12 Easy (And Fun) Ways to Identify Your Core Values
Aug 7, 2022
Imagine you’re driving on the highway. You’re relaxed, driving calmly, listening to some good music on the radio, a couple of mph under the speed limit - no need to rush!
Then, out of nowhere, a red sports car comes rocketing right up behind you, flashing his lights and you see him cursing you in the rearview mirror. “What an ass”, you think to yourself, “slow down buddy, you’re gonna get someone killed”.
One thing is very clear, you value patience, safety, and consideration towards others – the guy in the red sports car clearly doesn’t.
Your core values influence your decisions every single day, they affect your habits and routines on a subconscious level. They inform your moral code of what’s right or wrong. And they help to guide you towards your higher purpose, shaping your career, personal life, and even your relationships.
Why is it important to connect with your core values?
One of the most important things you can do in your life is to connect with your core values.
Why? Because it's a road map to your ideal life. It will help you identify what you really want out of life and focus on that.
If you don’t have a clear understanding of what is important to you, then the chances are that you will end up living someone else’s life.
Let me share a short story with you.
Bronnie Ware was a palliative care nurse. In a nutshell, it was her job to care for terminally ill patients in their final weeks.
As you can probably imagine, she was privy to their darkest and most vulnerable moments and confessions. In 8 years of listening to her patients recount their biggest regrets, she heard the same themes over and over again.
The number one regret of the dying is "I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me".
When you live life by your core values, you'll experience more happiness and fulfillment. If you don't, and allow other people's values to define your actions, you won't be fully committed to your goals and you'll develop habits that don't serve you.
Let's take a look at some easy (and fun) ways to identify your core values.
The way we're going to do it is simple, I'll give you a bunch of questions that you need to ask yourself. You can take out a journal or a notepad and write your answers down. You can just think about your answers while you're running, swimming or walking in the woods. Or you can even get a partner or a good friend involved and talk through the questions together.
Ready, ok then let's rock and roll…
12 Questions to help you identify your core values
How would your best friend describe you?
When you're trying to figure out what's important to you, funnily enough, it can help to get an outside perspective. The people we're close to see us when we're at our most vulnerable - when we let our guard down.
We spend a lot of time (consciously or unconsciously) projecting a persona into the world. Your partner, friends and close family members can see right through that. Ask them what they think are some of your best qualities and what they believe defines who you are as an individual.
When was the last time you were so engaged you forgot about the time?
This is what I call a "flow state", and it's a great way to test whether or not you're doing something that aligns with your core values. Flow happens when you're so focused on something that the rest of the world disappears, and you're left with nothing but a sense of fulfillment.
When you're really in your flow state, it can be easy to lose track of time. You might not even notice when someone interrupts you or asks what time it is. When this happens, it's usually because you've found something that really speaks to who you are and what matters most to you—and that's why it feels so good.
When was a time that you felt 'at your best' or running at peak performance?
When we are at our best, we are able to produce results and see the fruits of our labor. When we feel like we're running at peak performance, we're able to make a positive impact and achieve the things that matter most to us in life.
Just like your flow state, your peak performance happens when you're doing something that aligns with your core values. When you are at your best, when you are running at peak performance, then you are doing what is most important to you. And that's how you know what matters to YOU.
I'm sure there are many situations where you've felt this way—when you're playing sports, when you're playing with your kids, when you're doing something creative. Think about what brings out your best self!
What drains your energy?
There's also a darker side to core values. If you're doing something that isn't aligned with your values, it can suck your energy and leave you feeling drained and unmotivated.
The good news is it will be pretty easy to spot!
If you have a hard time giving yourself permission to take time for yourself or if you feel like taking care of others is more important than taking care of yourself, this could be a sign that you're doing something that's not aligned with your values.
Or maybe there's something in particular that makes your stomach drop when someone asks about it—that could be a sign too!
Doing things that drain us of energy might seem like they'll make us more productive—but in reality, they just end up making us less effective at everything else we do because we're so exhausted! So make sure to take some time to identify what drains your energy so it doesn't drain all of yours away!
Are you 'tolerating' anything in your life right now?
When you're trying to figure out what your core values are, it can be helpful to think about whether you're tolerating things in your life that are against those values.
If there are areas in life where you feel you're putting up with something to make other people happy it could be a sign it's not aligned with your core values. For example, if you have a friend who is always late but always makes excuses for it, that might be something you tolerate because they mean so much to you. But tolerating things like this is dangerous - it can make you resentful and sour your relationships.
Here are some things that may indicate that something isn't aligned with your core values:
- You feel like you're not being true to yourself
- You're feeling resentment towards someone
- You feel as though you have no control over your own life
- You feel like other people have more power than they should have over certain aspects of your life
There are always going to be things that don't align with our core values in every relationship we have—and that's okay! But if we consistently tolerate them without addressing them in a healthy way, then they can become a negative part of our lives. It really is OK to say no sometimes.
What do you look for in a close friend or partner?
Look at the people closest to you, what do you like about them and what attracted you to them in the first place?
What characteristics of theirs do you appreciate most?
Do they make you feel like you can be your true self? Do they make you laugh? Do they do their best to keep things fun and interesting? Are they generous? Is it their sense of adventure, or their willingness to go out on a limb for their friends, or their sense of humor?
The answers to these questions can give you a very clear indicator of your own core values.
