5 steps to discovering your core values
What’s guiding you through life?
Knowing what guides you through life is important because it determines your future.
Making choices. It’s part of our lives. Every day.
For example, you might want to relax after a hard day at work. But when you notice your partner looking stressed or upset, or your son asks for help with his homework, do you turn off the TV or do you keep watching? The choice you make is based on what is more important to you.
Over time you will see a pattern – you will usually make the same kinds of choices in similar situations. Choices become habits. So our habits reflect our values.
Knowing what your life values are is important because this is what guides your decisions and ultimately determines your future. When you live and act in a way that aligns with your values, life is usually good. Conversely, when your behaviour and decisions don’t match your values, that’s when you’ll feel dissatisfied and perhaps frustrated with life. You can read more about how your personal values determine your financial success here.
The challenge is, generally our life values were formed when we were children, when we didn’t understand the importance of having a clear sense of our values. Or they were formed in adulthood, while we were dealing with all of life’s pressures, and we couldn’t direct the formation of our values. So in most cases, we don’t consciously set our life values. And in a lot of cases, people don’t actually know WHAT their life values are.
So how do you go about discovering what your values are?
We’re going to go through a few exercises now, so make yourself a cuppa and get ready to write down some thoughts!
Step 1: Explore moments
Think of 4 important moments, when you were:
- Most fulfilled and satisfied
- Angry and frustrated.
Describe each of these moments in detail, thinking about:
- What you were doing at the time?
- Were there other people involved? Who?
- What other factors contributed to these feelings?
Step 2: Identify common themes or words
Looking at your experiences, identify common words or themes. Try to group these into 5 to 10 values. For example, if you value helping others, giving back and generosity, these could be grouped under philanthropy or service to others.
Step 3: Define
Once you have your list of 5 to 10 values, write a short statement for each value expressing what living that value looks like to you. For example, one of my values is health. To me this means that I am eating well and looking after my physical and mental health.
Step 4: Prioritise
This step is probably the most challenging but it’s an important step – it will help you make decisions when your values conflict.
The simplest way to do this is to compare two values at a time. Ask yourself which value you would choose, if you could only choose one. If it gets difficult, use examples.
For example, if comparing the values of health and success, you might consider whether you would take a promotion at work if it would mean working weekends, or if you would turn it down to maintain your current work-life balance. Keep doing this until they are in the correct order.
Step 5: Reaffirm
Once you’ve prioritised your values, set them aside and return to them after a good night’s rest. Reaffirm that you are happy with the order of your values. Consider whether you would be willing to tell people what your values are, or support them if someone challenged you.
Are you living your values?
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Knowing your values is one thing. Living them is a choice we have to reaffirm every day.
Being clear on what is important to you is important to live a true and meaningful life. It is like having a GPS to help you navigate all your options and challenges in life. However, knowing your values is not enough – you also have to LIVE your values. This means waking up out of autopilot and choosing to think, speak and act in a way that matches your values. This means being completely honest with yourself and mindful of how you live each day. Living a life aligned to your values may not always be easy but when you do, you will feel empowered.