Most of us would say we know what our values are, if asked. They might be lofty, like fairness or justice. Values could be deeply personal, like family and fulfilment. They could even be more action-oriented, like becoming CEO, creating something or having incredible life experiences. In this article, I’m going to give you an exercise that will help you find your values – so you can design your life around them.
Values can sound a bit like goals, but they’re entirely different. They are what give goals meaning and direction.
Values are also subjective. They are the things that YOU believe are important for how you live and work. If you dig deep, they’re the ones that you can measure up your life against to see if it’s turning out the way you want it to. When the actions you take and the way you behave matches your values, your life is usually good and you’ll feel content. But when your life choices don’t align with your values, things will feel wrong. You’ll feel unhappy, unfulfilled.
Values vs goals
When we think about self-improvement, or growth, we often get stuck in goals-based thinking. But we need to question what goals you have in the first place – and what determines those goals. Are these goals aligned with your core values?
A story about finding my values
I was in my 40’s when I did a values exercise for the first time with my life coach. It was eye-opening on so many levels, mostly because the things I thought were most important to me, weren’t. The values that ruled my life in my mind, weren’t actually my top values. In fact, when I prioritised my values in the following exercise, my top 5 values weren’t even on my original values list!
How to find your values: The art of prioritisation
Maybe you think you know your values too, but there’s a very good chance you haven’t narrowed them down or ranked them. This values exercise is a prioritization (or hierarchy) exercise so that you can figure out your top 5 values.
When I did this values exercise, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I read up some more, refined it a bit and practiced it with my partner, sister, and friends. One friend did it with her 8-year-old daughter and both of them gained deep insights.
Getting crystal-clear on your values has two obvious benefits:
- It helps steer you in the direction that is most important to you (aka, purpose).
- It makes it easier to make decisions because you can weigh up any decision according to whether it brings you closer to your values.
I wish I’d done this when I was a kid!
Blue-footed Booby Success Formula: How to find your values with a simple prioritisation exercise
- List everything that you can think of that is important to you and guides your life.
NOTE: Remember to list anything that comes to mind – without limiting yourself into thinking whether it’s a value or not.
Here’s an example to guide you:
One person might say money.
Another might say freedom.
Someone else might say animal rights, or kindness.
Think of this as a brainstorming session. The only thing you don’t want on that list is something that you think you should value, but don’t. Remember, this exercise is about you, there isn’t any right or wrong answer.
- Now rank your values in order of most important to least important.
Note: Take your time. You might need to do this a few times as you weigh one value up against another to see which one is more important to you.
Ask yourself, if I had to choose this one or that one, and there was no other way, which one would be more important.
Sometimes I visualize a seesaw with a value on each side. Which one trumps the other? For example, is fairness more important to me than family?
Money or freedom?
Justice or kindness?
Courage or integrity?
Now it’s getting interesting.
- Rank them against each other until you have your top 5.
Time to reflect
Now that you’ve done this exercise on how to find your values, do you notice that any values have changed? Is there anything that isn’t as important to you as you thought? There’s no judgement here, the idea behind this exercise is to really figure out what you value, so that you can start designing your life around this.
In How to find your values: Part 2, I’ll help you get even clearer on your core values.
Q: What happens if I don’t have any values to start off with?
A: Don’t think about values (and limit yourself), think about what’s important to you, without any judgement. Write everything down!
Q: What happens if I have 10 and can’t get to my top 5?
A: Get someone else to help you by asking you what’s more important to you? When you compare one to another and you have to choose just one, you’ll soon narrow it down.
Q: I don’t have enough time to do this exercise
A: Make it fun. Do it in the evening while playing some music, or get someone to help you. You could also split it the exercise into three sections and just do a little bit whenever you get a chance.
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Makes one think! Values are most important when making any decision especially choices regarding ones future..
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