Updated: Apr 18, 2021
Since well before becoming a fully qualified and certified Leadership and Life coach, I have been fascinated by the work on values and what our values tell us about who we are. It was whilst doing some deep work on my own values that I began to uncover and understand how the decisions I was making in my life either aligned or did not aligned with my own concept of my values and subsequently how I felt about myself and others.
It’s for this reason that I love the work on values and I want to share it extensively. I do the values work with all of my clients and without fail they find it not only helpful but often ground breaking and even transformational. So, let’s get stuck in….
What are values?
In a nut-shell, values are the things that are most important to you. They are the things that you value in life. Sometimes you may hear them referred to as “core” values – as they are core of who you are and as unique as your thumbprints. They are things that you believe to be important in the way that you live and work. Often values determine what people do in life. Values are also sometimes referred to by other terms:
your barometer of meaning;
your north star;
The fabric of your existence;
your guiding principles
Let’s start to name a few values that may sound familiar: honesty, freedom, integrity, love, health, family, beauty, creativity, acceptance, respect, wealth, spirituality, learning, courage, competition… The list of values is vast so the key is to narrowing down your values list to your top 3-5 values that are most meaningful to you in the way you work and live. Knowing these values will also help you live a more conscious, balanced, empowered and fulfilled life.
How to identify your core values?
Think about how you may have been raised or educated? Are there any values that stand out to you that remain important to you and that have been instrumental in how you live and lead your life?
Regardless of whether or not you have done any work on values before, here is a very quick three- step exercise to help you identify, explore (or reconnect) with your core values:
Step 1: From the list of 53 words / values listed below identify / write down all the words that are meaningful or resonate for you. If there are any words that aren't in this list but you know them to be a values, add them to your list. (Tip: Don't overthink it, don't overanalyse - if you are questioning whether they should be a core value or if they are an aspirational value, it probably means that they ae not a core value!)
Step 2: Cluster all your words into 5 distinct groupings / categories that have similar meaning for you.
Step 3: Select the most important / resonant word from you from each of your 5 groupings.
You should end up with 5 words that are the starting point for your values. Sit with these words for the next few weeks and see how they show up in your life, in your decision making and what you notice where they are present (or not) in your life.
Why are core values important?
When you live a life that is more aligned with your values, you will be living a life that is more authentic and true for you. Consequently you are more likely to experience a life of greater balance, joy, meaning and contentment.
Decision Making & Getting Unstuck
Our values can become a blueprint for our decision-making processes in life and work if and when we are aware of them. They help you get out of the muck when you’ve lost sight of what is important.
Values can not only help us to prioritise but they can also help us to find satisfaction and meaning in what we do. When we make decisions that are aligned with our values, we will feel more grounded, more at ease and decisions will feel better (NOTE: they may not always be easier decisions but you will feel better about them and experience more peace of mind).
“Anytime you have difficulty in making an important decision, you can be sure that it’s the result of being unclear about your values”
Our values can help us not only with some of the BIG work and life decisions that need to be taken e.g. do I take this job? do I stay in this relationships? do I start my own business? Do I move to a new country?
But can also be used to make some of the small daily life decisions e.g. what do I want to eat for dinner? do I work-out today? How do I want to spend my free time? Do I say yes to this invitation?
Often when I'm stuck, I use my values to help inform my way forward. My value of courage very often helps me get unstuck. When I’m feeling stuck, I’m very often procrastinating and I've learned that the route cause of my procrastination is very often fear. For example when I'm procrastinating on writing my blog or newsletter I know that my inner (fear-based) dialogue is along the lines of "what if people don’t like what I write or what I say?" When I'm procrastinating on doing my monthly accounts my fear-based dialogue is often "what am I going to find? have I made enough for this month? am I running a viable business? am I going to end up on the streets?" (Yes - it gets as dramatic as that!) So my value of courage keeps me grounded, honest and growing.
When we are not clear on our values we may not be making very conscious decisions in life and work. This can result in us bumbling along on autopilot, on life’s treadmill. For many of us this is our day-to-day reality and living. This is not wrong and can be fine for a while but eventually it could lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection or disengagement. It can also lead to us feeling that our life is out of balance as we are not consciously prioritising what's important to us.
