Let’s talk about how to identify your core values to live your best life. As a behavior analyst with an interest in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), values are something I’m very passionate about. I’ve noticed people tend to lead more productive and joy filled lives when they lead with their values. We all have so many distractions on any given day and many different obligations and responsibilities that seem to pull us in all different directions. It can often be difficult to determine what we should prioritize or what we should choose to focus on. Leading with a value that isn’t our priority or maybe is a priority to someone else, can make us feel like we aren’t living our best lives. Today we will be sharing why it is important to identify your values, how to identify your values, and how to use your core values to live your best life.
How To Identify Your Core Values to Live Your Best Life
Why it’s important to identify your core values:
Before we go into how to identify your values, let’s first talk about why it’s even important to know what your core values are.
1. You will know what your best life looks like
Often times what stops people from living their best life is that they cannot clearly identify or define what their best life looks like for them. Being in touch with your core values is like being in touch with the truest part of yourself. You will be able to determine what is important to you to live your own unique best life. Knowing your values helps you live a life full of meaning and purpose, in whatever way that looks like for you.
2. You will feel like you lived your life according to your standards and not anyone else
To add on to the point above, you can be sure that your definition of your best life is according to your own personal standards and not anyone else. When we aren’t in tune with ourselves and what’s important to us, it can be easy to judge our life by other people’s standards. Each of us has our own unique barometer of what it means to live a successful life. For some people that might be how much money they make, for others how much adventure was packed into their lives, for others it could be making a difference, and so on. Defining your life by someone else’s measure of success will only lead to frustration and never feeling like the life you are living truly matters.
3. You will have a clear guiding light to base tough decisions on
We all have to make difficult choices each day. There are so many hours in a day and we often have to say no to things in order to say yes to others. When we aren’t clear about our core values, we might be saying “yes” to things that don’t truly matter to us and saying “no” to the ones that do. Knowing your core values will give you a clear guiding light to base your decisions on. You’ll feel more comfortable saying “no” because you’ll know that you’re living up to your core values.
How to identify your values:
In this section we will teach you how to identify your core values. This exercise can be slightly challenging because most of the time people want to select a ton of different values. Of course there are lots of different values that may be important to all of us, but research conducted by Brene Brown has shown that people are only able to really truly live by 1-2 core values. In Dare to Lead, Brown writes,
“I see it the same way that I see Jim Collins’s mandate ‘If you have more than three priorities, then you have no priorities.’ At some point, if everything on the list is important, then nothing is truly a driver for you. It’s just a gauzy list of feel-good words…When people are willing whittle their big list down to two, they always come to the same conclusion that I did with my own values process: My two core values are where all the “second tier” circled values are tested…
Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precise and clear and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice – they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives. In those hard moments, we know that we are going to pick what’s right, right now, over what’s easy…
Choose one or two values- the beliefs that are the most important and dear to you, that help you find your way in the dark, that fill you with a feeling of purpose. As you read them, you should feel a deep resonance of self-identification. Resist holding on to words that resemble something you’ve been coached to be, words that have never felt true for you.”
Once you identify your core values, these will become what defines your life, what decisions are made by, and what you choose over all other values. These core values are also your reason for engaging in other values. For example, while another value may also be important to you, the reason that you engage in it is most likely because of your core value.
In case you’re interested, my core values are Joy and Making a Difference. Bassam’s core values are Loyalty and Making a Difference. What’s really interesting about both of us having Making a Difference as a core value is that it manifests in different ways for both of us. We each do different things and gravitate towards different thing that help us feel like we are making a difference.
Also, we have similar sub values and they connect to our core values differently. Let’s take family as an example. Family is important to me because it leads back to my value of Joy. Family is important to Bassam because it leads back to his value of Loyalty. The same value can be important to each person in a different way. There’s no right or wrong or need to justify why it’s important to you; that’s what makes your life unique to others!
Let’s get started with identifying your core values! We also have a printable for you that you can use to guide this exercise. Keep in mind, you do not need to go through all of these steps in order and you may not even need to go through all the steps. I used steps 1 and 3. Bassam used steps 1, 4, and 3 (in that order). Do what works for you, this is just to give you an idea of how to determine your core values.
Come up with a base list of values. You can take a look at the list below to guide you or create your own words. Circle or list any that appeal to you and you think may be your core values. This list is included in the printable we’ve created.
Attempt to narrow down the list. You may be able to do that without any particular strategy or the following prompts may be helpful for you:
DO I OFTEN FIND MYSELF NOT ACTING IN TERMS OF THIS VALUE?
IS THIS A VALUE THAT IS TRULY IMPORTANT TO ME OR DO I FEEL LIKE IT NEEDS TO BE IMPORTANT TO ME?
DURING WHAT TYPES OF ACTIVITIES DO I FEEL LIKE I’M LIVING MY BEST LIFE?
WHAT MATTERS MORE TO ME THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN MY LIFE?
Are there any words that consistently come up for you during this exercise? Those may be your core values!
Try uncovering the “why” behind why a value is important to you. For example, a few of the values I circled were Authenticity, Connection, and Making a Difference. Here’s what I went through in my head:
“Why is authenticity important?”
“Because it helps me connect with others.”
“Why is connection important?”
“Because I like being able to help people.”
“Why is helping people important?”
“Because it’s important to me to make a difference.”
I couldn’t narrow down Making a Difference any further, so that’s when I knew that was one of my core values. That made a lot of sense for me because I’ve always gravitated towards jobs where I felt like I could make a difference.
