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The more we value things, the less we value ourselves Bruce Lee quote

What Are Values? How to Discover Yours and Build a Life of Purpose

Values are a crucial foundation to living a life of purpose. Figuring out what yours are will help you set fulfilling goals.

Are you constantly trying to better yourself but feel like you're getting nowhere? You're running for your life but still stuck in the same place? Or maybe you're exactly where you always dreamed of being, yet there's a hole inside. If isolating feelings of being trapped resonate with you, it's time to check in with your values.

What's truly meaningful to you? What qualities do you wish to cultivate? How do you want to live your life? Where are they taking you? Are you stuck in the same place, or worse, moving in the wrong direction at light speed?

The good news is that you can redefine your values through introspection and self-awareness. By engaging in a candid conversation with yourself, you can initiate transformative change at any moment—and we're here to show you exactly how to have that conversation.

What Are Values? Why Are They Important?

View of two men's shoes standing on a sidewalk with a sign that says, "Passion led us here."Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

In our fast-paced world, finding our true direction is crucial. Imagine values as the North Star guiding our journey amidst life's complexities. They provide clarity and purpose, serving as a moral compass in a stormy sea of uncertainty. At their core, values represent what truly matters to us, guiding our decisions and actions. Whether pursuing success or weathering adversity, staying true to our values offers a steady anchor in turbulent times. Ultimately, values are the essence of authenticity and fulfillment, shaping our identity and defining our path.

I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values - and follow my own moral compass - then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.
Michelle Obama

Ultimately, our values are important because they are the fundamental beliefs that shape our attitudes, behaviors, and decisions. Values serve as a crucial foundation for living a life of purpose in a world fraught with chaos and confusion. Values are essential to thriving in life or overcoming depression, anxiety, or a general lack of meaning. In many ways, we're living in an age with a crisis of values. The disintegration of religion, along with a growing sense of individualism, has left a void. Fortunately, you don't have to look outside to connect to your values — quite the opposite. Values reside within. Rather than being created, they're discovered.

Values don't just have a drip-down effect, they actively inform our beliefs, our behaviors, and our choices. Without knowing what your values are, it can be a real challenge to know what direction to move in. The beauty of being connected to values is that they are not just a form of intrinsic motivation, but also a powerful tool for self-discovery and personal growth.

The 3 Different Types Of Values: How To Define Yours

When it comes to defining our values are there are three distinct categories to consider.

  1. Junk Values
  2. Personal Values
  3. Core Values (the most important)

Think about it this way: "Junk Values" are the values we don't need and are still holding on to. Personal Values are the flexible values that define our day-to-day lives. Core Values are the values that define our lives in the big picture.

Each of these 3 types is significant in shaping our lives, influencing our decisions, and defining our sense of purpose. Here is everything you need to know about keeping the good, reassessing the bad, and tossing out the ugly!

  1. What Are "Junk Values" And How Do You Toss Them Out For Good?

"Junk Values" are exactly what they sound like—empty, fleeting desires packaged as markers of success or happiness. Junk values are like the bright red jumbo bag of Doritos in the supermarket aisle. They are cheap, ready-to-eat, mouth-watering even! But those Cool Ranch Doritos you just can't put down are ultimately empty calories and leave you feeling worse off than before you had them.

Much like a supermarket, our society is filled with tantalizing displays and flashy advertisements, enticing us with materialistic ideals like fame, wealth, and success. We are bombarded with messages that suggest these are the pathways to happiness and fulfillment.

New York Times best-selling author, Johann Hari calls this phenomenon "junk values." In his book, Lost Connections, Hari explores the consequences of embracing these hollow values. Just as junk food harms our bodies, junk values corrode our minds, leading to rising rates of depression and anxiety. This insight prompts us to reassess what truly matters and take deliberate steps to reclaim our authentic selves.

“You aren’t a machine with broken parts. You are an animal whose needs are not being met. You need to have a community. You need to have meaningful values, not the junk values you’ve been pumped full of all your life, telling you happiness comes through money and buying objects. You need to have meaningful work. You need the natural world. You need to feel you are respected. You need a secure future. You need connections to all these things. You need to release any shame you might feel for having been mistreated.”
Johann Hari

So, how do you clear out the pantry for good?

