5 Steps To Discovering Your Core Values

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5 Steps To Discovering Your Core Values

What are core values and how do they lead to peace of mind and happiness in life?

Knowing what you value most in life is a giant leap closer to knowing who you are.

Core values are those underlying beliefs that guide your behavior and influence your actions. They help you make decisions about what's right for you and what feels wrong.

We make hundreds of choices a day — like what food we eat (or don't eat) to keep us healthy.

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The people we choose to spend time with might support us or sabotage our progress. Even the activities that fill our day could either feed our soul or deplete our spirit.

Many of these choices can be easier to make if you know what you care about most in a given situation and allow those values to inform your decision.

For instance, you might have an unexpected opportunity to work with your mentor on a creative project that has captured your imagination. Unfortunately, it's also the same weekend your young daughter has been waiting for — her first dance recital. And you promised to be there.

You believe that both creative freedom and putting your family first are essential values. But this time, they are opposing each other. What do you choose?

Or, maybe you agreed to meet your best friend for happy hour because she needs to talk, but you get an invitation at the last minute to have dinner with someone you’ve wanted to meet for months. How do you decide what to do?

What if you're dead-set against meeting with a group of your husband’s friends because they're loud, insensitive, and crass, but your husband insists you go. Begrudgingly, you go to keep the peace, knowing you’ve compromised your values of calmness and comfort.

Sometimes, life presents us with tough choices. When we're clear about our core values, they become virtual no-brainers.

When you learn how to discover — or rediscover — what you care about most, you can make wise decisions while honoring who you are and what you believe.

Your values become the foundation you can build a vision on that moves you forward to become the best version of yourself.

So, how do you discover your core values?

The first step is to prepare yourself for a period of self-reflection. Set aside time to sit quietly, without distractions, and open a journal or a pad of paper.

Then, follow these 5 steps and write down your answers to the questions below to bring clarity to your core values.

1. Think about who you admire.

List five to 10 people you admire most. Describe in detail what characteristics you admire in them and why that’s important to you. Then, circle or highlight the characteristics you already see in yourself.

Your list of most admired people can contain family, friends, and famous people — either living or deceased.

For instance, you might admire Helen Keller because of her perseverance and tenacity in the face of adversity. You believe those are qualities required to become resilient in life, so you would like to embody more of both.

See how that works? 

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2. Remember times when you were happiest, proudest, or most confident.

Step back in time and recall the instances when you felt happy, proud of yourself, or confident.

Be as specific as you can when remembering dates, places, people, and circumstances. Think about what you cared about most at that time, and write about that.

3. Make a list of all the values you hold dear.

Some people may not be quite sure where to start. They might gravitate to common values, such as integrity, respect, trust, or freedom. But there are so many more.

So, get a list going to help get the creative juices flowing, and open your mind to more possibilities.

4. Group similar values together.

We live by many values, and they can all change over time as our circumstances change.

Generally speaking, there are several which remain constant, regardless of the situation . Work toward finding those.

As you group like values together, find a word that describes the group. This will become the value you place at the top of that group. 

For instance, let’s say one group is comprised of honesty, truth, and trustworthiness, so you label the group as "Trust."

You will likely end up with 10 to 12 groups.

5. Determine each group’s priority in your life today.

Use four categories to create this ranking:

  • Essential
  • Very important
  • Sometimes important
  • Not important

The goal is to reserve the "Essential" group for your top five core values that are the non-negotiables.

Drop the group’s label into the appropriate category until you've prioritized all the groups.

Remember, you're thinking about what you care about most today and moving forward — not what might have been influential in the past.

If trust is one of your overriding values, put that into the "Essential" category.

If you have more than five in your "Essential" category, take a more in-depth look. Ask yourself why each value is essential, and move the ones that are very important over to that group.

Having more than five in the "Essential" category can make decisions harder.

When you have completed these activities, you will have a decision-making checklist. The next time you have a choice to make, bump the options against your top five values.

If one choice honors more than three and the other choice does not, you have a no-brainer decision. And it's one that you can feel confident about.

Go back for a moment and consider the example of choosing to attend your daughter’s recital versus working with your mentor that weekend.

"Family first" is one of your top-five values in the "Essential" category. "Creativity "is sitting in the "Very important" group.

Although you may have some angst over giving up the creative weekend, disappointing your daughter would make you feel worse. When you honor your family first, you set the example for everyone that you are walking your talk. Values in action reveal great character.

I love what Mike Rowe, host of the TV show Dirty Jobs, said: "Happiness comes from knowing what you truly value and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs."

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María Tomás-Keegan is a certified career & life coach and founder of Transition & Thrive with María. For more information on how she can help you design a life you love based on your values and vision, visit her website.