What are core values?
Core values are a central part of who you are – and who you want to be. They are the guiding principles by which we govern our lives. Whether we realise it or not, they dictate and influence everything we do. Our core values influence our decisions and choices, and even our behaviours. Core values, and how we live by them, can be different for each person. Examples of core values are:
What’s the benefit in knowing them?
Understanding our values and how they guide our decisions and actions helps us to make the right decisions and to get more meaning out of life. Sometimes when making decisions, many options may seem reasonable, so it's helpful and comforting to be able to rely on your values and use them as a strong guiding force to point you in the right direction.
For example, let’s say you have your monthly school committee meeting on this Thursday night and you've just been invited to a movie with a friend on the same night - how do you choose? It will be your values that will influence the one you choose (even if you’re not consciously aware of it). Maybe your highest value is integrity. If your friend is really pushing you to go to the movies, and they're really persuasive, you may feel conflicted between honouring your school commitment and going out with your friend. If you are clear on your values, you can look at those to guide your decision. You would most likely choose to attend the committee meeting because you would want to honour that and maintain your integrity. Being clear about integrity being your highest value helped to guide a decision that created the least regret. When we feel regretful about a decision, it's often when we acted against a high value.
How can they help me create more meaning in my life?
Knowing your values also helps you to intentionally create deeper meaning in your life. For example, while studying my Diploma, we were given an exercise to put something together as a team – we didn’t know what we were putting together or why. Initially I found the exercise only mildly interesting because it was just following some written instructions and working with my group to put some pieces of plastic and metal together. Half way through this exercise we were shown a video of landmine victims who had lost their hands, and were using special prosthetic hands instead. Slowly I began to realise that what had seemed like a rather benign exercise of putting together pieces of plastic and metal, was actually building one of these prosthetic hands! It was a powerful example of how our values provide significant meaning to what we are doing. My top values of ‘family’ and ‘love’ found completely new meaning in those bits of plastic and metal – it became a gift of love and compassion, which actually brought tears to my eyes [see photos below].
The point is that we can look for that meaning from our values in anything that we’re doing. Doing the dishes, putting out the rubbish, making a bed.....all have meaning if you are clear on your values. Let’s take doing the dishes as an example. I could reflect on my values of ‘love’ and ‘family’ to understand that doing the dishes is an act of love towards my family.
How do you discover your core values?
It will help if you can grab a pen and paper and take some quiet time out. Consider these:
- Think of a time when you were doing something and the time seemed to stand still for you. A time when you were so absorbed in what you were doing that everything else in your mind disappeared. Note what you were you doing?
- Consider what your greatest accomplishments are. As many as you can think of. Note them down.
- Think of those times when you are in conversation with friends or loved-ones and you found yourself on your soapbox about a particular topic/subject. A time when you felt so passionate that you couldn’t just let something go. What was it that you got fired up about?
- Look at the ‘Values List’ above and note all those that really resonate with you.
- Now have a look at all your responses and notice any common themes in them.
- From your notes and reflections on common themes, identify 5 core values that you notice in these.
Core values are guiding principles because they form a solid core of who you are and what you believe. Core values are traits or qualities that you consider not just worthwhile, they represent your highest priorities, deeply held beliefs and are your fundamental driving forces. Good luck discovery yours and using them to empower your life.