  1. Start with awareness. Recognize the seductive allure of junk values and their detrimental effects on our well-being. Understand that true fulfillment comes from meaningful connections, personal growth, and living aligned with our values.
  2. Take Intentional Action. Begin by evaluating your priorities and identifying your core values. Reflect on what truly brings you joy, purpose, and fulfillment. Then, consciously align your actions and choices with these values, making room for what truly matters.
  3. Choose What "Aisle" You Walk Down. Limit your exposure to influences that perpetuate junk values. Filter out social media content that promotes superficial ideals and cultivates a supportive environment that encourages authenticity and genuine connections.
  4. Don't Beat Yourself Up If You "Break Your Diet." Practice self-compassion and patience as you navigate this journey. Clearing out the pantry of junk values is a process that requires time, effort, and resilience. But with persistence and dedication, you can reclaim your authenticity and pave the way for a life filled with meaning and fulfillment

2. What Are Personal Values?

“Personal value is the kind of value we receive from being active instead of passive, creative instead of consumptive.”
Clay Shirky

Don't mistake personal values to be the same as core values. While core values represent broad principles, personal values are more individualized, reflecting our unique identities and making us adaptable.

Imagine traveling to a new city with a companion—a mother, partner, or friend. You've eagerly planned certain activities, like visiting a renowned landmark or visiting a local market you've longed to explore. Yet, while these excursions excite you, your companion might not share your enthusiasm. Perhaps they dread the museum tour or find the strenuous hike to a scenic viewpoint unappealing. Maybe their idea of a relaxing vacation is curling up with a bottle of wine at the hotel bar! Their differing preferences aren't categorized as "good" or "bad." They illustrate the diversity of personal values.

Personal values can seem elusive or trivial, especially as they vary from person to person. Online lists offer countless labels for values, yet the significance lies in what these values mean to you individually.

Consider integrity as an example. For you, integrity may evoke images, emotions, and motivations unique to your inner world. It might entail maintaining a strong character and honoring commitments or making tough choices for future growth.

Values often form a network rather than isolated traits, with overlaps and connections among them. Integrity may intertwine with truth, honesty, and courage, creating a complex web of personal principles. Your set of personal values isn't fixed in stone. As you evolve over time, so do your values, reflecting your growth and changing circumstances.

3. What Are Core Values? Why Are They The Most Important?

I stopped living according to my core values. I knew what I was doing was wrong but thought only about myself and thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to.
Tiger Woods

Core values are the heart of who we are! They are the driving force behind our actions, often steering us toward our deepest desires and aspirations.

Due to their significance, core values play a significant role in motivation. Why do you do the things you do? It’s likely there are core values that act as intrinsic motivation below the surface. For example, having a dream to become a millionaire might be less about cold, hard cash and more about a core value of freedom and independence.

Discovering and decoding our core values means reflecting and tuning out distractions. Our values evolve and change over time, along with our character. Imagine the difference in values between someone launching a business in their early 20s and someone starting a family in their 30s.

To uncover our core values, we can draw from two key sources of insight.

  1. Reflecting on our childhood experiences can offer valuable clues. What activities brought us genuine joy and excitement? What captured our imagination and held our attention? These childhood passions often reveal the foundational values that have shaped us.
  2. Recalling moments of happiness, fulfillment, and aliveness in our lives provides further guidance. What were we doing during these moments? Who were we with? These occasions serve as powerful indicators of when we are most aligned with our core values. By gaining clarity on these values, we establish a roadmap for living authentically, making it easier to connect with them in the future.

Understanding our core values is essential in understanding what truly motivate us. They're the reasons behind our actions and decisions. By knowing our core values, we can live more purposefully, focusing on what brings us real fulfillment.

If you're still having trouble defining a few key core values, here's a handy guide to help narrow it down.

What Are Examples of Core Values: A Guide For Defining Yours

Cartoon sign that says "Always be open, move fast. and build social value."Photo by Charlie Firth on Unsplash

Here's a list of core values often emphasized in leadership institutes and programs. While not exhaustive, it offers insight into common core values. Experts suggest choosing less than five core values to focus on—if everything is a core value, then nothing is really a priority.

