Identifying Your Values

What are Values?

Your personal values define what is important to you; not something you want or would like to have, but something you literally need in your life to be happy. A value is a principle or quality intrinsically valuable or desirable to you. Values are your convictions, your beliefs, and your ethics all rolled into one.

The quality of the values we embrace and the intensity of our commitment to them determines the level of our accomplishment in life so investing time to identify and fully understand your values is time well spent.

Living in agreement with one’s values is fulfilling. Living in conflict with one’s values is stressful and dissatisfying. In fact most stress results from values conflicts. When put in a situation where you are unable to honor a value, you will feel stressed out. No amount of relaxation, meditation, or exercise will eliminate the stress until the values conflict is resolved.

Values are not the same as goals. Values are directions we keep moving in, whereas goals are what we want to achieve along the way. A value is like heading North; a goal is like the river or mountain or valley we aim to cross whilst traveling in that direction. Goals can be achieved or ‘crossed off’, whereas values are an ongoing process.


Likewise, it’s important to keep in mind that feelings are not values. If you say, “I want to feel confident”, or “I want to feel happy”, those are goals, not values. Why? Because a feeling of confidence or a feeling of happiness can be achieved, done and completed. A feeling is not an ongoing process; it’s a transient event, like a television program. Once you’ve watched the program: goal accomplished.

The Right Values

It’s important that we separate what society, culture, and family values from our individual set of values. Values are not about right and wrong as a broad, cultural construct, but about what’s right and wrong for you as an individual, given who you are and what you want in your life. What you truly value is–by definition–right for you. What you value may not be right for those close to you and may be a source of disagreement and dissatisfaction if others attempt to enforce their code of values on you.

Our values come from a range of sources. Our parents are a key influence upon our values as we grow as children. So, too, is any church or religious background we experience. Our society, our neighbours, friends and colleagues, too, can have an influence upon our values. So, too, can our teachers and our schooling.

Often, school can be a place of conflict for it is there that we experience other values perhaps for the first time. Some of the values we experience in school can be in conflict with or contradict the values of our parents. As we go through high school, we start to experience values in ourselves and our peers that conflict both with school and our parents. Conflicting and unfixed values can be a major problem for adolescent and teenage years.

As we grow in years and experience, our values become more fixed, especially a set of 6 to 10 ‘core’ values. It is these core values that determine what is really important to us as an individual. The surprising thing is that if you ask most people what their values are, many would not be able to give you an answer.

A good many people are leading lives unconnected with their core values. This can lead to a life of unhappiness, discontentment and lack of fulfilment. Sometimes it can lead to conflict. Often the person does not know why their life seems unhappy, unfulfilled and sometimes full of conflict. Often, the cause is that the life they are living is not in accordance with their personal values.

For some people a conflict can arise within them because they are trying to live a life according to the values of a company, an organisation, a religious or political organisation, the values of their friends or colleagues or partner, rather than living a life according to their own core values. In doing this, the values of the other people or organisations are being met but the person’s own values are being left unfulfilled.

Determining Your Personal Values

Option 1 – Start with a List

Keep in mind that this method may subconsciously encourage you to select values you think you should have, rather than those really important to you. The second method, though more difficult initially, may be more accurate and more rewarding.

Start with a list of values – The suggested list is by no means complete and we encourage you to add any values that have meaning for you.

Circle all the words that you respond favourably to whether in fact you are displaying this value now or just wish that you did;

Review your selections and list them in the following categories:

My Core Values – If I don’t follow these values, I’m not happy

Secondary Values – These are values I live by in everyday life. My goal is to live by these values to the best of my ability

Keep reviewing your selection each day for a week and them pin up your core values until you are comfortable that you have a final list.

Option 2 – Build your own list from personal experiences

Think of a brief moment in your experience when life was especially satisfying and rewarding.

  • What were you doing?
  • Who was present?
  • What qualities or values were you displaying?

Repeat this with as many satisfying moments as necessary to form a good list.

Ask yourself, ‘What, in life, is important to me?

Don’t think about your answers (yes, there’s likely to be more than one thing that’s important to you), at least don’t think about them at first. Just write down whatever comes into your head, no matter how strange, amusing or worrying they may seem. These first answers are probably your ‘gut’ or ‘intuitive’ answers; sometimes these are closer to the truth than answers that you ‘think’ about.

Next, think about ‘What is important in life for me?’. Take some time to consider your answers before writing them down in a word or short phrase. Don’t worry if the some of the same answers appear in your first list; – just write them down again.

Identify whether the words you have chosen are potential core values or secondary values as per Option 1.

By doing these simple exercises, you are beginning to discover your personal core values. The next exercise is to ask yourself ‘how do my life, my work and my relationships help fulfil my personal values?’ If you find that they do not help you fulfil your personal values then perhaps you should consider changing your life.

Warm Regards


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