Values are fundamental beliefs we hold that shape our perspectives, guide our actions, and lead us towards becoming the kind of person we want to be. In essence, they provide a compass that we can follow to help us live a fulfilling, meaningful life.
It can be easy to generalize our actions and intentions in life by saying that we want to be a good person or that we want to prioritize our family or our jobs. While these do provide some context in relation to how we want to live, they are still abstract. What does it actually mean to be a good person? What aspects of your family or job do you want to prioritize – and why and how? It’s this deeper level of questioning that can be targeted once you identify your values.
Understanding your values and where they come from is also helpful as often times the values of others (family, society, peers, social media) end up being what we focus on most. It may be that those values align with your own, but until you take some time to intentionally figure that out for yourself, you won’t know.
Knowing what you value most also provides a way to do a quick self-check: Am I spending my time and energy on the things that truly matter to me most?
Here’s an example:
When working with a client, we spent many sessions together discussing the importance she was placing on standing out at work by being self-sufficient, independent, and dependable. She spent a lot of time (and sleepless nights) wondering if she was doing enough to portray this image. When I presented her with this extensive list of values and I asked her to choose her top 5, she surprised herself when she chose ‘teamwork’ (among health, sincerity, persistence, and freedom).
Once she identified ‘teamwork’, we discussed how this value was demonstrated in the way she approached her work. She then realized that she was putting an enormous amount of pressure on herself because she thought that demonstrating her ability to work on her own was what was needed for her to be seen as successful. Suddenly, the resistance (and exhaustion) she was feeling from behaving in this way made sense. She was acting based on an assumption that she made. It was not based on what she truly valued.
We then went on to discuss how competence, independence, and reliability could still be demonstrated while focusing on teamwork. Once she was able to think and act via this new values-based filter, she felt more relaxed at work, more connected to what she was doing, and overall, a lot more productive and less stressed.
This is just one example of how taking the time to identify your values can help provide you with some clarity and guidance on how you want to spend your time and energy and find a sense of fulfillment in life.
It can be difficult to go through such an extensive list of values and try to choose just 5-10 that resonate with you. I have definitely been tempted to circle over 20. However, the reason why I ask my clients to choose just 5-10 is because the task is about recognizing what’s most important to you. If choose more than that, you can get lost. You can try to focus on too many things and once again lose sight of what is truly important to you.
Something important to remember is that choosing some values over others does not mean those other things are not important to you. For example, if ‘health’ does not appear in your top 10 values, it does not mean that you do not value health. It simply means that there are other things that are more important to you at the moment. Your values are personal. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing them – and that is ultimately what makes this such an important practice. You get to decide what is important to you. They are your ‘why’.
One final note: Our values are not fixed. They often shift over time and in fact, they can shift depending on your context. Therefore, reevaluating your values from time to time can be beneficial as it will help ensure that you are being effective and efficient with your time and energy.
If you’d like to share which values you chose, comment below!