Here Are Over 50 Core Values To Consider!
  1. Authenticity
  2. Achievement
  3. Adventure
  4. Authority
  5. Autonomy
  6. Balance
  7. Beauty
  8. Boldness
  9. Compassion
  10. Challenge
  11. Citizenship
  12. Community
  13. Competency
  14. Contribution
  15. Creativity
  16. Curiosity
  17. Determination
  18. Fairness
  19. Faith
  20. Fame
  21. Friendships
  22. Fun
  23. Growth
  24. Happiness
  25. Honesty
  26. Humor
  27. Influence
  28. Inner Harmony
  29. Justice
  30. Kindness
  31. Knowledge
  32. Leadership
  33. Learning
  34. Love
  35. Loyalty
  36. Meaningful Work
  37. Openness
  38. Optimism
  39. Peace
  40. Pleasure
  41. Poise
  42. Popularity
  43. Recognition
  44. Religion
  45. Reputation
  46. Respect
  47. Responsibility
  48. Security
  49. Self-Respect
  50. Service
  51. Spirituality
  52. Stability
  53. Success
  54. Status
  55. Trustworthiness
  56. Wealth
  57. Wisdom

When you’ve felt on top of the world, at your very best, which of these values did you feel most you connected to? How can you connect deeper to them, or set the conditions to invite these types of experiences?

The Importance of Taking "Value Inventory:" How To Live A Life Aligned To Your Values

Black sign on a wall that reads, "Whatever it takes."Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

We do it with our partners, but for some reason, we don't do it with ourselves—why is that?

You may have heard of the dreaded "DTR Talk." If not, it stands for "Define The Relationship Talk." You still know what it is if you haven't heard the term. It's the inevitable make-or-break conversation in every romantic relationship where a couple is forced to define their values and consider if they are truly headed in the right direction.

Checking in on where our relationship is going with ourselves is just as important—if not more. We are in a lifelong partnership with ourselves. It's the longest relationship we will ever have, with no exceptions. So, we must always be taking stock of what we value and if our current values are taking us in the direction we want. Think of it like a "Value Inventory."

Tool #1: The Life Values Questionnaire

Explore your values further with the Life Values Questionnaire from Dr. Russ Harris' book "The Happiness Trap." This questionnaire delves into how you want to behave and connect with the world. As you answer each question, explore the underlying values that are meaningful for you.

A. Relationships

  1. What sort of relationships do you want to build?
  2. How do you want to behave in these relationships?
  3. What personal qualities do you want to develop?
  4. How would you treat others if you were the ideal you in these relationships?
  5. What sort of ongoing activities do you want to do with these people?

B. Work / Education

  1. What personal qualities would you like to bring to the workplace?
  2. How would you behave towards your colleagues/customers/employees if you were the ideal you?
  3. What sort of relationships do you want to build in the workplace?
  4. What skills, knowledge or personal qualities do you wish to develop?

C. Personal Growth / Health

  1. What ongoing activities would you like to start or take up again?
  2. What groups or centers would you like to join?
  3. What lifestyle changes would you like to make?

D. Leisure

  1. What sorts of hobbies, sports, or leisure activities would you like to participate in?
  2. On an ongoing basis, how do you want to relax, unwind, or have fun, in healthy, life-enhancing ways?
  3. What sorts of activities would you like to take up or do more of?

Keep in mind, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to your core values. This is a process of exploration, so take time to think deeply about each answer, and allow the values to present themselves as you work through each section.

"Your Future Is Created By What You Do Today, Not Tomorrow"

Dark image of a brick wall in industrial setting that has a neon sign reading, "Today was a good day."Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Defining your values may feel daunting, requiring introspection and effort—and that's because it is. But the hard work is the most meaningful, so don't let getting up a sweat stop you.

The truth is, if you don't consciously choose your values, unconsciously others will choose for you—be it society, your community, your friends, or your peers. However, as we've learned, many values are junk values, those that don't add much meaning to life.

You can not overlook the importance of core values. Values guide us throughout life; they give added purpose and meaning and help inform each decision, from the day-to-day to the life-changing. Although values reside deep within, in the heart, discovering them isn't a passive process By taking time to reflect and uncover your values honestly, you begin to build a life of purpose. You discover the deep intrinsic motivation that fuels you. In knowing this, you can take action to invite more meaning and more value into all areas of life.

“Life involves hard work. All meaningful projects require effort. Unfortunately, all too often, when faced with a challenge, we think, ‘it’s too hard’ and we give up or avoid it. That’s where our values come in. Connecting to our values gives us the sense that hard work is worth the effort.”
Dr. Russ Harris

Then, with added clarity, you can hold yourself accountable by regularly checking in through integrity reports or good old-fashioned self-reflection. Hopefully, by connecting to your values, you’ll discover the determination and resilience to build the life you want, informed by your heart’s desire and motivated by your North Star. And always remember: the hard work is worth the effort.

A Reading List To Continue Your "Values" Journey

  • Abraham Maslow, Religions, Values and Peak Experiences (1964) - say what it discusses
  • James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
  • Johann Hari, Lost Connections (2018)
  • Dr. Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap - How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT, (2007)

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