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How to Define Your Values

Do you know what your values are? Could you tell someone what they are?

If not, you are missing out on a quick, easy, and very clear way to make life decisions, decide what projects to work on, where to focus, how to spend money, etc.

And it just feels good – like, ‘yes this is who I am and this is what I stand for. This is what matters to me’.

Another reason to focus on values (in addition to belief work) – research suggests that values are longer lasting than beliefs (Limthanakom, Lauffer, Mujtaba, & Murphy Jr, 2008). Your beliefs might shift over time (I hope they do!) but your underlying values are unlikely to change.

Recommendation: listen as I walk you through this exercise step by step

Do you know what your values are? Could you tell someone what they are?

If not, you are missing out on a quick, easy, and clear way to make life decisions, decide what projects to work on, where to focus, how to spend money, etc.

And it just feels good – like, ‘yes this is who I am and this is what I stand for. This is what matters to me’.

Another reason to focus on values (in addition to belief work) is this: research suggests that values are longer lasting than beliefs (Limthanakom, Lauffer, Mujtaba, & Murphy Jr, 2008). Your beliefs might shift over time (I hope they do!) but your underlying values are unlikely to change.

Define Your Values in Three Steps:

Give yourself 20 minutes to complete this exercise. Set a timer if that helps overcome an overwhelm or resistance to starting. 

Pull out a sheet of paper. Settle into yourself and your seat. Get curious. 

  1. Think about peak life experiences you’ve had – bring to mind times you felt like your favorite self or times you felt ‘high on life’. Peak life experiences are defined as: “moments of highest happiness and fulfillment” (Maslow). Think of 2-3 specific moments or experiences. These might include travel, moments when your life changed forever, biggest accomplishments (life or work), etc.
    • When have you felt ‘highest happiness and fulfillment’? Jot down the 2-3 moments. 
    • Then beside each write down what values were being expressed in those moments. What values did you utilize to achieve or create these experiences?
  2. What activities cause you to totally lose track of time? What did you absolutely love doing as a kid? What were you most proud of making as a kid – which specific project comes to mind?
    • Jot down 2-3 that come to mind. Either memories or specific activities. 
    • Then beside each write which values were you practicing or were being expressed. What values were employed when you lost track of time? What values did you use as a kid to make the things you loved doing?
  3. Self-audit: What do you get really mad about? What do you complain about? What do you want more of in the world? 
    • Jot down 2-3 that come to mind.
    • Then beside each write down what values were being expressed or violated in those moments. What values are being expressed or violated in moments when you are mad, complaining, or desiring more of something in the world?

Make Your List

Once you’ve completed your answers to these three questions, you’ll have a list of values. Look at them and list them all together in a list if it’s helpful. 

  • Star ones that are common. 
  • Circle ones that resonate the most with you. 
  • Feel into them:
    • Which ones occur in multiple areas of your life? 
    • Which feel like *you*? 
    • Which do you want to see more of in the world? 
    • Which ones drive you to act?
    • Which ones are displayed when you’re your favorite self?

Keep narrowing your list down until you’ve settled on 3-5 (or six if you’re a rebel like me ;). 

Make a list and know that you will likely keep refining it over time, and this is your Values list for now. Your amazing shitty first draft. Crafting the perfect list isn’t what matters – what matters the most is creating a list in a reasonable amount of time and then going out and living it. Gain feedback and make edits over time. Keep iterating.

List Your Values

  1. __________________________________________
  1. __________________________________________
  1. __________________________________________
  1. __________________________________________
  1. __________________________________________

Write them on a post-it or save them to a note on your phone. Refer to them often! Use them to prioritize your projects, decide what to do (and not do), create projects that you feel most aligned with, decision making, how you spend your resources (time, money, energy), when you feel confused. Utilize them to support yourself and make clear and easeful decisions.

Additional Resources

Check only after you create your own unique list: Core Values List – 50 commons values by James Clear

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