Seven Steps For Uncovering Your Core Values
This blog post provides step-by-step instructions on how to discover your core values and to use personal values in meaningful ways.
Working as a life coach, I have observed that individuals experience greater fulfillment when they live in alignment with their core values. On the flip side, when we don’t honor our values, our mental, emotional, and physical state suffers.
Values are a core aspect of who we are and our identity. Values communicate what we stand for and represent our unique, individual core. Values guide our behavior, provide us with our code of conduct, and define our aspirations of who we ideally want to be and become.
When we honor our core values consistently, we experience fulfillment. When we don’t, we are out of sync with ourselves and are more likely to return to bad habits and can sometimes procrastinate.
How to Explore Your 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 society, culture, and media values.
Are you able to articulate your top 5 to 10 values that are most important to you? Without undergoing a discovery process, it’s challenging to identify your core values.
It’s easy to speculate and idealize what you should value-- however, accepting what you value takes effort and time to explore.
This value exploration process is most effective when you work with a qualified coach, but you can also explore values on your own as long as you are honest with yourself, patient, and determined.
Take out your journal, a notepad, or a note-taking app. And let’s get started. There are seven 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.
Getting in the right mental and emotional state is an essential first step. Adopt the mindset of a beginner, as if you have no preconceived notions of what is. This will give you access to inner truths that the conscious mind is not yet aware of.
Take a deep breath and clear your mind. Remind yourself that your conscious mind doesn’t have all the answers. Mentally prepare a space for new insights and revelations to emerge.
Step 2: Create Your List of Personal Values
Arriving at a concise and shortlist of personal values can be a daunting task. You can find lists online with almost 230 values to choose from below.
I recommend not using a predetermined list of values. 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. However, if you’re not familiar with working with values, you can scan a list of values to get a sense of your range of options. Reviewing the list below will prime you to contemplate the realm of personal values.
To help you uncover your core values, here are three processes you can try:
1) Peak Experiences
- Consider a meaningful moment—a peak experience that stands out.
- What was happening to you?
- What was going on?
- What values were you honoring at this time?
2) Suppressed Values
- Now, go in the opposite direction; consider a time when you got angry, frustrated, or upset.
- What was going on?
- What were you feeling? Now flip those feelings around.
- What value is being suppressed?
3) Code of Conduct
- Ask yourself what’s most important in your life? Beyond your basic human needs, what must you have in your life to experience fulfillment?
- Creative self-expression?
- A reliable level of health and vitality?
- A sense of excitement and adventure?
- Does beauty surround you?
- Are you always learning?
4) The Values You Must Honor
- What are the personal values you must honor or a part of you withers?
Step 3: Sort Your Values into Groups or Themes
Combining all the answers from step 2, you now have a master list of personal values. You may typically have between twenty and forty 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.
Step 4: Sort Your Values into Themes
If you have a theme of values that include honesty, transparency, integrity, openness, directness, and truth, select a word that best represents the theme.
For example, “Professionalism” might work as a central theme for your values.
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
After completing step 4, you still may have a long list of values. Focus by asking yourself a few questions that will help you edit your list:
- What values are essential to your life?
- What values represent your primary way of being?
- What values are essential to supporting your inner self?
How many core values should you end up with? (5-10)
- 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 is different for everyone, the magic range seems to be between 5 and 10.
Rank them in the order of importance. This can be the most challenging step but stick with it and make some gut decisions.
- 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 until you reach a point where the list of core values resonates with you.
Step 6: Give Your Personal Values Richer Context
Highlighting values into memorable phrases or sentences helps articulate the meaning behind each value for yourself. This process allows you to make the value more emotional and memorable.
Here are a few tips and guidelines for crafting your values statements:
- You could use other words from the groupings you made in step 3 in your description.]
- Use inspiring words and vocabulary. Our brains are quick to delete or ignore the mundane and commonplace.
- Play to your strengths in crafting your values.
- Make your value statements rich and meaningful to you, so they inspire you to uphold them.
- Dig deep for words that evoke and trigger emotional responses. They will be more meaningful and memorable.
For example, you could 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 Each Value
Once you’ve completed your list of core values, take a break. 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?
Make as many changes as you feel are necessary.
Ask yourself if you're living your core values?
- Now you have a prioritized list of your top 5 to 10 core values, contemplate how well you’re living them.
- From a centered position, assess how well you’re honoring each value by scoring each one on a scale of 1 to 10, where ten represents optimally living the value.
- Record your score for each.
Revisit in the future.
- Repeat this exercise once a month or quarter to assess your progress.
230 Personal Values