Core values are the guiding principles that shape our decisions and actions. They reflect what we hold dear and provide a compass for navigating life’s ups and downs. In this post, I provide you with examples of values to help you work through this 3-step process.
Personally, I’ve been doing this exercise at least once a year for about 15 years. While the final list of core values isn’t always the same each year, it’s pretty consistent with some minor tweaks stemming from changes in my life circumstances. 15 years ago, I had three young children and a car seat in my mini-van; now my oldest has his own home and is planning a wedding, my middle child travels the world and only lives with me a few months a year, and my youngest is visiting colleges. Accordingly, my focus has adjusted a bit.
Identifying and living by our core values can bring a sense of purpose and fulfillment, helping us to build meaningful relationships and pursue our goals with confidence. It can be a deeply personal and emotional process, but one that is well worth the effort. Remember, there are no right or wrong values – only those that are true to you.
Core Values – Preparation
Before we get to the nitty-gritty of reading through all the values and deciding which ones represent our personal beliefs, let’s talk about the importance of getting your head in the right space.
Discovering your core values is a personal journey, and it’s okay to take your time. Don’t rush through the prep-work. Take a few minutes with each prompt (or longer) and really feel the emotions and thoughts that surface. So go ahead and settle in, get comfortable, and take all the time you need.
Prompt 1: Think About Who You Admire
Who do you admire and what are their qualities. Perhaps it’s their kindness, their resilience, or their ability to listen and empathize with others. Take the time to reflect on why these qualities are important to you and how you can work to cultivate them in yourself.
Prompt 2: Consider What Inspires You to Take Action
What issues or causes do you feel strongly about? What motivates you to make a difference in the world? Reflect on these questions and consider how they relate to your personal values. Consider both external and internal factors. External factors might include issues such as social justice, environmental sustainability, or child welfare. Internal factors might include personal growth, creativity, or self-expression.
Prompt 3: Reflect on When You Feel Most Like Yourself
Think about the times when you feel the most authentic and true to who you are. What activities or situations bring you the most joy and fulfillment? Once you have identified these moments, consider what values they represent. For example, if you feel most like yourself when spending time with family, perhaps the value of “family” is important to you. If you feel most fulfilled when helping others, perhaps “compassion” or “altruism” are core values for you.
Step 1: Core Values – Quick Pass Through
The next step may seem overwhelming, but I want you to have fun with it. Don’t think too much and trust your gut. Below is a list of 195 values and a few spaces to add any you feel are missing.
Scan through the words and highlight any that immediately catch your attention or spark a sense of resonance within you. This is a first step in a personal journey of self-discovery.
Even though all these values may seem worthy of attention, we are looking for your top values. For example, maybe “competence” is important in as much as you don’t want to be “incompetent”, but it is not something that rumbles in the background of your mind when making decisions.
The goal of Step 1 is to reduce the list to 25 to 50 words. Below is an example of the list after the first pass. Note that “Parenting” was added. Feel free to add a value you hold close to your heart if you don’t feel it is accurately represented by the words provided. Again, this is a personal journey and you are allowed to color outside the lines.
After completing this first step, you may start to see some patterns. In the next step, you will refine the list even further by combining values you consider synonyms.
Note: James Clear provides a shorter list of values you could also consider.
Step 2: Core Values – Remove Your Synonyms
After defining your new, reduced list of values, I want you to go through the list using the Second Step worksheet to identify any values that seem to be the same.
For example if both “Freedom” and “Independence” are on your list, are those two terms representing the same idea according to your values. It’s okay if you see them as separate values. However, if they mean about the same to you, choose the word that best represents your personal opinion. The goals is to eliminate any words that you feel represent the same idea.
In the example below, you can see the process of using the selected words in Step 1. Start with the first word on the list. In the example, “Achievement” went into the first box. Consider the next word, “Adventure”. Does “Adventure” mean the same thing to you as “Achievement”? If it does not, put “Adventure” in the second box. Repeat this process for each word on your list from Step 1. Notice that “Exploration” represents the same idea as “Adventure” to this person. Therefore, both words would go into the same box.
The goal is to ensure that each box represents the same idea. As a rule of thumb, if a box contains 4, 5, or even 6 words, it may be one of your core values.
After putting all the words into a box, go through each box that contains multiple words and highlight the one that best defines your idea of the personal value. In this example, “Adventure” was a better description of the sought-after value than “Exploration”.
Step 3: Core Values – Refine, Refine, Refine
Copy up to 12 items into the Third Step worksheet. This step may feel cut-throat because all the values may seem like important parts of your life. However, the goal is to reduce your final list to 4 to 6 words that best represent your personal core values.
Go through the list and try to eliminate 2 values that least represent your core beliefs. Copy the remaining values to the next column. Repeat the elimination process until you arrive at your final words. Remember, all the values may seem important, but we want to focus on your top 4.
The following example demonstrates that, after the first pass, “Parenting” and “Playfulness” were removed. Although both of these values have merit, they were not representative of this person’s internal core values.
I hope this step-by-step guide has been helpful in your journey to discovering your core values. Remember, this is a deeply personal and emotional process, and it’s okay if your list of core values changes over time. The important thing is that you stay true to yourself and use your values as a compass for navigating life’s ups and downs.
I encourage you to take the time to reflect on your personal values and beliefs, and to incorporate them into your daily life. By doing so, you can build meaningful relationships, pursue your goals with confidence, and live a more fulfilling life.
Discovering your core values is a personal journey and Dr. Guess is here to help you navigate.