Who are the people in your life that you most admire?
You know the feeling you get when your favorite celebrity posts something on Instagram? You're like, "Damn, I wish I could be like that person."
That's because they're living their values and something about that reflects your own.
Did you have a childhood idol or a favorite teacher? Are there celebrities or someone outside your inner circle who you aspire to be like? Why do you admire them?
Try to think of five words that describe the kind of person you want to be like.
What do you want people to say about you when you die?
Kind of dark, but hey - let's be real, the grim reaper is coming for all of us one day. When that day finally arrives (hopefully a long time from now) how do you want people to remember the way that you lived?
Maybe it's that you were always there for your friends and family. Or maybe it's that no matter what was going on in your life, you always had a smile on your face. Maybe it's that no matter what challenge came along, you were able to face it with grace and determination.
It doesn't have to be some grandiose vision—it can be as simple as "She made her smile" or "He looked after my dog when I was away on vacation." When you think about it this way, it's easier to block out all the answers you feel you 'should' give - and focus on what you really stand for.
When you think about your life, what makes you feel proud of yourself?
Pride is a powerful emotion. It's a direct line to your core values so when you feel proud of yourself it can shine a light on what's really important to you.
For some people, the answer is their career. For others, it's their family and friends. It could also be that they take care of themselves by eating healthy and exercising regularly.
When you feel proud of yourself, it can be an automatic response to push it away and belittle your achievements. Instead of that, pay attention to it and bathe in the glory.
What do you love most about yourself?
This can be difficult because most people are taught to be humble and not boast about how great they are (although, that could even be a sign that modesty is a core value).
If there's something about yourself that makes you feel good when someone else says it out loud, then it's probably one of your core values. But you need to be honest with yourself. At the end of the day, it's not about what other people think of you; it's about what YOU think of yourself.
So make a list of your strengths and the things you admire about yourself - no shame, just focus on what makes you feel proud of yourself.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Why haven't you changed it yet?
I'm guessing it's probably something small: maybe you wish you were more organized, or better at making decisions. Maybe you'd like to be less stressed out and more relaxed. Or maybe you just want to be more confident when talking to people.
Whatever you come up with, focus on how it makes you feel. If it brings up feelings of sadness, shame or regret - then there's a good chance it's connected with your core values.
But whatever it is, why haven't you changed it yet?
There are plenty of excuses for why we don't change—we're too busy, we don't have enough money to invest in ourselves, or maybe we're just too lazy. But the real reason is that we don't think the change is worth it. We know we want something different from our lives, but when faced with the prospect of actually making that happen and investing in ourselves… well… who wants that? It's so much easier just to keep doing what we've been doing all along!
But here's the thing: if you want something better than what life has given you so far, then you need to do something different than what life has given you so far. And that means taking action—taking action on yourself and your life!
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the world, what would it be?
This is a big one, but it can give you a deep insight into your values.
Imagine if you had a magic wand, Harry Potter style, that could make the world perfect. What would you do with it? What would be your first step towards making the world a better place?
We're guessing that your answer is probably along the lines of "I'd end hunger" or "I'd make everyone happy." And those are great answers! But they're not quite what we mean when we ask "what would be most important to you if there wasn't any limit?"
So let's break it down for you: If there were no limits on how much money or time you had in this world, what would be most important to you? What would matter most? The answer might surprise you.
Some common core values
If you're struggling with any of these questions, don’t be hard on yourself. Discovering your core values isn’t easy. It’s important to say that there’s no definitive list of values but here are some of the most common personal values people have and what they mean.
Adaptability - the ability to remain flexible and pivot when the time comes
Altruism - unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others
Assertiveness - knowing what you want and having healthy boundaries
Courage - the ability to face difficulty, danger, or pain without giving in to fear
Dependability - people can always rely on you to keep your word
Family - your parents, guardians, kids are all essential parts of your life and you’re always there to support them
Frugality - you hate waste, needless spending and don’t understand people who don’t save a portion of their paycheck
Generosity - you’re always willing to give your time, money and attention to others
Gratitude - you always say “thank you” – and mean it!
Integrity - you have an unwavering moral code that you aim to live your life by
Open-mindedness - you’re always open to new ideas and perspectives and never judge others based on theirs
Personal growth - another day, another opportunity to be fitter, stronger, and a better version of yourself.
Self-reliance - you have all the resources you need, your fiercely independent
Self-respect - you’ll never stoop below what you know you deserve
Support - you’re always there to give a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on
Uniqueness - it’s important to you, not to be one of the sheep. You have your own image, opinions and beliefs and you’re not afraid to show them.
You've discovered your core values - so what next?
Then, think about what habits or behaviors help support those core values. For example, if one of your core values is kindness and compassion, then being kind and compassionate every day might help reinforce that value in your life. If another one is self-care, then making sure that you take time out for yourself every day might help reinforce that value in your life too.
For a fool-proof guide on creating new habits that propel you towards a life of happiness and fulfillment, check out this post.
A final note about core values and flexibility
You might think that your core values are fixed – that they're set in stone and can't change. But in reality, they're not static at all. They are constantly evolving as you take stock of what's important to you at any given point in time. And if you're feeling out of sorts or uninspired about something, it's worth taking some time to ask yourself why and see if there are ways for you to align that activity with your values so that it doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth.