One of the most common things I see when I coach is that people are not familiar enough with their core values. It’s not something that is being explicitly said, but it’s possible to spot these cases. When someone tells me that he got really mad over something, and I ask him “Why did it make you mad?” the answer I sometimes receive is “I don’t know”. This indicates that the person being coached is not familiar enough with his values, in order to point out which values was hurt, that got him so upset.
I believe that being familiar with ourselves, and our core values, is the basis for every self-development process we go through. That’s why today’s post will be dedicated to our core values, and more importantly, how to identify them.
What are core values?
Values are ideals which a man lives by. They act like a compass to his behavior, and as such they have the power to influence his action and his life.
Do you ever get angry at someone while driving? That’s because the behavior of the guy who made you angry, does not sit right with your values. We have the tendency to compare our own behavior, and that of others, to our own values on a continuous basis. Even if this comparison is not done conscientiously (which it usually doesn’t), it is still happening.
Most of our values were formed back in our childhood. We received them from our parents and our environment, and we created them from our own experience and beliefs. When we grow older we hone our values and construct them further. Our values represent our character, and since there are no two identical people, there are no two people with the same core value set (This is not scientifically proven like the difference in finger trips, but it’s pretty safe to assume that this is the case.)
When we act according to our values, or when there is some occurrence that corresponds to one of our values, we feel happy and exhilarated. The more our value is expressed in our action or the event, the stronger the feeling. Of course this works both ways. The more a certain action or event contradicts one of our values (or some of them), the more anger or frustrated we will feel.
The more our way of life reflects and expresses our values, the more energetic, happy and fulfilled we will feel. And the other side of this is that the further away our way of life is from our values, the more we will feel emptiness and resentful.
A personal example of the way our values affect our lives is a story from my previous working place. In my previous position I had to accomplish many tasks in a short period of time, due to customers’ requests. Even though I was managing to accomplish those tasks on time, and keep our clients happy, I kept on having a strange feeling in the back of my mind that bothered me. When I tried to explain myself what exactly was the issue, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Since I couldn’t exactly express what was wrong, I just kept on going like that. As time went on, this small, bothering sensation kept growing, until it reached a certain point where I was getting frustrated with the situation.
This feeling caused me to arrive angry to work, and return angry home. I started disliking what I was doing. It was only after I really gave myself time to explore my values, did I understand what was wrong.
One of my most important value is thoroughness. All though the tasks were completed according to the customers’ satisfaction, they were not completed according to my satisfaction. There was always a loose thread somewhere, that bugged me, and I just had to tie. One of my values was constantly being pushed aside and trampled.
The moment I realized that I understood what needs to be done in order to handle the situation.
I decided to take fewer tasks, and perform them in a way that I was happy with, and not just our customers. That decision was what made the entire difference. Within days the feeling of frustration subsided, until after a relatively short period of time, it just disappeared completely.
So if values are meaningful in our life, and if knowing our values (and ourselves) can cause us to live rich and fulfilled life, why is it that just a few people live like that? The answer, in my opinion, is that very few people give themselves the time to sit down with themselves, and find out their own values. If they don’t know their values, they can’t express them. If they can’t express them, they feel unfulfilled, unhappy and sometimes even resentful.
All you need to discover your values is the time and the right tools. I can’t provide you with time (You’re just going to have to take some), but some great tools are listed below.
How to identify your values
There are several ways in order to identify our values, and all you really need for this is a pen, a paper and some honesty.
The goal of the below exercises is to help clarify the values which guide us through life. While answering, feel free to make a list of any value that pops to mind. Here is a short list of a few values that could help you get started: Responsibility, Precision, Ambition, Serenity, assertiveness, Generosity, Sensitivity, Freedom, Creativity, Honesty, Stability, Positivity, Excellence, Hard Work, Discipline, Independence, Practicality (you can download the full list here)
1. You greatest moment
Close your eyes and recall the happiest moment in your life. This is a moment in which you felt most fulfilled and alive. You felt so good, you were overflowing with joy. This could be when you had you first kid, or when you managed to achieve a something that you worked on for a while. It could also be any other moment that you remember as the high point of your life.
After figuring out what is that moment, ask yourself what is it that made it so good? What feelings did you feel that made you feel good?
The answers to those questions will give you a pretty good example as to what your core values are.
2. Happy times!
This exercise is very similar to the one above, only a bit broader. Think of the ordinary times when you feel happy. This could be seating on the beach, meeting friends, eating a delicious meal, whatever is that thing that makes you happy, and causes you to feel good. In each one of those situations, ask yourself, what is it in this situation that makes me feel the way I felt.
We feel good when we express our values in a certain way. The minute you understand what is it about the situation that made you feel good, you could find out what is the value behind that feeling that was expressed.
3. What makes you angry?
This exercise is the same as the previous exercise, only in reverse.
Whenever one of our values is being ignored, or whenever a certain outside event comes into conflict with our values, we feel angry and we get mad.
Think about the last time you got really angry at something or someone. What exactly made you angry? The answer shouldn’t be why the situation or person made you angry, but rather what is it in the situation or behavior of the person made you feel the way you felt. When you can answer yourself what is it that made you angry, you could also understand which one of your values was not honored.
Living our values
I hope that after completing the above exercises you will have a list of several values that express your unique personality.
After making the list, go over it again and choose 4-5 values you feel are the ideals that you think you should live by. These are your code values. By trying to express these values on a daily basis, and making an effort to live according to those values, you would feel how your life become happier, healthier and meaningful.
There’s no trick in living a happier life. All we need is a good understanding of ourselves, and the desire to live according to our values.
As always, any comments or stories are always appreciated.