After going through an unprecedented lifestyle adjustment, a lot of us are feeling like so much of our lives is out of control. Even when things are starting to go back to normal for some (what is normal, anyway?), most of us are still feeling uneasy or constantly on edge. Some of these feelings of irritability may persist even after following our careful self-care rituals. One of the reasons these activities may not have a big impact is because they’re not truly renewing our energy or fulfilling our core qualities. This is why it is important to define and live by our core values.
Think about your core values as a particular set of energies that bring you the most fulfillment in life. They are our essence, the qualities you express when you are being your truest self. When our actions don’t align with our values, things can feel out of touch or hollow. But when you honor your values consistently you feel content, whole and in control. Values provide a sense of perpetual direction and so going back to them can help us identify what’s missing in life.
In order to identify your core values, you must undergo a process of self-discovery. Without it, it can be very challenging to avoid falling into a mainstream narrative of what your core values should be. With patience and honesty, you can determine you own values. We recommend the following steps:
Explore peak experiences in your life
Distance yourself from tasks and distractions. Take a deep breath and empty your mind. Give yourself time and space to let your mind flow freely. Try to remember a moment in your life that you consider a meaningful moment, one that stands out. What experiences have been the most fulfilling to you? Which ones have left you feeling like you were being true to yourself? Try to avoid the popular notion of a big achievement (running a marathon or securing a promotion). It can be as small as giving advice to someone or taking a walk with your mum. Write these experiences down and describe what was going on and what was happening to you.
Highlight the central theme or value in each experience
Reflect on these experiences to identify what it is about each one that made it so rich and fulfilling to you. What quality was honored in that experience? Try to express it in words that articulate what you feel. You can invent a phrase to capture a value. For example, giving advice to a friend may evoke the values of trust and reliability. Avoid referring to a list of values. If you do so, you might subconsciously start to test which values are “better”. Values aren’t selected, they are discovered.
Do this for every experience you have identified. Then try to group your values into related themes and select a word or phrase that best suit that particular group. You may have grouped values such as “teamwork”, “challenge” and “achievement” into a central theme of “mountaintop moment”. Get creative with your phrasing to get values that truly capture what resonates with you.
Determine your Top Core Values
Hone your list down to three to five primary values. List them in order of importance. That will force you to prioritize and determine what values are truly essential to your life. Ask yourself whether your list represents your primary way of being and if the values support your inner self. This is your final list of core values, but it is by no means definitive. As with any important decision, it’s best if you sleep on it. Revisit your ranking the next day and see how it sits with you. Then, repeat this step of the process again. Keep at it until you feel fully comfortable and confident with your list.
Defining your core values is no simple task, but living by them does not need to involve drastic shifts in your life. Simple changes here and there can make the difference. Rate your values from one to ten according to how much you are honoring that value in your daily life, 10 being fully expressing them and 1 being not expressing them at all. If you see some low rates, that can give you a clue on what is making you feel off or depleted. Try to prioritise or incorporate moments in your life that honor these values. You can also use this rating system to make difficult decisions by assessing how expressed your values are in a scenario where you made the decision.
If you do this constantly and record it, you can assess your progress and notice any differences in your lifestyle. By defining goals and creating a plan, you can become free.