personal North Star guiding you to your best self. So, take the time to understand the real priorities in your life, and you will be able to determine the best direction for you and your life goals! Admittedly, there is no clear path to doing so, however, I have found a few highly effective methods for uncovering clues that can lead you to discover your unique core values.

1. Take a Free Online Assessment

2. Group all similar values together. Now that you have taken the assessments and interviewed people close to you, group this list of values in a way that makes sense to you, personally. Create a maximum of five to seven groupings.

3. Make a list of your own. The best way to start the introspection and transformation is by creating a laundry list of words that define who you want to be at work, home and in your community. What do you want to be known for? What qualities and characteristics represent your true self and that you want to demonstrate on a regular basis?

Just write as many words as you can, without judging or filtering. Ideally, you will list 20 or more words. If you hit a stumbling block, think about the people you have known whom you admire or for whom you have profound respect. What values did they consistently demonstrate? What could you reliably count on them for, and would you like to emulate or demonstrate the related values? Below are some words to consider helping you get started.

4. Identify the 5 to 7 Values Critical to Your Daily Existence. Choose one word within each grouping that best represents the label for the entire group. Again, do not overthink your labels. There are no right or wrong answers. Again, you are defining the answer that is right for you.

5. Prioritize your top values. This step is probably the most difficult because you will have to look deep inside yourself. It is also the most important step, because, when deciding, you will have to choose between solutions that may satisfy different values. This is when you must know which value is more important to you.

  • Write down your top values. Write them down in no particular order.

  • Look at the first two values and ask yourself. "If I could satisfy only one of these, which would I choose?" It might help to visualize a situation in which you would have to make that choice. For example, if you compare the values of service and stability, imagine that you must decide whether to sell your house and move to another country to do valuable foreign aid work, or keep your house and volunteer to do charity work closer to home.

  • Keep working through the list. Compare each value with each other value, until your list is in the correct order.

6. Give Your Personal Values Richer Context. Now, creativity comes into play. Highlighting values into memorable phrases or sentences helps you articulate the meaning behind each value. It gives you the opportunity to make the value more emotional and memorable.

Here are a few tips and guidelines for crafting your values statements:

  • Use inspiring words and vocabulary. Our brains are quick to delete or ignore the mundane and commonplace.

  • Mine for words that evoke and trigger emotional responses. They will be more meaningful and memorable.

  • Play to your strengths in crafting your values.

  • Make your value statements rich and meaningful to you so they inspire you to uphold them.

You could use other words from the groupings you made in step 3 in your description.

For example, let us say you have identified a core value of health to represent other values, like energy and vitality.

Your values statement might be: “Health: to live with full vitality and energy every day.”

7. Test the Ecology of Each Value. Once you have completed your list of core values, walk away from them and revisit them the next day after a good night’s sleep. Review your list:

  • How do they make you feel?

  • Do you feel they are consistent with who you are?

  • Are they personal to you?

  • Do you see any values that feel inconsistent with your identity (as if they belong to someone else, like an authority figure or society) and not you?

  • Do you feel like your values are in the proper order of importance?

Nothing is final. Make any tweaks and changes, as necessary.

Are You Living Your Personal Values? Now you have a prioritized list of your top 5 to 7 core values, let us see how well you are living them.

Assess how well you’re honoring each value by scoring each one on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 represents optimally living the value.

What is your level of satisfaction with each value?

  • Record your score for each. You can set up a table in Excel or an online survey.

  • Date the top of the column. Repeat this exercise once a month or quarter to assess your progress.

  • If you score below 7 in a particular value, what changes do you need to make? What must happen for you to further honor this value?

Here’s where self-coaching comes into play. Define your goals. Create a plan. Actualize it. Check-in with your personal values again. Notice if you feel a difference in your level of fulfillment in life.

How to Use Your Core Values to Make Decisions. Knowing your personal core values and their order of priority is helpful in making difficult decisions.

Start by scoring your values as described above. Then, imagine your life several months or years from now having decided.

For example, what will your new business or a family change your life? Step into this future picture as much as you can. Have it come alive in your mind.

  • Now, score your personal values while keeping the vision alive in your mind. Does deciding elevate your values score?

  • Does it cause friction with one of your higher values?

This process will help bring a new level of clarity to your decision-making process.

I discovered the following core values list, which is organized into categories for your review. But please take these categories loosely. They will change based on the perspective you hold.

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