Understanding your values is critical to making the best possible choices in your life. Using your core values as a filter for making decisions in your life will help keep you aligned with what matters most to you.
What are values?
Values are our core beliefs about how we believe life should be lived, our guiding principles for life.
Values are at the root of who we are: they are the truest part of us and drive our feelings and our behaviour.
They determine what’s important to us, and help us make decisions that are in harmony with our purpose.
Values could be things like:
… and many many more.
They are like a compass – they help steer us towards our true north. When we veer off course, we may start to feel that something isn’t quite right.
Where do our values come from?
Our values are intrinsic to us. They are instilled in us from an early age, often inherited from our parents or instilled in us by our parents as the guiding principles they think will help us live a good life.
Our values are further reinforced over time based on experiences we have throughout our life.
Our happiest memories point to a time when we were most in alignment with our values. Conversely, our unhappiest memories occurred because one or more of our core values was compromised or completely lacking.
We all have our own unique combination of values, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t talk ourselves out of what they are!
How do our values affect our happiness?
If we don’t know our values, we may feel unhappy and yet not be able to figure out why 🤷♀️
The underlying cause of our unhappiness is likely because one or more of our core values are compromised.
When our work & lifestyle is in alignment with our core values, all is well and we are in flow – happy days! 😀
However, when one or more of our core values are not being honoured we may feel stuck, disconnected, dissatisfied, unsettled or just plain unhappy ☹
To live a fulfilled and happy life, it’s important to understand what values drive and fulfil you. You can use that knowledge to guide your decision-making.
What happens when your values are compromised
To help you understand how your values can impact your life, let me share how not knowing my values impacted my life.
Throughout my 16-years as an employee, I changed jobs every 2-4 years. I was motivated to make each change because I felt something was missing in my life – and I figured it had to be because of the job.
I always started new jobs with the hope that this job would be it! That this job/company/industry/lifestyle would give me what I felt was missing… and then I could finally settle down!
I selected each new job carefully to plug what I thought was the hole at that time.
I tried jobs that would give me more responsibility, more travel, more influence, broader experience, more flexible working. I even had a complete career change from IT Consultant to Photographer!
But in each job something was always missing…it never felt quite right. I never felt truly comfortable.
It was only once I’d left the world of employment and struck out on my own that I finally figured out the source of my underlying discontent. It was during my entrepreneurial training that I did my first deep dive into my values.
Light bulb moment! 💡
I identified my top 5 core values as:
Once I knew this, I looked back at my career and had some huge realisations, such as:
As an employee, I had never been in alignment with my core value of autonomy.
So it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d had the best job in the world: the best boss, the best perks, the best job title, the best colleagues, the best company car, a huge salary…
Because as long as I was an employee in a job I was not autonomous – I was accountable to my managers, employers, team members, direct reports & customers. I had relatively little flexibility in the hours I worked, and ultimately I didn’t get to make the decisions.
Now I know why I felt the need to strike out on my own… because it felt important to me to find a way to work & live a lifestyle where I am my own boss – where I can choose my own hours, work from anywhere and a business model that I can run on my own without needing to hire staff!
If I’m not learning, growing or developing in some way I get bored. I need challenge in my life.
And typically after about 2 years in a job, I had learned everything I could in that role and I started getting bored… that’s when I would get itchy feet and start looking for new jobs.
I like being of service, and I need to feel like what I do has an impact. In my IT career, working with financial software that helped large companies make more profit, I didn’t feel like I was being “of service” to Society. It may be that what I did mattered to someone, somewhere… but I was so removed from it, that I couldn’t see it.
Whereas as a photographer, nothing could beat the feeling of seeing the pure delight on someone’s face when they looked at a photograph I’d taken of them or a loved one!
I realised that I feel much happier when I see the impact of what I do directly rather than indirectly.
It all became so clear when I understood my values! 😮
How do you identify your values?
So if you’re feeling like something is missing in your life, I suggest you spend some time identifying your core values and then look for areas in your life where those values are not being met.
Then you know what to tweak or change to move into alignment with your values… and then watch the magic happen!
So how do you find out what your values are?
There are many different ways of identifying your core values. Here are a couple of exercises you can try.:
The first method I recommend is going through your Timeline.
Look back over your entire life and write down all your happiest memories, and all your unhappiest memories. Score each experience on a scale of -100 to +100 (-100 being ultimate sadness, 0 being neutral, 100 being ultimate bliss), based on how happy or unhappy you felt at the time.
Then go back through the list and pick out the top 10 happiest memories (highest scoring) and the bottom 10 sad memories (lowest scoring).
Find a friend or timeline coach and talk through each of those memories. Your friend needs to listen carefully as you describe each experience and asking probing questions about how you felt at the time. He or she can then help you work out what your top 10 values are based on what was present when you were really happy and missing when you were really sad.
2. Ask yourself these questions
Another method is to ask yourself questions such as:
- What activities bring you the most joy?
- What could you not live without?
- What gives your life meaning?
- What do you want to achieve?
Once you’ve written down the answers, look back through your answers and look for patterns that you can boil down to a simple concept, such as using your creativity to make the world a better place.
3. Pick from a list
Look at the list of values in the image above or find a list of core values (there are plenty available online, like this one for example), and pick out the top 10 that you feel relate to you.
Be honest with yourself though. Many values may be regarded highly in your culture, but think carefully about which ones really resonate with you, rather than picking the ones you feel you would like or ought to pick.
Then review that list and pick out the top 3 or 5 that you could not live without. These are the values that you would argue for, leave a job or end a relationship for, because they are so important to you!
I hope this has helped you understand a bit more about values and how important it is to understand what yours are. If you have any comments, questions or feedback post them below!
To living in alignment with your values,
Partner of the Six Figure Mentors
Digital Experts Academy Mastermind Experience Member