What Are Your Values?

Deciding What's Most Important in Life

Find out how to identify your values,
in this short video.

How would you define your values?

Before you answer this question, you need to know what, in general, values are.

Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work.

They (should) determine your priorities, and, deep down, they're probably the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to.

When the things that you do and the way you behave match your values, life is usually good – you're satisfied and content. But when these don't align with your values, that's when things feel... wrong. This can be a real source of unhappiness.

This is why making a conscious effort to identify your values is so important.

How Values Help You

Values exist, whether you recognize them or not. Life can be much easier when you acknowledge your values – and when you make plans and decisions that honor them.

If you value family, but you have to work 70-hour weeks in your job, will you feel internal stress and conflict? And if you don't value competition, and you work in a highly competitive sales environment, are you likely to be satisfied with your job?

In these types of situations, understanding your values can really help. When you know your own values, you can use them to make decisions about how to live your life, and you can answer questions like these:

  • What job should I pursue?
  • Should I accept this promotion?
  • Should I start my own business?
  • Should I compromise, or be firm with my position?
  • Should I follow tradition, or travel down a new path?

So, take the time to understand the real priorities in your life, and you'll be able to determine the best direction for you and your life goals  !

Tip:

Values are usually fairly stable, yet they don't have strict limits or boundaries. Also, as you move through life, your values may change. For example, when you start your career, success – measured by money and status – might be a top priority. But after you have a family, work-life balance may be what you value more.

As your definition of success changes, so do your personal values. This is why keeping in touch with your values is a lifelong exercise. You should continuously revisit this, especially if you start to feel unbalanced... and you can't quite figure out why.

As you go through the exercise below, bear in mind that values that were important in the past may not be relevant now.

Defining Your Values

When you define your personal values, you discover what's truly important to you. A good way of starting to do this is to look back on your life – to identify when you felt really good, and really confident that you were making good choices.

Step 1: Identify the times when you were happiest

Find examples from both your career and personal life. This will ensure some balance in your answers.

  • What were you doing?
  • Were you with other people? Who?
  • What other factors contributed to your happiness?

Step 2: Identify the times when you were most proud

Use examples from your career and personal life.

  • Why were you proud?
  • Did other people share your pride? Who?
  • What other factors contributed to your feelings of pride?

Step 3: Identify the times when you were most fulfilled and satisfied

Again, use both work and personal examples.

  • What need or desire was fulfilled?
  • How and why did the experience give your life meaning?
  • What other factors contributed to your feelings of fulfillment?

Step 4: Determine your top values, based on your experiences of happiness, pride, and fulfillment

Why is each experience truly important and memorable? Use the following list of common personal values to help you get started – and aim for about 10 top values. (As you work through, you may find that some of these naturally combine. For instance, if you value philanthropy, community, and generosity, you might say that service to others is one of your top values.)

Accountability
Accuracy
Achievement
Adventurousness
Altruism
Ambition
Assertiveness
Balance
Being the best
Belonging
Boldness
Calmness
Carefulness
Challenge
Cheerfulness
Clear-mindedness
Commitment
Community
Compassion
Competitiveness
Consistency
Contentment
Continuous Improvement
Contribution
Control
Cooperation
Correctness
Courtesy
Creativity
Curiosity
Decisiveness
Democraticness
Dependability
Determination
Devoutness
Diligence
Discipline
Discretion
Diversity
Dynamism
Economy
Effectiveness
Efficiency
Elegance
Empathy
Enjoyment
Enthusiasm
Equality
Excellence
Excitement
Expertise
Exploration
Expressiveness
Fairness
Faith
Family-orientedness
Fidelity
Fitness
Fluency
Focus
Freedom
Fun
Generosity
Goodness
Grace
Growth
Happiness
Hard Work
Health
Helping Society
Holiness
Honesty
Honor
Humility
Independence
Ingenuity
Inner Harmony
Inquisitiveness
Insightfulness
Intelligence
Intellectual Status
Intuition
Joy
Justice
Leadership
Legacy
Love
Loyalty
Making a difference
Mastery
Merit
Obedience
Openness
Order
Originality
Patriotism
Perfection
Piety
Positivity
Practicality
Preparedness
Professionalism
Prudence
Quality-orientation
Reliability
Resourcefulness
Restraint
Results-oriented
Rigor
Security
Self-actualization
Self-control
Selflessness
Self-reliance
Sensitivity
Serenity
Service
Shrewdness
Simplicity
Soundness
Speed
Spontaneity
Stability
Strategic
Strength
Structure
Success
Support
Teamwork
Temperance
Thankfulness
Thoroughness
Thoughtfulness
Timeliness
Tolerance
Traditionalism
Trustworthiness
Truth-seeking
Understanding
Uniqueness
Unity
Usefulness
Vision
Vitality

Step 5: Prioritize your top values

This step is probably the most difficult, because you'll have to look deep inside yourself. It's also the most important step, because, when making a decision, you'll have to choose between solutions that may satisfy different values. This is when you must know which value is more important to you.

  • Write down your top values, not in any particular order.
  • Look at the first two values and ask yourself, "If I could satisfy only one of these, which would I choose?" It might help to visualize a situation in which you would have to make that choice. For example, if you compare the values of service and stability, imagine that you must decide whether to sell your house and move to another country to do valuable foreign aid work, or keep your house and volunteer to do charity work closer to home.
  • Keep working through the list, by comparing each value with each other value, until your list is in the correct order.

Tip:

If you have a tough time doing this, consider using Paired Comparison Analysis   to help you. With this method, you decide which of two options is most important, and then assign a score to show how much more important it is. Since it's so important to identify and prioritize your values, investing your time in this step is definitely worth it.

