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How to discover your values

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We often hear that we need to ‘live according to our values’, but what if you don’t know what your values are, or even where to begin to discover them?

What exactly does ‘core values’ mean? What changes do these bring to our wellbeing and sense of purpose? In my individual coaching sessions, I have been asked these questions many times. I believe that by living in accordance with our values, we are more likely to be happy and at peace, and also understand our fellow humans better. Our core values are very personal to us, and we all have slightly different ones. Let me give you some examples.

What Are Core Values?

Let’s say that one of your top values is Financial Stability. You are most likely to feel comfortable in a job where you are stable, where you can save money, and where you can build a nest egg. Working in a company where you don’t have this stability may make you feel uncomfortable and out of alignment.

For some of you, growth may be a core value. You may well feel stifled if you’re not learning new things or are working for a company where there is no career progression.

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Does that mean you should routinely change jobs if you’re doing the same thing day after day? Not necessary. Once you recognise your core values, you may be able to counteract this, with further studies after, or unrelated to, work.

Finally, some may value home more than travel, so having a stable home life may be more important than exploring the world. There is no right or wrong option – only dependent on what each individual’s core values are.

Why Is It Important To Recognise Your Values?

For periods of time, we can live without aligning to our values, but this can lead to significant stress and unhappiness in the long term.

By taking the time to discover what is important to us, our decision-making and lives will be in accordance with our values, and not those of others. This will help us find meaning and purpose in everything we do. It will also help us spend more time on the things that we love and make us happy.

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This also helps us to have closer and more fulfilling relationships. By understanding what is important to others, we can identify why there might be differences of opinion, and so compromise where we need to, and find people who share our values.

Does living by personal values make us too individualistic and turn us away from being what we are by nature, i.e., social animals? Not really. Even though our core values are personal to us, they will have been formed by our own experiences, observations and interactions with family, colleagues or society at large. And it’s only by being constructively selfish that we can truly benefit others as well.

Do Personal Values Also Influence Professional Decisions?

Needless to say, core values can influence ALL our key decisions, whether personal or professional. These decisions could include: 

  • Should I take this job if the company’s values are not in alignment with mine?
  • Should I apply for a promotion?
  • Should I take a career break?
  • Do I want children?
  • Should I get married?

With decisions this life-changing depending on our core values, how can we go about discovering what our values are?

While not exhaustive, here is a list of core values. As you go through this, there may be others that you feel are more important and wish to add. For instance, in my coaching sessions, confidence and courage often pop up as a core value.

You will need to set aside some quiet time to do this exercise properly.  There are four parts, and each should take around 10 minutes.  

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1. Finding Your Core Values: Reflection

Firstly, review the list and think about what you feel energised and inspired by. What values make you feel good when you think about them? What are the must-haves, the non-negotiables? Which would you look for in a friend or partner? Which would you use to describe yourself?

2. Finding Your Core Values:

Go through and cross out any that don’t resonate with you in this way. Go with your gut, be honest, and make sure these are yours alone. You don’t have to share this with anyone, and don’t be surprised if you pick some that are unexpected. Don’t think about this for too long.  

When you have done the first run through, go through again and put a star by those that are really important to you. You can combine some if you need to, and continue to cross others out (for example, I combined Humour and Joy, as these are very similar for me). Keep doing this until you are left with around 10. Remember, this list is not exhaustive and can be added to as required.

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3. Finding Your Core Values:

Arrange your list of 10 by order of importance, starting with the most important. To do this, you may compare one against another – is achievement more important than recognition? Is love more important than trust? Keep doing this until you have your 10 values in a list that you are comfortable with.

4. Finding Your Core Values:
Sense Checking

Now ask yourself some questions.

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If you were to get to 80 years old and look back on your life, would you feel that you have lived in accordance with these? Do you feel they describe you well? Does everything on this list make you feel happy?

Now you know your top 10, you can start to use these when you make important decisions or face challenging situations. Not all your values will always be met, but by aligning with as many as possible, you are more likely to make decisions that fulfil you and make you happy.

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