"WHAT DO I WANT TO DO WITH MY LIFE!?"
I’m willing to bet you’ve asked yourself some version of this question.
Understanding your core values is a KEY step to answering not just that big question, but more importantly, making brilliantly aligned micro-decisions for the load of tiny questions in between now and your idea of a satisfying state in life.
No judgement if you’re not convinced - that was me once. But just give this a shot. I’ve made it easy for you with this “need to know” short list, including exercises and a list of common values examples for your reference.
What are values?
Values are your principles or standards of behavior according to your judgment of what is important in life.
These principles influence which actions or approach you perceive is best to take in order to achieve your desired outcome.
What are they good for?
It’s simple but crucial: Values help you make decisions that will most satisfy you in the long run.
If you don't know what you're all about, you'll end up making decisions based of a template of values someone else imposed on you and you'll end up less satisfied down the road when you realize your life doesn't really honor who you are, what you love, and what you have to give.
HOLD UP. Here’s something you probably didn’t know about values.
There are actually two types of them…
Conscious-based values & Fear-based values
Fear-based values are values you chose to protect yourself from harmful events in the past. Inherently you are seeking to avoid the opposite of what the value represents.
How to know if a value is fear-based:
In describing why you chose the value, you may use “have to” language, indicating that you feel you need to take action dictated by this value to protect yourself in some way
A specific event in your past (especially an unpleasant one) comes to mind as the origin of this value
Your family or someone close to you impressed upon you that this is an important value to live up to
Two examples of fear-based values:
Trust is one of my core values because I was in a relationship in the past with someone who seriously broke my trust. Now I know I have to protect myself by only letting people into my social sphere that I can deeply trust.
Excellence is a core value of mine because my family taught me that hard work and striving to do my very best is the way to live a good life and make them proud.
It is all very well to hold Trust and Excellence as core values, but if you choose to uphold them because they motivate you to take steps to avoid something (e.g. Relationships with people that break your trust in the first example, or lack of approval or pride from your family in the second), you may be spending your energy in worry, fear, or living up to standards that are not in your most personal definition of success.
I recently heard the most perfect way to sum up why spending mental energy on fear-based values is unproductive:
“Worry is like praying for the things you don’t want.”
Conscious-based values are ones that are completely aligned with what you want (NOT what someone else strongly imposed that you should want or avoiding what you don’t want)
How to know if a value is conscious-based:
When describing why you chose this value, you naturally express “want to”
The value is aligned desired outcomes in your self, instead of pitfalls you are motivated to avoid (i.e. you desire generate creative solutions, fear of being boring isn’t at the forefront of your mind when describing your value for creativity)
The value dictates operational action (instead of avoidance) that serves and supports your goals
It is personal to you and what you want, instead of being primarily introduced and enforced by others
Two examples of conscious-based values:
Influence is one of my core values because I enjoy using my gifts to serve others and witness the positive impact it has on their lives
I value adventure because I love to introduce new and exciting things to my life on a consistent basis
After going through the exercises mentioned in this post, you may very well consciously chose to redeem a fear-based value to a conscious-based value that energizes you to produce what you want in life.
How to define and test what your values are
I have included a list of core value examples at the bottom of this post to use as reference for the following exercises.
Test the water by asking yourself these three questions:
Think about a time when life was really good - What value was being honored or expressed?
Think about a time when you were upset - What value was being challenged?
Think about your short list of things you must have or experience in life. Why is this so important? What core values are these expressing?
Try them on for size and prioritize:
Take the top values you circled from the values list below or highlighted from the exercise above. You might have picked out 5-10 or so. Write each of them down on an index card.
Look at each note card and start playing around with prioritizing and singling out the values that are most core to who you are. Take your time, talk through each core value with your family or closest friends. They can help you process and decide on the core, guiding values that are a part of your identity.
Keep reflecting, shuffling, and prioritizing until you narrow it down to your THREE core values.
WHAT. Just three!?
It's important to define your top three values, simply because you can't be everything and honor everything all the time. If you end up gripping onto 4-10 values, they won't help understand the core of who you are and what to do about it. The point is to know the select few that will guide you in making decisions that will help you to live in accordance with your own definition of success.
Just because you like the idea of achievement, creativity, friendship, family, faith, adventure, loyalty, security, and trust and frequently embody a variety of these values, doesn't mean they are the focused few that really characterize you and what you most want in life.
On a personal note….
In case you were wondering about my core values, here are my top 3 that have guided me and remained consistent for years!
Faith, Creativity (which is closely tied with individuality for me), and Power.
Example list of values
You can choose from these or choose new words that better align with your core values.
Note: some of these are clearly fear-based values, but they may strike a chord with you, provoking you to realize that when you say you value health, you predominantly mean you value the absence of pain. Take this opportunity to see it for what it is, and evaluate if you would rather commit to focusing on the mental image of the vibrant health you want instead of avoiding the pain you don’t.
Absence of Pain
Avoidance of Conflict
Care for Detail
Connecting to Others