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The Importance of Clarifying Your Values

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

“A highly developed values system is like a compass. It serves as a guide to point you in the right direction when when you are lost." Idowu Koyenikan

Values are your fundamental beliefs about what matters most to you. They help clarify what you can’t live without and help guide your behaviour, life, and work and are fundamental to living a life with meaning and purpose.

When you know what’s most important to you, you can more easily zero in on your priorities and determine where your boundaries lie. Furthermore, your values can help you decide how you want to live your life and help you assess if your life is heading in the direction you want. They can also help you make the right decision when faced with a tough choice. For example, if spending time with family is a core value for you, you might decide to turn down a job requiring overtime or a lot of travel.

Examining and clarifying your values, and pinpointing why they are important to you, can help you be better prepared to meet life's challenges. They help you distinguish between what’s important and not and guide you on what’s right and wrong. Having a strong sense of your values is like having a road map to guide you through life.

The importance of living your values

Living your values means being the truest version of yourself in all areas of your life that matter to you. However, not living in congruence with your values can have a negative impact on our resilience and emotional well-being. This misalignment between your core values and actions can:

  • Leave you feeling stressed, uncomfortable, and out of alignment with your true self.

  • Result in anxiety, anger, feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or other negative feelings.

The misalignment between values and actions is often the time when you feel conflict. These experiences of conflict can be due to external forces, such as when life or work demands overwhelm your system, and you act or behave in ways that are inconsistent with what you value. For example, I may value kindness and compassion but not treat others with kindness and compassion when I am stressed or overwhelmed.

When you know what values drive you and consistently behave in ways that align with your values, you experience greater clarity, fulfillment, and self-awareness. This self-awareness can help you better understand what leading a meaningful life looks like and is key to discovering a life of meaning and purpose. Values fuel the sense of purpose, give you drive, energy, and optimism to live your best life and guide you on what matters most during adversity and challenge.

The importance of rediscovery

Our priorities and values tend to change over time. Therefore, becoming more conscious of your true, current values is important because they are the best guide for living a better, more authentic life.

Steps to clarify your values

Step 1: Reflect on your life and experiences to identify when you felt happiness or joy, proud and most fulfilled or satisfied. What contributed to these feelings? Try to find examples from both work and personal life.

Identify times when you were happiest or experienced the most joy.

  • What were you doing?

  • Were you with other people? Who were they?

  • What other factors contributed to your happiness?

Identify times when you felt proud.

  • What were you proud of?

  • Did others share in your pride? Who were they?

  • Shat other aspects contributed to your sense of pride?

Identify the times when you felt most fulfilled and content.

  • What need or desire was fulfilled?

  • What was it about the experience that gave your life meaning?

  • What other factors contributed to your feelings of fulfillment?

Step 2: Reflect on times or situations when you felt out of alignment with your values. It might also be a time when you felt conflict or a sense of disappointment. What were you doing? What did that situation look like or feel like for you? Don't judge yourself for these moments. They are opportunities to learn from, and they can help you get back to your authentic self.

Step 3: Review the list of examples of core values on the next page and check every value that resonates with you. Write in others that you think of that are not on the list as well. Then, select the values that most accurately describe your feelings or behaviours.

Core Values List
Download PDF • 45KB

Step 4: Categorize values into related groups. Review the list and see if you can group values into categories. For example, honesty, transparency, and integrity are related and could be put into one group.

Step 5: Identify a theme for each group. Once you’ve categorized your identified values into groups, choose a word that best describes that group. Next, list the core value and, in paratheses, list the corresponding or similar values for context. For example, honesty, transparency, and integrity might be categorized as (truth).

Step 6: Rank the values in order of importance. In this step, it may be helpful to ask yourself which values are essential to life? Or select the first two values and reflect on them. Then ask yourself, if you had to act on only one of these values, which would I choose? Keep working until you have your list in the correct order. Then, set them aside for a day or two. When you come back to them, do they still reflect your core values?

Step 7: Reaffirm your values. Do they fit with your life and your vision for yourself?

  • Do you feel good about yourself when you see your top three values?

  • Do you feel proud if you think of sharing your values with others you look up to?

  • Do these values represent things you support, even if the choice to do so isn’t popular?

Additional Resource: Clarifying Your Values (PDF)--Adapted from Tobias Lundgren’s: The ‘Bulls Eye’ Worksheet (The Happiness Trap (Russ Harris): Link to PDF

Clarifying Your Values
Download PDF • 526KB


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