Updated: Mar 4, 2020
Knowing your personal values is a very important foundation in knowing yourself and raising your self awareness. Personal values help you achieve clarity and also act as a guide for decisions. They help to align your career, where you invest your time, and guide prioritisation of your daily activities, so that you can live a purposeful life and grow in a holistic way.
Your personal values are chosen by you. They are not something you were born with. You decide at any point in life what they are. The bigger question is whether you are choosing them consciously or implicitly by following old conditioned and habitual thought patterns.
Over the course of our lives many of us have learned and acquired values from other people (e.g. parents, teachers) that tell us how to behave. Those values are stored in our subconscious mind. If we are not aware of them we run on auto-pilot, basically living values that are not necessarily reflecting our true self, which could habitually engage us in inappropriate and limiting behaviors.
The bigger the gap of our true inner values and those we have unconsciously inherited, the bigger is the damage it inflicts on us and our self-esteem every day. I‘m not saying that all of those values we have acquired from others are bad. Indeed some of them might have been helpful for us when we grew up. However, by consciously choosing our personal values and making them visible we ensure to be very explicit of who we are and what we value. Therefore this will help us to become more easily aware of values that we have inherited from others (which may no longer be useful to us or serve us well), so that we can actively “reprogram” our brain with our true personal values.
In this video I teach a simple process on how to identify your 6-8 most important values that resonate with your inner core.
Step 1: Brainstorming
Start brainstorming and write down values on a list that come to mind. No particular order. Usually if you have 20-30 written candidates down that is a good starting point. It is important to do this as a writing exercise, as the written form will better help achieving clarity.
To get you some ideas there are exhaustive lists of values available, like Steve Pavlina's personal values list (comprising over 400 values!), that can be used as a source for inspiration.
Step 2: Narrow Down
Try to narrow down to 6-8 values (or even your top 10) that are most important to you. To do this go over each value on your list and feel how strongly it resonates with you. I settle on 6-8 to increase focus. Fewer are better, but if it is too hard to go below 10 that is fine as well. Humans have countless values and needs. Important in this exercise is to drill down and determine your most important ones.
To help with the narrowing process look false or unfulfilled needs that are hiding in some of your value candidates and move them to a backup list. An unfulfilled need is something you currently have as a high priority, but when fulfilled will be of less importance.
Example: If "Health" is one of your values and you put it there because you are sick for some time and now it is therefore important. But let's say you are healed within a few months, then Health is becoming less important again. So it represented an unfulfilled need currently and should be removed.
In a later article I will explain in more detail on how we can even apply more focus to cluster these top 6-8 values in 3-4 groups, which I refer to your most dominant core values. For now however, having your top 6-8 values is a good starting point.
Step 3: Easy Access
Make sure you have easy access to your list, i.e., put it as a note into into your smartphone, or make some small flashcards that you have in your pocket. This is important so that you can look at them at least once a day as a reminder.
Step 4: Start applying your Values
Once you have determined your top 6-8 list of values and have it handy for convenient access, start applying these values to everything you do. Look for alignment in everything you do (actions) with your values. Basically try to connect your daily activities to your values as a daily exercise to see whether you are actually living your values.
If you discover activities that are not aligned with your values stop doing them.
If you’re meeting and spending time with people not aligned with your values, stop seeing them or consider spending less time with them.
If you’re doing work not aligned with your values, stop doing it.
The reason is that everything you do not aligned with your values takes an enormous extra effort and is depleting your energy quickly, so you waste unnecessary energy as you compensate for doing things or spending time with people that are not aligned with your inner core. You may therefore feel tired or exhausted in the evening or during the day. On the other hand if what you’re doing is aligned with your personal values you feel energized.
A change towards living your values fully can be very sudden once you have decided to do it, but it can also take some time and may result in a progress over several months or longer.
For example, it may take some time for people working in a job not aligned with their values to switch to a new one. Just be patient during that time.
During this time of transformation when you actively try to incorporate your values into your daily life you have to stay very alert and present to detect false beliefs or thoughts. Many of these thoughts can be negative or fear-based, which will severely impact your progress if these thoughts remain hidden.
For example, if one of your values is „Healing“ and you hold a fear that you don‘t make enough money working in a healing capacity, then you may not be able to live this value. Instead you continue working in a „steady job“ doing bookkeeping, as your subconscious mind beliefs this is „more secure“, therefore preventing you living your values and a fulfilled life.
I will describe the process of debugging and decluttering your false beliefs and thoughts in an upcoming article in more detail.
Here is also a German version of the video "Was sind deine inneren Werte?"
Questions & Answers
Q: Are personal values stable or do they change often? A: They are usually stable, but can change as everything in life is subject to constant change. If you look at your larger list of values (when you started the exercise above), you may notice if you were to to the exercise again in a year from now that a value that was not in your top 6-8 list is becoming all of the sudden more important. You ultimately decide what your values are and therefore they can be changed by you consciously as needed. It is important to be aware of these changes and keeping your list of values up to date is a very powerful tool for guidance and raising your self awareness.
Q: What is the difference between strengths and values?
A: Values are statements of what is meaningful to us, and which we do not need to justify. We chose them to provide guidance on our life’s direction. In contrast, a strength (often to referred to as a “capability”) according to Alex Linley’s definition is:
“a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance”.
The big difference therefore is that strengths are “pre-existing” and not freely chosen. Also strengths are tied to behavior, thoughts and feelings, whereas values represent a choice independent of feelings, thoughts or behavior. An example that illustrates this: Consider a strength of “learning”, someone who likes the process of learning and acquiring new knowledge, and does this very well (a pre-existing capacity). That person may now consciously chose to set ‘lifelong learning’ also as a value (in this case the strength is reinforced by the value), but does not have to. The person could also chose other values, independent of existing strengths.