What are Values?
Values are defining pieces of your identity. They are the things that you hold onto the most and that mean the most to you, whether they are recognizes or not. Values are how we view the world. They are the lens through which we see the world.
Your values infuse every part of your life in seen and unseen ways. Whenever you make a decision, you use values as a way of deciding what is the best path forward. Your values work as a way of sorting through your priorities. They set you up to live a more genuine and focused life.
If you think of each decision as a complex scale, each of your values represents weights of different sizes. The strong a value, the more weight it holds. These weights shift the scales until you are able to make a decision that most accurately reflects your values and what you believe should be done.
Values become more and more important as you encounter increasingly challenging and important decisions. Because of this, it’s important that you have a firm grasp on what your values are. In other words, the weights that your values create may be mislabeled if you do not spend the time to discover, understand, and define them.
This hits on an important use for values. Your core values can serve as a guide to all of your decisions. The more you know your values, the easier each decision will be. It creates a system, organized by the deep work you’ve already done on values, that organizes your needs and priorities without having to resort everything in your life. Having a good values definition for all of your core values can be a way to deepen your self-awareness and simplify your life.
What are community values?
Personal values are incredibly important for your own growth and development. But what about the other values out there?
There are many other values that we will not be looking at in depth in this post. Most of these values deal with community groups, with the values that make up who we are as a people. Cultural values represent the core values of a specific culture. Family values are similar in that they represent the core values of immediate relatives or bloodlines. Corporate or company values are also communal, representing the core values an organization stands for and wants to live out.
These community values systems are each a slight variation from the other. In a perfect world, these groups of values would represent the combined input of the entire group. If each group were a democracy, their votes would be for different values. Those that everyone could agree on as important would represent the core values of the community.
We do not live in a perfect world and because of conflicting values, the choices for universal values are slim. Instead, most organizations act more as a republic than a democracy. The leaders of the larger organization or group tend to set the values for the group and do so (in theory) as a reflection of what they feel represents their group and sets the right direction for them to go together.
Leaders who want to harness the power of values can lead their groups through different values exercises (like the ones in this post) and develop more awareness of their group’s core values. The personal values discovered in this process can lead to more insight into how best to shape the community values of the group.
What are my core values?
There is no shortage in online resources for discovering your values. Even better, life coaches can help you discover these through some intentional work and discovery tools. But this is the ultimate guide to discovering your values, so what are the best ways for you to find your values?
Getting coached around your personal values is one of the most powerful experiences you can have. Coaches are trained in leading you through exercises that challenge you to work through not only what makes sense as important to you, but also what the coach notices in how you present yourself.
Life coaches are trained in helping you understand what your values are and then going a step further to exploring what your values mean for your daily life. A good coach will ask you questions that allow for a deep dive into what means that most to you, whether or not you actually see it day to day. That is because some values are not as easily recognized or may be hidden behind a more visible value.
Let’s say you want a job that pays well. You may first assume that you have a value for wealth or money. A coach will note this potential and then go further. That value of money may actually be a value for security or opportunity. You may want money because family is really the most important thing and you believe money will help keep a roof over their head. In the same way, you may see great future opportunity if only you could invest more now. The money in this instance would be really serving the personal value of opportunity or in maximizing your possibilities. A coach can work through all of these and help you get to a deeper place of awareness.
If you are not using a coach, a values sort is a very accessibly activity for discovering values. All you need for this is a list of values (you can use mine by downloading here). A good values list includes dozens of good things that may all seem like valuable things to you. Throughout this exercise, you are not looking for ways to say that a certain value is bad or worse. Instead, you are trying to determine what values are important to you, what you most identify with.
The first thing to do with this values list is to go through and circle every value that you think is most important to you. This may be a few or many. Circle anything that you can honestly say, “this value is important to me.”
Next, use a highlighter to mark your top ten values. These core values should only be the ones that you believe are the most important and meaningful to you. These values are a part of your identity, impacting the way you interact with the world and make decisions.
We want to go a step further. This next part can be challenging to some so if that’s you, give this process some time but make sure to complete it within a few minutes.
Sort out your top five values by writing them down in a separate place. These are going to be the values that you tend to see every day and often in multiple places. This list should feel like an extension of yourself. It should be the pieces of you that others might recognize if they got to know you or that loved ones would likely say about you if they were asked what your values are.
If you want an extra challenge with this, rank your top five values in order. What would you say is the most important value to you? This can further deepen your knowledge of your values and allow you to identify with them in a new way.
