Why your values matter and three questions to identify them
Values are so foundational that I start all of my coaching relationships by exploring them, but it’s one of those words that can feel a little vague. So, what are they? Well basically, they’re the intangible things that make you tick, the things that feel really important to you.
They can be anything from fairness, calmness, honesty, respect and connection, to humour, adventure and inspiration. Some are pretty universal but how you define them and which ones you prioritise is unique to you.
When values aren't honoured
My clients often start coaching when they’ve reached a crunch point of important values of theirs being squashed or dishonoured. For many of us, if deep connection is a value, not being able to connect as fully as we’d like to during lockdown is an example of this. When values can’t be honoured we feel disjointed and out of sorts, with that sense of things just not being “right” for us.
An example of this happening at work, is what happened to a client who valued harmony and productivity. She started coaching when she found herself in a situation where two senior leaders were so busy constantly disagreeing that it prevented her from meeting her objectives. After raising this but not seeing any change, she chose to move on and is now happier in a company where conflict is resolved before it escalates (harmony) and she can get on with doing a good job (productivity).
Identifying your values
Knowing your values is key to your fulfilment, so how do you identify them? I ask all of my clients three key questions. Try asking yourself these, or preferably, get someone else to ask them, and help you to talk through your answers.
Who do you admire and what is it that you admire about them?
This can be anyone, from a friend, family member or work colleague to someone famous or a historical or fictional character. What we pick up on and admire in others is generally something we value. You might admire someone who’s adventurous and always seems to be learning but feel you’re not the same. This doesn’t mean that those values aren’t important to you, it’s just that you may have lost touch with them.
What annoys you? What do you dislike?
Like the client I mentioned earlier, most of us find ourselves reacting to behaviour that we think is “wrong”, from queue jumping to untidiness or more serious behaviour like bullying. The trick is to flip over the behaviour and look for the value that’s being “squashed”. If queue jumpers wind you up, chances are you value fairness and consideration and if you don’t like messiness you probably place a high value on organisation and structure. What bothers you that’s suppressing a value of yours?
What was a peak moment in your life? What was happening?
From sitting on a beach watching a beautiful sunset to feeling really in your flow in the middle of making a presentation, our memories of great moments hold clues to our values. Peace, calm and nature could be found in the sunrise moment and communication, connection and challenge in the presentation. So, when have you felt that everything was going really well and you felt just right? Try to make it a specific moment.
Your core values
Once you’ve answered those questions take a look at the values that have come up and notice if there are some which feel so close to each other that they sit together. Then give yourself some time to consider the five values which feel as though they matter the most to you.
Knowing the five “core” values that it’s essential for you to honour in your life, means you have an internal compass to guide you in all situations.
How far are you living your values?
It’s also good to look across all of your values and rate how far you’re living them. As the extent to which you’re living some values can vary a lot between your work and personal life, it’s best to rate them separately for each area. Use a scale where one is “I’m not living this value at all at the moment” and 10 is “I fully live this value”. Go with your instinctive response, there’s no need to agonise. This is just about giving yourself a feel for the values that you’re living and the ones that might need some attention.
If you’d like to live a couple of the values that come out with a low score more fully, think about an action or two that you can take to help you do this. For example, if you value learning but you’ve scored it at a two, think about something you’d like to know more about and start by just watching something on YouTube or a TED talk.
Living your values more fully doesn’t have to be about a really big commitment. A small action will make you feel better and you can build towards bigger commitments later if you’d like to.
It’s also worth saying that you can’t always live all of your values at a full on “10”, not least of all because they sometimes feel as though they can contradict each other – you might value both honesty and harmony and have to accept that harmony might be temporarily disrupted if you provide very honest feedback to someone.
To wrap things up
Knowing your values and identifying your core values gives you a strong internal compass. And making a conscious choice to live certain values gives you a feeling of fulfilment and that your life is on the right track. I hope this helps you to explore them!