How To Discover Your Core Values
Think of a major decision you have made recently. If you dig deep enough, I can say with near certainty that core values were the REAL directors behind that decision.
Interestingly, we rarely take the time to examine and articulate our core values. Our every day decisions (big or small), preferences, and biases are guided by core values, whether we are conscious of this process or not.
For many of us, naming the values behind our decisions can be tricky because we simply haven’t though about ourselves this way before.
Until, of course, we land in situations where it becomes really important to have a good grasp of your core values! For example: choosing a life partner, making investments and big purchases, setting boundaries, deciding whether a certain lifestyle is right for you etc.
If you are in any of those boats, this post should be particularly relevant!
In this post, we are exploring the following questions:
What are core values?
How do they affect our behaviours and decision-making?
How can I discover my own core values?
Let’s get into it 🙂
What Are Values?
Values can be defined as the guiding principles of our lives. They are principles that give our lives meaning and also help us determine what is and is not important to us. In many ways, values are a life compass pointing to our true North.
Here are some other characteristics of values:
- Values are indicators of our truest selves- not who we think we SHOULD be or what others want us to be, but who we ARE
- Values show us what we will and will not stand for in life- they help us draw the line and determine what our boundaries are and what we are willing to accept
- Values are our guideposts- they direct our behaviour and give us a personal code of conduct
- Values remind us of what we want more of in life
When articulating values, seeing examples really helps! It encourages that big-picture mindset we need to dig deep and identify the guiding principles behind our decisions.
Here is a NON-EXHAUSTIVE (seriously, there are SO many more values we could have included here) to kick start that thought process. As you read through this list, think about which of these values resonate with you. Which of these do you already see reflected in your life? Which ones are you aspiring towards?
Family, Punctuality, Fairness, Creativity, Community, Faith, Fitness, Achievement, Ambition, Competition, Self-Actualization, Passion, Confidence, Education, Service, Risk-taking, Adventure, Pets, Stability, Spontaneity, Honesty, Humour, Simplicity, Minimalism, Consistency, Communication, Reciprocity, Commitment, Generosity, Perseverance, Conscientiousness, Openness, Acceptance, Calmness, environmental issues, INdependence, freedom, self-awareness, loyalty, challenge, reputation, trustworthiness, recognition, flexibility, reward, financial stability
The Impact of Values On Your Life
When we live our values and honour them, we tend to experience fulfillment.
When we do not honour our core values, we tend to feel discontent, restless, and unhappy. Living a life that does not align with our values can lead to making decisions and having boundaries that do not truly reflect our needs and wants.
Having said that, living in alignment with our values doesn’t happy right away because those values have to first develop and be reinforced by the decisions we make in life! For example, you may not realize that you value creativity until you experience a job environment that stifles your ability to be creative. After learning this, you may actively seek out work that allows your creative side to flourish.
Some values are more central to our happiness and fulfillment in life. For example, you may value punctuality in yourself and others. Punctuality, however, is unlikely to guide big decisions in your life. If you value commitment on the other hand, it affects the way you approach all your relationships, tasks, and projects.
Certain values also tend to create ripple effects in our day-to-day lives. For example, if we choose to prioritize the value of health and well-being, we may begin to shift the way we eat, commute to work, and and consume both media and social media.
Values And Decision-Making
According to Brene Brown, making decisions becomes much easier when you are aware of your core values. Often, that conflicting feeling of indecision is rooted one or more of the options pushing back against our values.
When we choose not to negotiate our values, the process of eliminating options that are not in alignment with our life principles becomes easier. For example, if you are on the fence about whether to take things to the next level with a potential partner, reflect on the values that are non-negotiable for you and see how your potential partner fits with them. This process will most likely amplify any congruence (or incongruence) in your values and the decision a lot simpler.
How To Discover Your Own Core Values
Now that we understand what core values are and how they affect our lives, let’s explore how to go about determining your OWN core values.
This process requires a fair amount of reflection, but once you can identify what is important to you, life becomes less complicated. With your blueprint in hand, you can decide what kind of life you want to build and who fits into it best. In other words, it’s a worthwhile endeavour 🙂 Let’s get started.
Step 1: Let’s Do Some Structured Self-Reflection
Before we start reflecting, try adopting a beginner’s mindset. Pretend you don’t know a lot about yourself. This temporary mindset shift allows us to be CURIOUS about our experiences.
Now with your beginners’s mindset, think about the moments in your life that were the most meaningful to you, or the ones you consider to be a highlight of your life.
Here are a few guiding questions to help you along:
- What were you doing in those moments?
- Who was around you?
- Did you feel content? What values can you trace those feelings of fulfillment or contentment to?
Step 2: Reflect On The Hard, Frustrating Times
Now let’s go in the opposite direction: Think about times in your life you felt angry, frustrated, or unhappy.
What values do you think were being suppressed at those times in your life?
For example, perhaps you recall a time when you felt frustrated with your spouse. Think about those interactions- what values are they pointing you towards that you weren’t able to live? Perhaps you felt frustrated because you felt your spouse was not fulfilling their earning potential- this shows that you value ambition, and financial abundance.
Step 3: Consider What Brings You Fulfillment
Go beyond the basic needs for this one- what do you feel you need to experience fulfillment (not just basic satisfaction, but true whole-hearted fulfillment)?
Do you need to express yourself creatively?
Go on spontaneous adventures?
Be surrounded be people you care about?
Think about the things that you COULD possibly do without, but it would make you feel feel hollow and incomplete.
These point to the things that are important to you!
Save this IG post summarizing these 3 steps below:
Values are our guideposts! While the process of discovering and articulating them can seem intimidating, keep in mind that you are likely already living your values. Naming them gives you a chance to reflect on who (or why not) you live the way you do.
This is powerful stuff- a person who doesn’t compromise on their values is a person who is more likely to honour boundaries, know what they want from life, and also work towards achieving it.
I want to hear from you: What situations in life have caused you to reflect more deeply on your values?
Until next time!
Sarah Ahmed is the co-founder and a psychotherapist at WellNest Psychotherapy Services. Sarah strongly favors an integrative, trauma-informed, client-centered approach to create a healthy alliance with clients and their loved ones.