Defining Your Core Values
Recognising your core values is one of the best ways to kickstart a life of intentional living. If you know where your personal beliefs lie, it is that much easier to follow your star and always steer a course that is in line with what you want.
What are core values?
Your core values (sometimes called personal values) are the truest expression of your innermost self. They are what is left behind when you strip away all of the layers of expectations, decisions, mistakes and opinions. They are (perhaps unsurprisingly!) what you value most at your core.
Quite simply, they are what makes you, “you”.
How do you define core values?
Think about all the times you’ve felt strongly about something. All the times when you have believed in something and really, I mean really, felt it mattered. Chances are there is a common thread amongst these instances in your life.
Sit a while and ask yourself if there are any patterns. Any past wrongdoings you have never really been able to forgive, any deal breakers in past relationships, any themes that come up time and time again. Things that for you are just TRUTH.
Core values matter.
If these are your beliefs, you will find it almost intolerable to be with people who go against them. If you are inherently a sincere person who values honesty above all else, you will find it hard to be with people who continually lie and deceive, for example.
Core Values Vs Habits
I’m not talking about tired old scripts we play out due to habit:
“I’ll never succeed at X, Y or Z because I’m not intelligent/driven/pretty enough”
This isn’t your truth, it’s your mindset block.
I’m talking more about personal philosophies:
- Treating all people with respect because you believe we each have our own stories, and if someone is behaving like a douche, it could be that they are simply having a riiiiill bad day.
- Always telling the truth because you believe that personal integrity is the foundation of decency
- Not working evenings or weekends because you believe life is all about balance, and you value time spent with family (or alone!)
- Not eating meat because of religious or ethical beliefs
There are no right or wrong personal values, because they’re, well, personal. It’s just a case of being able to say “This is me.”
Take some time to figure out what are your deepest, truest feelings regarding various key areas of your life.
You can use the following as a guide or pick your own:
Write a sentence or two that describes how you feel and what you think is important. You might find that some areas stand out more than others, for example, maybe you feel strongly about the importance of family, but don’t have a strong opinion on career, or you have deep spiritual leanings but don’t really connect with health as a topic.
This is all part of the process. It’s natural to have stronger interests and this is integral to discovering your core values.
If everything is of equal importance, then nothing is… without personal priorities there is no focus, no particular goal which you can use to guide your decisions.
(That said, it can be beneficial to take a look at the various areas of your life and see if there are any you may have been neglecting, but we’ll save that for another post… for now, let’s just focus on your core values…)
What do you want out of life?
What does your dream life look like? If you could reach the end of your lifetime and look back over perfection, what do you see?
Think about that for a moment, allow it to sink in. This is where you’ll find what matters to you.
Defining your core values is a deeply personal project. You can’t look to others to tell you who you are.
That is to say, I can guide you, but the hard graft will be your own. Neither myself, your friends, your lover, your children or the lady in the corner shop can dictate what it is that makes you tick… You’ll need to do a little soul searching.
(Pssst! You got this! But if like me, you are the kind of person who can’t really untangle their thoughts until they have them written down in front of them, I created a FREE printable that will hold your hand through the process…)
Core Values vs Passing Interests
Sometimes we feel strongly about something only to look back on it with awkward embarrassment later. Can this be considered a core value if it felt important at the time?
Well maaaaaaybe, because we change… but probably not. Chalk it up to experience and move on. From time to time we will try new things, get enthused about them, only to realise ultimately they were a wrong fit. You can usually tell the difference: If something is a core value it will make you light up inside, it just feels right. A part of you, as natural as breathing.
Sometimes, however, it will just be that you have changed, and so have your values. So don’t discount something for fear of it being “a phase”. This is your journey after all. There are no rules and remember, no wrong answers!
Can your core values change?
You know those feels I just mentioned? The knowledge that you are in your right skin and have found your place in the world?
I remember vividly feeling that when I was about 16: Hair dyed jet black and backcombed to within an inch of its life, bright red lipstick and smudged eyeliner. I looked at my Robert Smith-esque reflection in the mirror and felt like I’d arrived. This is me. This is who I am!
It was only a physical transformation – but somehow it felt like so much more. It wasn’t so much a makeover as a declaration to the world that I accepted my oddball nature and quirks, that I believed it was OK to be different…
And I have to say, that core value remains, even if the makeup has changed.
We express ourselves differently at different times in our lives, but our fundamental beliefs often remain the same. I say often because there are other things I have believed in wholeheartedly in my lifetime that no longer hold true.
This is why it is essential to revisit your personal values periodically.
Reassess your values regularly
Create a tradition of revisiting your core values, maybe annually. I like to make it part of a new year ritual. It’s natural for your core values to change in time, or at least evolve. By regularly checking in with them and yourself you can make sure you are still headed in a direction that makes sense for you now at this stage in your life.
How do you stay focused on your goals?
Well, you’re off to a good start. The fact that you are taking the time to think about things is great!
We all have core values, but until we take the time to really explore them they can be a bit vague and uninformed.
Once you have them nailed down, it becomes that much easier to focus on them and keep them at the forefront of your thinking. Making informed choices and decisions in your day-to-day by living in accordance with what you believe becomes second nature. Try recording them as part of what I like to call your ‘Daily Dedication‘ ritual so that you become used to looking at them routinely.
Working your cores values into a morning routine, creating affirmations or a personal mission statement that you read to yourself every day is an excellent practice for keeping your goals front and centre.
What happens when you slip up?
Nobody is perfect. It is hard to live in alignment with your true self ALL the time. Sometimes you might slip up:
- You, the most staunch eco-warrior ever to have walked this glorious planet may forget your reusable drinks bottles or coffee cup and be forced to purchase a disposable in times of extreme thirst!
- Your perfect work/life balance may be challenged when you need to work overtime on your best friend’s birthday to earn some extra money.
- You may just find yourself having a bad day and snapping at your kids for no reason other than the fact that they are THERE and you need to vent, despite your solemn oath to yourself to be an exceptional parent.
Trust that this is all OK. Allow yourself to be perfectly imperfect. The point of defining your core values is to give you a foundation, a baseline for excellence that you aspire to. You won’t always hit the mark, but at least you’ll know where you are aiming.
Tips to help you stay inspired:
- Remind yourself of your core values daily, or at the very least, weekly
- Create a vision board that you keep in a prominent place at work or home
- Ask yourself regularly “Am I living in line with my beliefs?”
- Reassess your values regularly – they will not serve you well if they are no longer relevant!