7 Steps to Discover Your Personal Core Values
OVERVIEW: This guide provides step-by-step instructions on how to discover your personal core values and to use personal values in meaningful ways.
Two Essential Personal Development Tools for Lasting Change
While willpower is an essential element of creating positive change in our lives, but the reality is that it has its limitations: that is, our mental energy is finite.
And so when it comes to changing your behaviour and making it stick, being consistent in your personal development journey, taking action on your goals despite the feeling of discomfort, as a coach, I’ve found there to be two essential ingredients:
- A personal vision for your Future Self that guides you forward
- A clear set of personal values that highlight your ideal behaviour
Armed with vision and values, it’s way easier to make behavioural changes and be inspired to take uncomfortable actions on your aligned goals.
So in this post, I will be talking about how to create your personal core values.
Read: How To Create Your Personal Vision Statement
I appreciate the power of values.
I’ve noticed that individuals experience greater fulfilment when they live by their values and when their vision aligns with their values.
And when we don’t honour our values, our mental, emotional, and physical state suffers. I’ve seen this to be true in my life too.
What follows is a self-coaching tool to help you discover your personal core values.
Let’s jump in …
Why Personal Core Values Are Important
Values are a part of us. They highlight what we stand for.
Values guide our behaviour, providing us with a personal code of conduct.
When we honour our personal core values consistently, we experience satisfaction.
When we don’t, we are incongruent and are more likely to escape into bad habits and regress into childish behaviour to uplift ourselves.
Knowing Your Personal Values Changes Your Behavior
Many people value comfort. When people value comfort over growth, they are less likely to apply effort to grow. Breaking through resistance to growth isn’t uncomfortable.
Consider what happens when people value comfort over their health. Eating to “feel better” will cause poor eating habits that undermine their health.
When you value one thing over another, it shows in your behaviour or actions.
Discover Your Personal Core Values
Most of us don’t know our values. We don’t understand what’s most important to us. Instead, we focus on what our society, culture, and media values.
Can you articulate your top 5 to 10 values that are most important to you?
Without undergoing a discovery process, it’s challenging to identify your personal core values.
It’s easy to speculate and idealize what you should value. But knowing and accepting what you value takes effort.
Ready? Take out your journal, a notepad, or a note-taking app. And let’s get started.
Here are 7 steps to creating distinct and meaningful core values that will serve you in every area of your life and work:
STEP 1: Start with a Beginner’s Mind
It’s too easy to presume that we know the answer at the start and to, therefore, never embark on a creative, personal discovery process.
Adopt the mind of a beginner—someone with no preconceived notions of what is—to give you access to inner truths to which your conscious mind is yet unaware.
Take a deep breath and empty your mind.
Getting in the right mental and emotional state is an essential first step.
STEP 2: Create Your List of Personal Values
Arriving at a concise and short list of personal values can be a daunting task. You can find lists online with almost 400 values to choose from.
However, I don’t advise using any predetermined lists.
Why? Values aren’t selected; we discover and reveal them. If you start with a list, your conscious mind will test which values appear “better” than others.
To help you uncover your own personal core values, here are three processes you can try:
1) Peak Experiences
Consider a meaningful, satisfying and fulfilling moment in your life—a peak experience that stands out.
What was happening to you?
What was going on?
What values were you honouring at this time?
2) Suppressed Values
Now, go in the opposite direction; consider a time when you got angry, frustrated, or upset or failed.
What was going on? What were you feeling? Now flip those feelings around.
What value is being suppressed?
3) Code of Conduct
What’s most important in your life? Beyond your basic human needs, what must you have in your life to experience fulfilment?
What are the personal values you must honour or a part of you withers?
STEP 3: Chunk Your Personal Values into Related Groups
Combining all the answers from step 2, you now have a master list of personal values. Maybe there are between 20 and 40 values on your list.
That’s too many to be actionable.
Your next step is to group these values under related themes.
Values like accountability, responsibility, and timeliness are all related.
Values like learning, growth, and development relate to each other.
Connection, belonging, and intimacy is related too. Group them together.
STEP 4: Highlight the Central Theme of Each Value Group
If you have a group of values that include honesty, transparency, integrity, candor, directness, and truth, select a word that best represents the group.
For example, integrity might work as a central theme for the values I listed.
You can keep the other words in the group in parentheses to give your primary value more context. You’ll use them again in step 6.
STEP 5: Determine Your Top Personal Core Values
Now comes the hardest part. After completing step 4, you still may have a sizable list of values. Here are a few questions to help you whittle your list down:
- What values are essential to your life?
- What values represent your primary way of being?
- What values are essential to supporting your inner self?
- What values are essential to supporting your life’s vision and goals?
As a unique individual, you possess certain strengths and weaknesses. Your values matter most to you.
How many core values should you end up with? Too few and you won’t capture all the unique dimensions of your being. Too many and you’ll forget them or won’t take advantage of them.
While the number of core values differs for each person, the magic range seems to be between 5 and 10.
Rank them in the order of importance. This is often the most challenging part.
You may need to do this step in multiple sittings. After doing one round of ranking put it aside and “sleep on it.”
Revisit your ranking the next day and see how it sits with you. Then, go through the process again.
STEP 6: Give Your Personal Values Richer Context
Now, creativity comes into play.
Highlighting values into memorable phrases or sentences helps you articulate the meaning behind each value.
It gives you the opportunity to make the value more emotional and memorable.
Here are a few tips and guidelines for crafting your values statements:
- Use inspiring words and vocabulary. Our brains are quick to delete or ignore the mundane and commonplace.
- Mine for words that evoke and trigger emotional responses. They will be more meaningful and memorable.
- Play to your strengths in crafting your values.
- Make your value statements rich and meaningful to you so they inspire you to uphold them.
You could use other words from the groupings you made in step 3 in your description.
For example, let’s say you’ve identified a core value of health to represent other values, like energy and vitality.
Your values statement might be: “Health: to live with full vitality and energy every day.”
STEP 7: Test the Ecology of Each Value
Once you’ve completed your list of core values, walk away from them and revisit them the next day after a good night’s sleep. Review your list:
- How do they make you feel?
- Do you feel they are consistent with who you are?
- Are they personal to you?
- Do you see any values that feel inconsistent with your identity (as if they belong to someone else, like an authority figure or society) and not you?
- Check your priority ranking. Do you feel like your values are in the proper order of importance?
Nothing is final. Make any tweaks and changes as necessary.
Are You Living Your Personal Values?
Now you have a prioritized list of your top 5 to 10 core values, let’s see how well you’re living them.
Assess how well you’re honouring each value by scoring each one on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 represents optimally living the value.
What’s your level of satisfaction with each value?
Record your score for each. You can set up a table in Excel or an online survey.
Date the top of the column. Repeat this exercise once a month or quarter to assess your progress.
If you score below 7 in a particular value, what changes do you need to make? What has to happen for you to further honour this value?
Here’s where self-coaching comes into play. Define your goals. Create a plan. Actualize it.
Check in with your personal values again. Notice if you feel a difference in your level of fulfillment in life.
How to Use Your Core Values to Make Decisions
Knowing your personal core values and their order of priority is helpful in making difficult decisions.
Start by scoring your values as described above. Then, imagine your life several months or years from now having decided.
For example, what will your new business or a family change your life?
Step into this future picture as much as you can. Have it come alive in your mind.
Now, score your personal values while keeping the vision alive in your mind. Does deciding elevate your values score? Does it cause friction with one of your higher values?
This process will help bring a new level of clarity to your decision-making process.