We all have different personal values related to our morals, beliefs, and experiences, and our values play a key role in determining our life choices.
For example, the nature of your values will influence everything from your love life to your career, your financial investments, and how you spend your time.
But have you ever really thought much about your personal values? Do you know what they are, and how to draw on them to maximize success? And what do you do if you don't like your personal values – can you change them?
This guide to personal values will help you to develop a deeper understanding of these values.
We'll consider what makes something a personal value, and help you discern what your own values are. We'll also explore what you can learn about yourself by examining your values.
Finally, we'll turn to the distinction between good and bad values, and to the question of how you can transform values that no longer serve you.
So, what exactly are personal values?
Broadly speaking, they are the things that are important to you.
They manifest in particular character traits, in specific motivations, and in decision-making. And different types of values will shape your personality and your choices in different ways.
For example, suppose that you value loyalty. You believe in standing up for people to whom you have made some commitment, and you think it's important to fight for the best interests of these people.
In contrast, when you let someone down or betray them in some, you feel like you've let yourself down in a significant way.
Thinking about this case can help you see what a personal value is, and what kind of impact it has. However, loyalty is simply one of many. We all have individual personal values, and there is dramatic variation in their nature.
Consider, for example, the difference between the behavior of someone prizes ambition and that of a person who prizes keeping the peace. This helps to underline the wide-ranging impact of values.
With this understanding of personal values in place, we can now turn to look at why they're so important and to think about where they come from.
What personal values are important to you? You might already have a sense of this. These values matter because you are going to be happier and feel more fulfilled when living in accordance with them.
To see this, let's imagine someone who values autonomy, and curiosity. For example, due to their personal value of autonomy, they'll probably feel trapped if they let others decide how to spend a vacation.
And because of their focus on curiosity, they'll be bored taking a course that requires them to merely regurgitate the views of others.
In contrast, if we imagine someone who prizes security, they may be happy enough with the decisions made by the others and by the safety of knowing exactly what they're supposed to do on the course.
The key point here is just that we're all different – what makes you feel good may make me feel stressed or anxious, and vice versa.
If we carefully define our values and then deliberately live by them, we can help ourselves find our life's purpose and help ourselves feel more fulfilled. Meanwhile, if you don't know your personal values, your life's narrative might lack coherence or unity.
Before we move on to identify more of your own values, let's briefly consider how these values are created.
Personal core values can be created in a range of different ways. Many of them have their roots in childhood when our early experiences begin to help us identify what we care about.
Some of your personal values were probably inherited from your family. For example, perhaps your parents prized loyalty, or your older siblings modeled bravery.
However, others will have developed through your formative relationships – by learning what makes you feel close to others, what helps to build your confidence, and what excites you. Negative or difficult experiences can also instill particular values.
So, some of your personal values are set without much conscious awareness. These deep-seated values may continue to influence you at a subconscious level until (or unless) you actively reflect on them.
However, as we'll see, you can also create core values and rejected outdated ones through deliberation.
Reflecting on your values can help you update them, and can remind you of the kind of person you want to be or the sort of life you want to live. Let's start that process of reflection now, by creating a personal values list. We'll walk you through the process.
Start by creating a broad list, including all the personal values you can think of. If something matters to you at all, write it down and add it to the list.
You might find this relatively easy to do – once you've noted a few, the rest may begin to flow.
However, if you find it difficult to make your personal value list or nothing is really coming to mind, it may help to make separate categories.
So, you could have one column with the heading “Professional values”, under which you might put values like ambition, teamwork, and respect.
Meanwhile, you can have another column headed “Relationship values”, and there you might add entries like honesty, patience, and humor.
You can even split relationship values into multiple categories that reflect your values in family, friendship, and dating settings. There are no rules for generating your list – just try to get as many of your genuine values down as possible.
Now that you have a comprehensive list of life values, let's start prioritizing. In your brainstorming phase, you likely generate a wide range of different values.
Some values will be fundamental, guiding values that influence almost every choice you make. Others will be only occasionally relevant, or perhaps better described as preferences than values.
To develop a clearer sense of your core values, try choosing ten that feel most important. At first, don't worry about putting them in any particular order. Simply try and pick the ten core values.
Once you have your list of ten, it can be especially useful to try and generate a top 5 values, or even to put your ten chosen values in order.
It's advisable to do this exercise in more than one sitting. So, make sure you come back to the list and reassess it at least once, considering whether the ranking has changed.
Ultimately, it doesn't really matter if you get the ordering absolutely right. The main thing is just to come away from this value-ranking exercise feeling confident that you know the top five values that guide you in life.
The final stage of the personal value list exercise involves trying to understand yourself better by reflecting on the values that made your top 5-10. Your values can help you find yourself in a sense – in other words, they can help you get to know who you really are and what's important to you.
Reflection prompt questions include the following:
Perhaps, at this stage, you're thinking “But I don't like some of my values.” Happily, values are not static. Rather, they can evolve as your own life experiences and preferences evolve.
There are techniques you can use to challenge outdated values. For example, you can design affirmations – positive statements that reaffirm your new values.
If, say, you want to reject the old value of putting others first, repeating a statement like “I know when to prioritize myself and my own needs” can help to reshape your thinking.
You can say this in the mirror, say it after meditation, or even write it down where you can see it when you get dressed in the morning.
Ultimately, however, the action is the best way to change your personal values. Start living in accordance with the new ones you want to adopt, and in time your beliefs and feelings will fall into place.
Go through your long list, and identify any values or types of values that you'd prefer to jettison. If you're struggling to tell the difference between good and values, ask yourself these questions about each entry on the list:
Answering “yes” to one or more of the above questions is a reliable guide to something going wrong in your value system.
Try not to feel bad about this – we all have mixed value systems that involve limiting beliefs that are holding us back.
All the matters are that you regularly identify these and work to replace them with values that make you feel self-confident, self-compassionate, and fulfilled.
As noted above, values are related to limiting beliefs. These are negative, self-undermining beliefs that hold you back and keep you small. We take these on board from critical family members, from school experiences, and from abusive dynamics at work at hope.
If we're going to be truly happy, reach our potential and find our true purpose, however, we need to challenge these old beliefs. This takes time and effort, but we have a way to streamline the process.
Our book “Origins” provides beginner-level Law of Attraction techniques that help you pick out, reject, and replace old beliefs.
Filled with easily implementable exercises and powerful useful explanations of how limiting beliefs work in practice. This book is the perfect next step if you want to move beyond an outdated, unhappy version of yourself.