If I asked you what your top 5 values are, would you be able to answer? Perhaps not. And that is just fine, because it is much more useful knowing why you would want to know them. 

Our values act as guiding lights, illuminating the principles, ideals, and beliefs that matter most to us. They affect how we act and react to situations in our lives.

In other words, our values drive our behaviour. 

If our values are disregarded or compromised, we can feel frustration, disappointment, betrayal, or anger.

Consider a scenario where you value integrity as a professional, but you are being pressured by your superiors to engage in unethical practices. Not only would you feel uncomfortable, this inner conflict can cause high levels of stress and with time decreased motivation and depression as you lose contact with what you value most. 

When we are with people that have similar values we feel happier, because we can be more of the person we aspire to be.

Think of those working environments and the personal and professional relationships where you feel you can excel and grow as a person. It is highly likely the people, the company, team or community share many of the values that you have.

The Role of Values in Decision-Making

Person weighing up different values

As values are at the core of our identity, shaping our attitudes, behaviours, and choices, it makes sense to know what they are. Whether consciously acknowledged or subconsciously embraced, our values are integral to our decision-making process. If we can be more aware of what is triggering the emotions we feel, we can make more informed choices as Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Asana describes:

“By stopping regularly to look inward and become aware of my mental state, I stay connected to the source of my actions and thoughts and can guide them with considerably more intention.” 

One of your values may be environmental sustainability. In your daily life you are likely to be choosing eco-friendly products and supporting initiatives that protect the environment. Discovering new ways to reduce your carbon footprint will give you a profound sense of purpose and satisfaction because you are living in accordance with your deeply held values. Conversely, you will likely feel disappointment and anger when discovering a company, whose products you buy, is being accused of greenwashing. 

It can be confusing for us, if we are not consciously aware which standards of behaviour we value most. We get triggered and react to things happening in our lives without having the opportunity to understand more fully where these negative emotions are coming from.

When we know which values guide our choices, we may discover different courses of action, which we may otherwise have missed.

Loyalty may be one of your top values. You discover a friend has been speaking negatively about you behind your back, leaving you feeling betrayed. Knowing that loyalty is important to you may lead you to having a conversation with your friend specifically about this. It may also help you decide if this is the right friendship for you. Sometimes it is better for us to move on.

Photo showing examples of values and asking which top 5 values are yours.

Values help you understand what you are likely to prioritise, what will motivate you and how you will interact with others. It is also important to note they can change over the years. Check in once in a while to re-identify what values are currently driving you.

Identify Your Values

Grab yourself a cup of tea (says the Brit in me), or other favourite beverage, and do either one or both of the following exercises to help you work out what your values are.

Exercise 1: Identify the Top 5

Download this PDF listing 100 values and follow the instructions on how to get down to your top 5.

Exercise 2: Uncover your values with these questions

It is hard to see yourself and your values clearly. This exercise starts by looking at what you admire and dislike in other people. Get a pen and paper or digital note-taking tool and answer the following:

  1. Think of people you know, or characters from films or books. What do you admire about them? Think about what they do, what they say and how they behave. Do they have life philosophies that you identify with? The way Michael Jordan describes his career suggests that perseverance is bly one of his top values:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I failed over and over and over again in my life and that’s why I succeed.”

  1. Think of people and characters that trigger you negatively in some way. What things do they do or say that you dislike? E.g. They are constantly lying. This annoys you because you value honesty. They are messy and disorganised. You get irritaed by this because you value structure and order.
  2. In an ideal world, how would you like people to behave?
  3. Now we have warmed you up, let’s turn to you. What are you most proud of achieving? What were the beliefs and principles driving you to get this done?

Put these two exercises in your Personal Leadership Toolbox, so you can use them again and again and follow how your values change over time. 

Photo showing a signpost with the words mission, vision and values and asking the question: Are your values aligned with your vision?

I do these exercises every 3 years when I work on a new vision document for my personal, professional and private life. This helps me to make sure what I am planning is aligned with who I desire to be. 

Watch or listen to my podcast episode telling you how to write a vision or mission statement for all aspects of your life.

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