SALT LAKE CITY — As a human behavior expert and master life coach for almost 20 years, I have come to believe that the main drivers of our behavior are our core fears and our core values. Your fears and values are both deeply held beliefs that drive your perspectives and how you see the world, which drives your choices.
In many of my KSL articles, I have written about the two core fears we all have: fear of failure and fear of loss. These fears drive many of our choices and behaviors, but they aren't everything. Your core values also influence every decision you make. There is great power in finding and claiming your unique core values, as doing so could make a significant difference in your life.
Your core values, whether you know them consciously or they play out subconsciously, form the basis of your self-esteem, the kinds of relationships you choose to be in, how fulfilled you are in your work, and your general sense of purpose and happiness.
If you highly value connection but have a job that means working alone in a cubicle all day, you might not be very happy in your career. If you don't have many friends, that could make you feel like a failure and lower your self-worth. But a person who values hard work more than connection might be very happy in both those situations, for example.
If you don't consciously know what your core values are, you might find your life lacks meaning. You might be living by rules or values that other people have either given or pushed upon you. If you live like this, you might feel like you're betraying yourself all the time and you probably won't feel satisfied. You might also be choosing relationships or partners that aren't right for you.
Why should I define my core values?
Here are some of the benefits that come from consciously defining your core values:
- You will understand what's happening when you feel discontent. Feeling out of sorts often means you are not living authentically and congruently. Knowing your core values helps you understand how to be true to yourself.
- You will be happier with your choices long-term if you check them against your core values. I wrote another KSL article about making value-based decisions you could also read.
- You will have more confidence. Your core values help you know who you are and be proud of yourself. As you live those values, you will feel better and better.
- You will trust yourself more. You won't be swayed by approval or what other people think. You will recognize what's consistent with your values and choose that.
- You will need less validation from others. You will feel more purpose in life and won't need anything from others to feel good about yourself.
- You will know what you want. Your values will make what's important to you clear. Then you can choose friends, partners and careers that fit.
- You will live more authenticity. Your values make you different, unique and authentically you. If you don't know what your values are, you might live to please others instead.
- You will understand your choices and behavior and why you react to situations the way you do. This will help you to be aware and mindful of your behavior and make sure you are being who you want to be.
How do I define my core values?
Now that you understand the benefits of knowing your core values, I will give you a process for finding your values and claiming them. This will require some journaling and some uninterrupted time, but it will be worth the effort. Take time to really think about and answer the following questions and follow the process to the end.
- Identify the most fulfilling, happy, meaningful moments in your life. What was happening and what values did you experience then?
- Write down a list of the things that are most important to you in your life.
- What qualities do you most admire in other people? Make a list of people you admire and the qualities they possess that you would like to have more of. Those qualities are some of your values.
- Identify some of the most difficult, uncomfortable, distressing moments in your life when you felt upset. What was happening and what values were being dishonored?
- What are the situations when you get triggered, angry or feel out of balance? What is happening in those situations and what values are the people involved not honoring?
- Find a list of core values that you can read through and circle ones that really resonate with your heart and soul.
- See if you can group some of the value words you have written down so far into categories. Some of them might mean similar things. Find the words that best describe what you value.
- See if you can narrow your list down to a top 10. Make sure these are your authentic values and not values society or other people have taught you "should" choose.
- Have a "values playoff." Rank those 10 in order with the most important value to you as No. 1 and the least important No. 10. This will be difficult and take some time and thought. You will have to make some tough decisions; but in the end, the Top 5 are probably your biggest core values.
- Write those values on a piece of paper and post it somewhere you will see it every day. Think about whether you are living those values each day and what you could do to embody them more. You may even find there are some changes you need to make as you start to apply the values in your life.
- You might also watch for ways that you are not living your values and see if changes need to be made. The more congruent you live with your value system the happier you will feel.
I promise taking the time to figure out your value system will bring clarity, maturity and peace to your life.
You can do this.