Values are a part of us. They highlight what we stand for. They represent our unique, individual essence. Values guide our behaviour, providing us with a personal code of conduct. When we honour our personal core values consistently, we experience fulfilment. When we don’t, we are incongruent and are more likely to escape into bad habits and regress into un-resourceful behaviour.

Knowing your values helps you choose, change, bend, flex, grow, inquire… they are at the core of our choices and behaviour. I remember going through my first values discovery process when I was 23 and attending an intensive inhouse Management Development Program. Four days devoted to personal effectiveness and development. Core values and goals were a central theme and one value that rose to the top of my list was relationships.

Clarifying this value as a top priority shifted many things in my young life. It influenced who I made friends with, how much time we had together, and it hugely influenced the desire to better understand what motivates behaviour.

Most of us don’t know our values. We don’t understand what’s most important to us. Instead, we focus on what our society, culture, and media values. I’ve been very fortunate along the way as I kept in touch with this core value, because it led me to meet the most extraordinary people, who later became friends, mentors, colleagues and enhanced my life considerably.

Can you articulate your top 5 to 10 values that are most important to you? Without undergoing a discovery process, it’s challenging to identify your personal core values. It’s easy to speculate and idealize what you should value. But knowing and accepting what you value takes effort. While the following process is best done with an ​effective coach​, you can do it on your own if you apply self-honesty, patience, and determination.

Ready? Take out your ​journal​, a notepad, or a note-taking app. And let’s get started.

Here are 7 Steps to creating distinct and meaningful core values that will serve you in every area of your life and work:

STEP 1: Start with a Beginner’s Mind

It’s too easy to presume that we know the answer at the start and to, therefore, never embark on a creative, personal discovery process.

 Adopt the ​mind of a beginner​—someone with no preconceived notions of what is—to give you access to inner truths to which your conscious mind is yet unaware. Take a deep breath​ and empty your mind. Remember that your conscious mind doesn’t have all the answers. Create a space for new insights and revelations to emerge.

STEP 2: Create Your List of Personal Core Values

Arriving at a concise and short list of values can be a daunting task. You can find lists online with almost 400 values to choose from. However, I don’t advise using any predetermined lists. Why? Values aren’t selected; we discover and reveal them. If you start with a list, your conscious mind will evaluate which values are “better” than others. That said, if you’re not familiar with working with values, you can scan a list of values to get a sense of your range of options. For example, here is an impartial list of core values that start with the letter

“C”: Calmness Candour Capability Care Carefulness Celebrity Certainty Challenge Charity Charm Chastity Cheerfulness Cleanliness Clear-mindedness Cleverness Closeness Comfort Commitment Compassion Completion Composure Concentration Confidence Coolness Cooperation Clarity Conformity Congruency Connection Consciousness Consistency Contentment Continuity Contribution Control Conviction

To help you uncover your own personal core values, here are three processes you can try:

  1. Peak Experiences

Consider a meaningful moment—a peak experience that stands out.  What was happening to you?  What was going on?  What values were you honouring then?

  1. Suppressed Values

Now, go in the opposite direction; consider a time when you got angry, frustrated, or upset. What was going on? What were you feeling? Now flip those feelings around. What value is being suppressed?

  1. Code of Conduct

What’s most important in your life? Beyond your ​basic human needs​, what must you have in your life to experience fulfilment? Creative self-expression? A strong level of health and vitality? A sense of excitement and adventure? Surrounded by beauty? Always learning? What are the values you must honour or a part of you withers?

STEP 3: Chunk Your Values into Related Groups

Combining all the answers from Step 2, you now have a master list of values. Maybe there are between 20 and 50 values on your list. That’s too many to be actionable. Your next step is to group these values under related themes.

  • Values like accountability, responsibility, and timeliness are all related.
  • Values like learning, growth, and development relate to each other.
  • Connection, belonging, and intimacy are, too. Group them together.

STEP 4: Highlight the Central Theme of Each Value Group

If you have a group of values that include honesty, transparency, integrity, candour, directness, and truth, select a word that best represents the group. For example, integrity might work as a central theme for the values I listed. You can keep the other words in the group in parentheses to give your primary value more context. You’ll use them again in step 6.

STEP 5: Determine Your Top Personal Core Values

Now comes the hardest part. After completing Step 4, you still may have a sizable list of values. Here are a few questions to help you whittle your list down:

  • What values are essential to your life?
  • What values represent your primary way of being?
  • What values are essential to supporting your inner self?

As a unique individual, you possess certain ​strengths​ and weaknesses. Your values matter most to you. How many core values should you end up with? Too few and you won’t capture all the unique dimensions of your being. Too many and you’ll forget them or won’t take advantage of them. While the number of core values differs for each person, the magic range seems to be between 5 and 10. Rank them in the order of importance. This is often the most challenging part. You may need to do this step in multiple sittings. After doing one round of ranking put it aside and “sleep on it.”

Revisit your ranking the next day and see how it sits with you. Then, go through the process again.

STEP 6: Give Your Core Values Richer Context

Now, creativity comes into play. Highlighting values into memorable phrases or sentences helps you articulate the meaning behind each value. It gives you the opportunity to make the value more emotional and memorable. Here are a few tips and guidelines for crafting your values statements:

  • Use inspiring words and vocabulary. Our brains are quick to delete or ignore the mundane and commonplace.
  • Mine for words that evoke and trigger emotional responses. They will be more meaningful and memorable.
  • Play to your strengths in crafting your values.
  • Make your value statements rich and meaningful to you so they inspire you to uphold them. You could use other words from the groupings you made in step 3 in your description. For example, let’s say you’ve identified a core value is health and this represents other values, like energy and vitality. Your values statement might be: “Health: to live with full vitality and energy everyday.”

STEP 7: Test the Ecology of Each Value

Once you’ve completed your list of core values, walk away from them and revisit them the next day after a good night’s sleep.

  • How do they make you feel?
  • Do you feel they are consistent with who you are?
  • Are they personal to you?
  • Do you see any values that feel inconsistent with your identity as if they belong to someone else, like an authority figure or society and not you?
  • Check your priority ranking. Do you feel like your values are in the proper order of importance? Nothing is final. Make any tweaks and changes as necessary.

Are You Living Your Personal Core Values?

Now you have a prioritized list of your top 5 to 10 core values, let’s see how well you’re living them. Assess how well you’re honouring each value by scoring each one on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 represents optimally living the value. What’s your level of satisfaction with each value? Record your score for each. You can set up a table in Excel or an online survey. Date the top of the column. Repeat this exercise once a month or quarter to assess your progress. If you score below 7 in a particular value, what changes do you need to make? What has to happen for you to further honour this value? Here’s where self-coaching comes into play. Define your goals. Create a plan. Actualize it. Another useful tool to help you here is the Life Wheel. It will help you notice where you are putting your attention and energy and creates perspective. If a core value is being compromised, the Life Wheel will quickly alert you to this.

How to Use Your Core Values to Make Decisions

Knowing your personal core values and their order of priority is helpful in making difficult decisions. Start by scoring your values as described above. Then, imagine your life several months or years from now having decided. For example, what will your new business or a family change your life? Step into this future picture as much as you can. Have it come alive in your mind. Now, score your values while keeping the vision alive in your mind. Does deciding elevate your values score? Does it cause friction with one of your higher values? This process will help bring a new level of clarity to your decision-making process.

Remember it starts with You!

Warm regards


(© 2017 ​Scott Jeffrey)