Step 6: Reaffirm your values

Check your top-priority values, and make sure they fit with your life and your vision for yourself.

  • Do these values make you feel good about yourself?
  • Are you proud of your top three values?
  • Would you be comfortable and proud to tell your values to people you respect and admire?
  • Do these values represent things you would support, even if your choice isn't popular, and it puts you in the minority?

When you consider your values in decision making, you can be sure to keep your sense of integrity and what you know is right, and approach decisions with confidence and clarity. You'll also know that what you're doing is best for your current and future happiness and satisfaction.

Making value-based choices may not always be easy. However, making a choice that you know is right is a lot less difficult in the long run.

Key Points

Identifying and understanding your values is a challenging and important exercise. Your personal values are a central part of who you are – and who you want to be. By becoming more aware of these important factors in your life, you can use them as a guide to make the best choice in any situation.

Some of life's decisions are really about determining what you value most. When many options seem reasonable, it's helpful and comforting to rely on your values – and use them as a strong guiding force to point you in the right direction.

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Comments (33)
  • Yolande wrote This month
    Hi candid

    Thanks for a thoughtful comment. This list is great, yes. After I did this exercise the first time a number of years ago, I started becoming much more aware of the massive role our values play - even in everyday things like talking to a colleague or making friends with someone.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    Yolande
  • candid wrote This month
    This article is very helpful. Since most of us are struggling to attain or maintain a middle class standard of leaving there seems to be some basic values from your list.
    Vision- obviously one needs to have a vision and purpose in life and they need to value that.
    Profession- one's profession is usual their source of livelihood.
    Family- we are a member of a family in one way or the other and at some point decide to make our own
    Hard work and Growth-very basic for most middle income earners.
    Learning- (not on the list) but very important in today's ever changing world. (may be covered by intellectual status)
    What benefits most in this article is the list. It seems the earlier in life one acquaints with or choose the values that make meaning to their life, the sooner they have a shot at self actualization or general happiness. We can also choose to associate with those who have the same values with us or those with values that complement ours.
    Thanks
  • Yolande wrote This month
    Values can be strengths yes, Jena, but I think if you're unbalanced in a value it can become a weakness. Having ambition is a strength, but being over-ambitious may be a weakness. Being orderly can be a strength, but being too orderly will cause you to prioritise incorrectly. Hope it helps!
  • Jena wrote This month
    Are one's strengths also considered one's values? Do they equate each other?
  • Yolande wrote This month
    Hi Narjas

    Let's have a look at what personal values are: "Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work." The things that you mentioned, are they important to you in the way you live and work? Because if they are, then they are values to you.

    I'm not sure whether values can hold us back. Maybe they can if we are rigid in the sense that we expect others around us to attach the same value to them. I think it's important to understand that other people's values are organised differently. Where integrity may be my number one value, it may be someone else's number four value. That doesn't mean that they don't have integrity - it just means that there are three other things that are stronger. On a list of 150, number four is still a very strong value!

    Hope that answers your question. If it doesn't, please feel free to ask more questions!

    Yolandé
  • Narjas wrote This month
    How do you decide whether something is a value, or isn't? Things like
    Detail-oriented/ close-up view/ scrutinising or
    Respect-needy

    Do some values hold us back?
  • april123 wrote Over a month ago
    Setting goals and starting to attain them step by step, does wonder for your self-esteem. Also, knowing without a shadow of a doubt what your values are and how they influence your decision making, gives me a sense of security that nothing else can give. It's having boundaries without feeling boxed in because it's all about how I choose to live.

    Way to go Vinjol03!

    April
  • Vinjol03 wrote Over a month ago
    Hi thanks for the link to the articles which were very interesting. Some of the tips of building self esteem I think are spot on.
    Since I started doing more planning at work and setting small goals, my self doubt is reducing. I hope to take an hour at the end of a working day to recap on what needs doing - it is challenging and some times I do feel lost and self doubt rates it ugly head (my hammer is by my bed/desk to bas it down with
    It was interesting reading how low esteem can at times present it self I.e procrastination, self doubt, need for reassurance to affirm ones self worth.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Vinjol03,
    In addition to what Dianna said, I just wanted to highlight the importance of looking within yourself for acknowledgement and approval, rather than seeking it from others.

    Many of us do want that outside approval, yet, at the end of the day, we have absolutely no control of whether the other person approves/disapproves, whether they agree/disagree, or whether they are going to speak up and give approval or not.

    The critical thing is focusing on yourself and finding your own 'measures of success'. Rather than waiting for others to say 'good job' or 'well done', just know within yourself that you have done a good job and that you have done well.

    The link Dianna mentioned, as well as the related links to confidence, will give you some ideas to start working with. Remember, it's baby steps, one step at a time towards developing new habits!

    Let us know if you have any questions or how we can help support you as you take those steps.

    Midgie
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Vinjol03,
    It's interesting when our values reveal things about us we didn't immediately recognize. Sometimes these exercises bring these 'hidden' ideas to the front. I'm glad you discovered some interesting things about yourself.

    I wonder if low self esteem is part of the issue. I've found that when people rely on praise and recognition from others this is often a sign of low self esteem. Being overly critical is another sign. You have to learn to believe in yourself and recognize all the great things you accomplish because it's unpredictable as to whether an outsider will praise us or not. I'd like you to read this article on self esteem: http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/newTCS_80.php It also has a link to our article on self confidence that I think will be helpful as well.

    Take a look at these and come back with questions and insights. I'm certain we can help you work through this and develop a great attitude about yourself so that you can start cheering yourself on and realizing how fantastic you are!

    Talk soon,
    Dianna
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