You may find that a particular core value drives a ton of other values for you, but there’s always a core reason why those things are important to you. My value of Joy drives so many things in my life: family, wellness, travel, self improvement/growth, etc.
The following prompts may be able to help you uncover which values are actually your core value. Try asking yourself the following questions and doing a free write, talk about it out loud, or just think about it in your head.
DO I FEEL OKAY WITH PRIORITIZING THIS VALUE OVER OTHERS?
DO I FEEL MY BEST WHEN I LIVE BY THIS VALUE?
DOES LACK OF THIS VALUE BREAK MY HEART?
IS THIS VALUE WHAT I THINK OF WHEN I MAKE MY DECISION?
Here is the thought process that helped Bassam narrow down between Charity, Kindness and Making a Difference:
“Why is charity important to me?”
“Because it’s important to me to be kind.”
“If I had to choose between being kind and making a difference, which would I choose?”
“If I had to choose between Making a Difference and Loyalty which would I choose?”
“It would be very difficult for me to choose and I would feel like it’s a wrong decision either way, but I’d analyze which one was the most important in the moment.”
This is what helped Bassam figure out that Making a Difference and Loyalty were his two core values. He was unable to choose between them, whereas he could choose between the others on his list.
How to use your core values to live your best life:
1. Use it to motivate you
We all have to do things in life that feel tedious. We may dread these tasks or feel like they are meaningless to our lives. Most of the time, these tedious tasks are actually helping us achieve our values, but just in an indirect way. Once we can identify how they tie into our core values, it’ll be easier to be motivated to accomplish these tasks. Try this exercise:
- Identify your core values (if you’ve completed the previous exercise, then you’ve already done this)
- How does your job/daily work help you live your values?
- Make a list of 3-5 things you do on a daily or weekly basis that you don’t like very much
- Figure out how those tedious tasks lead to your values. It might be really far off, but it should connect with your core values
- If you cannot figure out how the task relates to your values, you may be working out of alignment if your values. If so, is there any way you can outsource this task?
- Now, every time you feel annoyed by this task, think about how it relates to your values. It might make you feel happier and more motivated!
- At the start of each week, think of 3-5 things you can do throughout the week to help you move in the direction of your core values. Focus on that throughout the week to maintain motivation!
Here’s an example of how I used this exercise in my job:
- My core values are Joy and Making a Difference
- My job helps me live my values because I can mentor others in their professional development and I can help families and individuals overcome barriers they experience due to an autism diagnosis
- I hate spending so much time in my email inbox
- Answering emails actually helps me live my value of Making a Difference. When I answer emails, it helps others get answers they need, which in turn helps them with their professional development or their direct work with individuals. While I don’t get to directly see the difference I’m making, I know that my email reply helps put that change in forward motion
2. Use it to help you move past challenging feelings
As humans, we experience a wide range of emotions. Not all of those emotions are pleasant or positive and that’s okay. It’s important to give ourselves the space to feel whatever it is we feel and process that emotion. Once we’ve acknowledged that emotion and processed it somewhat, we can move forward towards our values.
Moving forward towards your values is very different than pretending whatever emotion you’re feeling doesn’t exist. It’s telling yourself, “this is how I feel right now and that’s okay. While I’m feeling like this I’m going to do (whatever action accomplishes your values).”
For example, when I’m feeling sad, I take some time to acknowledge that I’m sad and actually feel the emotion. I might do something to help myself process it, like a 15 minute free write. Then, I don’t expect myself not to be sad. I’m fully okay with continuing to be sad, but I choose something to do in that moment or later on when I have time, that helps me live my values of Joy or Making a Difference. Living in accordance with my values often helps me get to a state of happiness, but that’s not the goal, and I’m completely fine with continuing to feel sad even while engaging in that activity.
3. Use it to help you make tough decisions
When you need to make a tough decision, look at it in terms of your core values. Which choice will be in alignment with one or both of your core values? Once you are able to identify that, you can have less guilt over the choice you said “no” to and feel more confident in your decision.
This strategy takes some practice and can be difficult. It’s so different from the way most of us typically make decisions. Try using it for all decisions moving forward and you’ll notice that it’ll start getting easier and will eventually be second nature. Over time, you’ll be living fully in alignment with your core values, which will help you feel happier and more fulfilled in your life.
Bassam and I both have a really hard time saying “no” to people and often put others ahead of ourselves. By asking, “is this in alignment with our values” it’ll start to become easier to say “no”. We’ll also be able to see that by saying “yes” to things that aren’t our core values, that means we are saying “no” to our core values.
Now when you say “yes” to things, you can look at it less like “I have to do this” and more like “I want to do this”, because you know it helps you live your values.
4. Use it as a tool for daily mindfulness
When you know what your core values are, you can use it as a tool to live each day with mindfulness.
Start each morning asking yourself how your goals for the day relate to your core values.
Throughout the day:
Check in throughout the day with how your day is bringing you closer to your core values.
Reflect at the end of each day with how you lived in accordance to your values and what you can do differently tomorrow to be more aligned with your core values.
5. Use it to strengthen your relationships
Bassam and I are very different people with very different priorities. We can often have a hard time understanding why the other person does what they do. Now that we know each other’s core values, it helps us to understand each other and the decisions we make a lot better. The next time you and your partner or any other relationship in your life are having a hard time understanding each other, try using your core values to explain your reasoning.
We hope this post helped you to identify your core values and understand how knowing your core values can help you live your best life! We’d love to know what your core values are! Let us know if you have any questions!