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Identifying core values

Are you living your life in alignment with your values? It’s a pretty big question to tackle, but it’s an important one. Understanding our values, identifying them and living life with them in mind influences the decisions we make and, ultimately, how our life turns out. 

When we’re familiar with our core personal values, they become guiding principles. When we feel lost or unsure, we can come back to them and let them gently show us the way. If you’re ready to learn more, identify your values and start living life in alignment with them, keep reading. 

What are values?

A value is something you believe to be important in the way you live your life, such as honesty, kindness or integrity. Everyone’s personal values will be different and yours will very much depend on who you are. Sometimes values are learnt from parents, teachers or other important people in your life. 

Our values can change as we grow older and learn more about the world we live in and think more about how we want to live. Your values may have changed over time and this is why checking in often with your values is a helpful exercise.

When we make decisions with our values in mind, things tend to flow better. Even if the outcome isn’t what you hoped, you know you did what was right for you. When you start making decisions that conflict with your values, however, things can feel disjointed and you may notice a negative effect. 

Why identifying your values is important

Many of us will go through life not really thinking about our values consciously. Perhaps we’ll know them at a gut level and notice when we’re going against our values (when our intuition tells us something feels wrong) but we’ll likely shrug it off and keep going. 

When we spend time consciously thinking about our values, however, we develop more self-awareness and can make decisions with greater confidence. If we find ourselves in a demanding job that takes over our personal life but one of our values is family, we know we’ll be happier in a job that allows for quality family time. If a core value of ours is creativity but we’ve not had the space to create, we know this is something to prioritise if we want to be happy. 

Put it this way: if life’s a journey, our values are helpful signposts, offering suggestions for smoother routes (with better views). Consciously identifying our values paints these signposts in neon yellow, making them hard to miss. 

When your values are compromised by external factors, your inner self is suffocated, and that naturally expresses itself in negative emotions. Identifying your values and making the link between them and situations that leave you feeling negative is one of the most important steps you can take towards positivity.

- Sue Belton PgD, CPCC, PCC - Leadership and Life Coach

Woman looking at map

How to identify your core values

You may think when it comes to figuring out which values are important to you that it’s simply a case of sitting down and having a think. While this may work for some, we encourage you to go a little deeper. Below is an exercise with some prompts to take you through the whole process of identifying your core values. 

If you’ve done a similar exercise in the past, make a note to check in again in the future. It may be something you do on a yearly basis, considering which values you want to prioritise in the upcoming year. You may want to check in more regularly than that. The process, just like your values, is personal and it’s important to do what feels right to you. 

Reflect on your past 

Looking back is a wonderful way to understand how best to move forward. Get a notebook and pen out and take some time to reflect. Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What time in your life have you been the happiest?
  • When have you most felt fulfilled or proud?
  • What time in your life have you struggled with the most?

With each answer, peel back the layers to reveal what made these times good or tough. Who was around you? What were you doing with your days? What values or conflict of values do you think were driving these feelings?

Look to those you admire

This idea comes from Dr Steven Hays, the founder of acceptance and commitment therapy, who recommends naming your heroes to help identify your values. Now is the time to look externally at those you admire. These people may be those you know personally, perhaps friends, family or work colleagues, or they may be people you’ve never met like celebrities, influencers or other role models. 

Write down what it is you admire about them and consider what values they embody to you.

Man writing in notebook 

Create a list of your top five values

Hopefully, by now you should be spotting patterns and values that feel important to you. Try to create a list of your top five values that you want to focus on now and remember, you can come back and revisit these whenever you want - nothing is set in stone.

It may help to look at a list of value ideas to help you put a name to the value. Here are some to get you thinking:

  • joy
  • creativity
  • loyalty
  • integrity
  • balance
  • reliability
  • simplicity
  • compassion
  • growth
  • health
  • passion
  • trustworthiness

Prioritise your values

This can be a difficult step, but it really helps. Now you have five values noted down, think about which you want to prioritise. Try asking yourself, ‘If I could only embody one of these values, which would it be?’ then keep going through the list, comparing each value with the other values in your list until you have them in priority order. 

This step may prompt you to edit your list down to focus on the top three. This is up to you. Once you have your values, put them on display somewhere you’ll see them every day. You may want to find a quote relating to your top value and put it as a wallpaper on your phone so you see it regularly. You may want to write your list on a post-it note and put it by your mirror where you get ready every morning. You may even want to take these values and use them as a jumping-off point to create a vision board.

Experiment with different ways of reminding yourself of your values and see what works best. Then set a reminder in your phone to check back and repeat this exercise in the future. 

Looking at your life choices through the lens of your values can give you a deeper understanding of why something works or doesn’t work well for you. This can help to guide your decision on your next move.

- Toni Horton, life coach

Living in alignment with your values

The exercise of identifying your values is the easy part. It’s what you do moving forwards with this knowledge that counts. Now you know which values can guide you to happiness and fulfilment, it’s time to live your life in alignment with them.

Take some time to look at the different areas of your life and ask yourself if your values are present there (you may find our wheel of life tool helpful for this). If they’re not, think about ways you can change this and bring your values into your daily life.

You may also find it helpful to bring your values into your self-reflection practice. You could add a prompt about your values to your regular journaling practice, use a value as a guiding word during meditation or even consider your values when performing a tarot spread. The aim here is to bring your values into your awareness as much as possible.

If you’re getting stuck at this point, don’t worry. This is often the trickiest part - joining intention with action to make change. For many, speaking to a coach can help here. Life coaches are trained to help you make changes and fulfil your true potential in any area of your life. Offering support and accountability they can help you live your life aligned with your values and develop the courage you need to make any changes. 

Hopefully, now you’re feeling well equipped to make a start and experience the flow that comes when you live a life aligned with your values. Enjoy it and come back to your values any time you feel lost. 

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