This is a great activity for exploring values. With this exercise, we want to find our values definitions. We want to explore your core values, the top five you might have from the previous exercise. Take whatever values you have found to be your core personal values and create a notecard or separate section for each. Think about what those values mean to you, how you see them in your life, and what makes them important to you.
Now write a definition for each of your values. To make a good values definition, it needs to be personal and meaningful. This isn’t some half-hearted attempt at recreating a dictionary. This is about how you would describe what this value means to you.
This process of defining core values should be a challenge and leave you with a list of important, meaningful values definitions. You can consult a list of values in order to add more depth to your chosen definitions, how each value works together with some others.
Use these definitions by putting them in a prominent place. This could be a place where you find yourself making important or difficult decisions. It could be a place where you choose to reflect on the day. Wherever it is, allow for these personal values definitions to be an ever-present reminder of what is meaningful to you, the weights that help determine your path through life.
This values exercise moves more into the life coaching realm and dives into the narrative of your life. This can be done best with a partner, someone close to you who can listen well and with whom you can be genuine. You can do this on your own as well, but it may be less effective.
Start off by telling a story about a time where you felt truly alive, where you were thriving or some time where you were truly enjoying your time. This taps into some idea around flow, those moments where you lose all track of time and space and just enjoy the experience.
Have your partner just listen and not ask too many questions. Allow yourself a few minutes to dive into the details of the story, what you love about the memory and how it was meaningful. Your partner will listen to the story and write down everything they notice that may be a value. They will look for themes, areas where you seem to point to the same pieces, and things that had the highest impact for you. What values are being honored here?
If you are doing this alone, write out the story or record yourself speaking. Then go back through it and act as your own partner, trying to step back objectively to hear what you might otherwise be missing.
Next, tell a story about a particularly low moment. This could be something that stands out to you as a moment where you were especially frustrated or angry, a time when you were offended or were really struggling. This can be a sensitive area so be sure to care for yourself well and allow for your genuine reflection to come through.
Your partner, or you reading back through your story, will be listening for all of the things that may have been stepped on or neglected. What values are being dishonored here? The partner will help identify the pain points that may reflect the values they see in your story.
It is important to look at both a positive and a negative memory. When we look back at these two opposing moments, we can see our core values as they are honored and dishonored, respected and neglected. We can see moments where we were living in our values and where we were not. This also sheds light on how we react to things based on how situations impact our values.
With the list of values you have created from these two opposing memories, look for connections and themes, areas that resonate more specifically to you. In all of this, you will be identifying the personal values that are now backed in personal experience.
If you have done the other activities, look for ways that your new experiential values are reflected in other core values you have discovered before. Add to your list of personal values by finding what experiences have shaped your values and your understanding of who you are.
How to live in your values
Living in your values takes intentionality and effort, but it is easier than you think. Oftentimes you are already living in your values, you just don’t recognize them for what they are. If you want to truly live in your values, work through the process of identifying your values first. This discovery sets out the foundation for a value-driven life.
The next step is to be aware of your values as you walk through life. Your values, especially those in the top five or the values definitions you have worked through, may be honored or dishonored as you go through your day. Pay attention for those moments and how you react to them.
Go beyond this and start considering the areas where you are not living in your values at all, even going against them. What are some ways for you to live in your values instead? Living in your values reflects your identity and what you see as the most important aspects of your life. When you fail to live in these values, you are not living congruent with your life. You may feel out of place or frustrated. That’s completely natural. But you can do more. You can begin to look for ways to live according to the values you have set and to avoid activities that do not line up with your values.
Your values in community
One of the great things about your values is that, though they are unique to you, they can do great things when added to your community. That’s because a group of people all living in their values are more authentic and purposeful. You are able to be yourself and people are able to see what is important to you. You are able to make decisions well and for deeper meaning than you have had before. All of this adds to your community and helps you leave your stamp on what you do.
You can usually pick out the people who are living out their values by the way they talk and act. You can see their personalities more clearly, see their conviction in their decisions and the kind of ease they have in challenging situations. All of this is because people who can define core values are able to live a more genuine life and use values as their filter.
No matter what activities you choose or how much you look to add value to your community, I hope this guide has been able to shed light on values in a new and meaningful way. They have incredible power and when recognized, have the potential to change your world. They help you discover your life purpose as well as find ways to add efficiency to your decision-making. So stop reading and do something productive. Just make sure you make it valuable!
So here's what I want to know: What strategy from this guide are you going to use today?
Share your thoughts in the comments and if you found this guide to be helpful, share it with others!