My value of health informs me (when I bring awareness to it!) what is good for me and what I want to be doing next. Health, for me, extends beyond physical health (e.g., exercise and nutrition). I also include spiritual health, emotional health, financial health – and I have daily, weekly and monthly practices and routines that are important for me to ensure that I’m living this value as best as I can. When I'm feeling out of balance and disconnected (I personally recognise that feeling by a dull, subtle and anxious buzz in the pit of my stomach) I need to ask myself - what's bothering me? Have I exercised today? Have I connected with another human being? Have a done any of my spiritual practices (meditations / readings / meetings) that I know help relieve the anxiety butterflies. I can consciously choose to help myself. The alternative for me is staying stuck in a downward cycle.
Understand ourselves and others
Have you ever felt a disconnect or conflict with a friend, a family member, or a boss or a colleague? Often this can be as a result of differing priorities or values between people.
Our values can help us to understand how we relate to and get on with others.
Relationships go much deeper than just sharing interests or hobbies – as these can change over time. Our values rarely change over time but how they are fulfilled and lived may vary over time depending on our our life stage and/or what is happening.
As human beings we are naturally drawn to people like ourselves - and often people who share the same values. A misalignment in values or differing priorities can result in personal relationship challenges and even friction or conflict.
Here's a very real example. Let's say you have a strong value around “learning” and you’re constantly looking to grow personally or professionally, get curious and explore, yet this isn't as important to your partner. This may at times cause friction or tension.
That’s not to say that you cannot be friends or in a relationship with someone who doesn’t share the same values or prioritise values in the same way. The key is to understand and communicate what values are important to eachother AND give each other time and space for them to be able to live their values.
Thankfully we are all different, and what makes one person happy may leave another person feeling anxious or disengaged. That's ok. Defining your personal values and communicating them can help you to feel more fulfilled and and happier, even if they don’t make sense to other people.
Are your values your own?
Values are not who you think you should be in order to fit in. Values are who you are in your own deepest nature and this requires a certain amount of honesty and non-judgement towards what you care about. So it helps when doing the work on values to understand if the values you have identified are truly your own or if you have taken them on / inherited them due to societal pressure, work, friends or family. We do this all the time, so don’t beat yourself if you are noticing this is true for you. Just being aware of when this is happening is key to helping you to choose consciously in order to be true to yourself.
Personal vs organisational vs friends / family values
Just as our own individual values guide our personal decision making and our behaviour, organizational values will often guide how organisations choose to navigate towards their goals and contribute to the organisational strategy and mission. The same goes for your friends and family.
The challenge can come is in living into our values when there may be a conflict with those of our organization, our friends, a stranger in the line at the grocery store or even our family.
Imagine a situation where organisations with a value of honesty only are ‘sometimes’ honest with their customers, or that the work environment is safe ‘sometimes’. How would that make your feel about an organisation or even your friend or family member?
What happens when values don't align?
Now think about situations when and where you’ve known there has been a direct conflict in values. Either you’ve not honoured your own values or the people that you are interacting with are behaving in a way that is in conflict with your own values. You’ve probably felt very uneasy, uncomfortable, unhappy, discontent – maybe even restless or angry.
I know that when I act in a way that goes against my values, or I'm in conflict with someone else, I usually feel it - my body tells me before my brain does.
Having different values doesn’t necessarily make you right and them wrong – or vice versa. Understanding this is key part of developing self and social awareness. It helps us understand what motivates us and what motivates other people. It can also inform you what to do or say next. Sometimes that may be nothing. What people say and do is going to give you a good idea of what values may be important to them.
Bringing attention to your core values and getting really honest with yourself on your values can contribute towards living a happier, more balanced, authentic and fulfilled life. You will be clearer about decision making, you will choose consciously what's right for you and you will be better able to understand others more fully.
If you're currently feeling out of feeling burned-out or feeling a stuck in an area of your life and are looking for greater balance and fulfilment, click below to find out more and sign up for the next “Navigate Towards Fulfilment” course – a four-part digitally participative experience which will help you explore and connect with your PURPOSE, your VISION, your VALUES and your GOALS and bring balance back to your life.