So, last time we talked about values: what they are, why they matter, and why they’re important in dating and relationships. Today, we’ll talk about how to actually identify your core values.
I’ve explored my values a few times in life, particularly when I was struggling. Often, when we struggle, especially when something doesn’t “feel right” but we can’t quite pin it down, we’re probably not living according to our values. One of these periods happened to me earlier this year. I was unhappy, I was irritable, I was struggling financially, I’d experienced several business failures, our house was dusty and torn-up from remodeling our basement, and it was wintertime. I felt stuck, depressed, and like a failure. And I admit I’ve felt that way more times than I can count, and when I look back I see I wasn’t living my values.
So, I decided to do some work on getting my personal shit together. It wasn’t enough to try yoga again or take a fun trip or watch Pride and Prejudice for the gazillionth time. I needed to go deeper and makeover my life, and start living according to my values. However, to do that, I needed to clarify what they are.
I’ll warn you now, there are 100 ways to identify your values, and there are many, MANY kinds of values. They can be broad categories or they can get super granular. It can be a little overwhelming. I started with an exercise I found on Mrs. Mindfulness. She does a great job explaining why values are important and then offering steps to begin exploring yours. Read the article, but I’ll outline the steps here:
- Recall a peak moment in your life. When did everything seem “on,” where you felt like your best self and life just seemed perfect? For me, one was when my husband and I were in Spain, traveling with friends, and eating this great meal on a patio in Sevilla. Life felt perfect that night, and I was totally in the moment.
- What made the peak moment so special? What elements stand out to you? For me, it was being with people I love. It was being in a beautiful place with great ambience. It was being outside in the warm night and eating great food. It was being somewhere new and different. From those observations, I pulled what values they could represent: connection to others, seeing new things, being in a beautiful place, great healthy food, being outside, enjoying luxury, traveling afar, etc. What’s interesting is when I think of other peak experiences in my life, many of them are similar: I’m outside in some beautiful place, eating or doing something physical with people I love being with.
- Choose the best ones. Of all the potential values you pulled from your peak experiences, choose the ones that resonate most. In my case, it was connection to others, seeing new things, and appreciating a beautiful place.
- Define what the values mean to you. For example, for me, seeing new things can mean traveling to a new place and seeing a new culture, meeting their people, seeing how they live, and eating their food. It means getting out of my boring comfort zone. Then, give the value a name that makes sense to you. I chose to call this value “adventure.”
- Repeat. Redo this process until you get 5-7 values.
This is a great beginning because it lets you mine the high points in your life and gets to the core you. I found a similar article on the MindTools website, which I like because it has a different tone than the first. It’s also useful because it offers up a giant list of values, from which you can pick and choose, which is helpful to generate ideas you hadn’t thought of before.
However, life is about more than peak experiences. We have to live our day-to-day lives, and some values aren’t as exciting as those expressed during the peak times. So, in the name of further exploration, I found a totally different site with a totally different process for value determination. Dr. Demartini’s site offers a longer quiz to help you ID values, and I found it really helpful in addition to the other tools I used. The only drawback is that it requires a log-in. Through this site, I was able to ID a few more key values of mine.
So, do the exercises. Gather a list of potential values. Chew on them for a while. A values list is a work in progress that requires tweaking and clarifying, but as long as you have a few to work with, we can focus on the next step: living them.
We’ll talk about that next time.