Our core values are the foundation on which we each build our lives.
You can think of them as the guidelines you use to decide how you’re going to lead your life. They guide your dreams and ambitions, your decisions, the actions you take and the way you behave. They help you focus on the things that are important to you and influence the choices you make.
The more committed you are to living your life in harmony with your values, the better you feel about yourself, and the more confident you become. And as you focus on the things that really matter to you, you find greater happiness and peace of mind.
Conversely, if you behave in a way that goes against your values, you create conflict deep inside, causing much stress and unhappiness. You feel bad about yourself, because you’re not behaving consistently with the things you care about. And you feel dissatisfied, because you’re not accomplishing your dreams and ambitions in the way you would like.
The more you can align your outer life with your core values, the more you’ll experience a sense of fulfillment.
How to Identify Your Core Values
People’s core values vary enormously. What creates great excitement and commitment in one person can leave another completely cold.
It’s therefore important to be completely honest with yourself when unearthing your core values. Don’t be tempted to include a value simply because you think it’s the right thing to do. And don’t include it because someone else expects it of you. If you want to find peace of mind and a sense of fulfillment, you must look inside and discover the very essence of your being.
Start by making a list of the things that are important to you, no matter how crazy they may seem.
To help tease out what really matters to you, ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s important to me in my life?
- What makes me feel happy?
- What makes me feel good about myself?
- What gives me a sense of pride and satisfaction?
- What do I like in other people?
You may come up with the same answers to each of these questions, which is fine. Alternatively, you may find that each question brings something different to the surface. The aim is to unearth your most precious values by looking at your life from different angles.
Then ask: why are these things important to me?
This is where you really start to dig deep.
If you identified family as being important, is it because you value love, a sense of belonging or you have a desire to nurture?
If you want to set-up your own business, is it because you wish to be financially independent, do things your own way or provide the best customer service in your field?
Whatever the answers, make a note of all your reasons to help refine your core values.
And finally, rank your values in order of importance. This can take a bit of soul searching. But don’t give up, because the clarity it provides can literally transform your life.
Frequently, we don’t recognize what our most important values are, until we’re forced to choose often in difficult circumstances. Perhaps we have to choose between caring for a family member or accepting a promotion at work. Or between looking after our health and travelling overseas. Rather than wait until life takes you to the brink, explore your priorities in advance; it can save a lot of agonizing.
One of the best ways of ranking your values is to look down the list and pick out the one that you feel is the most important. Then, just to be sure, ask yourself: is this value more (or less) important than each of the other values on my list? You may find that it is the most important. Or alternatively, you may find – perhaps surprisingly – that something else emerges at the top of the list.
Then take (what you think is) the second most important value and ask the same question.
Go through this process for all the values on your list. It may sound like a tedious process, but at the end of it all, you’ll be able to identify your top 5-10 values.
Many people – including me – have had a great aaha moment, as we’ve come to realize that certain values are actually more important than we’d originally appreciated.
And when you realize this, it provides an opportunity to re-align your outer world with what really matters to you, enhancing your happiness and peace of mind.
The Path to Greater Happiness and Fulfilment
Once you’ve got clarity about what really matters to you, you can start to lead your life in keeping with your most important values.
If any of your daily activities make you feel ashamed, embarrassed, resentful or worn down, look for ways in which you can eliminate those activities from your life. Alternatively, change your behavior, so your actions don’t contravene what you value in life.
If you’re asked by your boss or a friend to do something that’s contrary to one of your values, ask yourself if you’re prepared to not do it? This might take a bit of courage. Additionally, see if there is anything you can do that will stop you from being faced with the same sort of conflict in the future?
Knowing your core values helps you keep on track and stay true to who you are. And when your outer life becomes congruent with your inner life, you feel good about yourself, and experience greater happiness and fulfillment.
Once you’ve clarified your core values, discover your true purpose in life.