How To Identify Your Core Values and Live By Them

identify your core values

Live Your Values

When I first did this activity, I discovered that kindness is one of my top values. I was living this value in some ways, with some people, and in some situations, but I had some major gaps. For one, I could be really mean to my husband, criticizing him for the smallest things. I could tell you I acted this way because I was angry or hurt, but these are just rationalizations–excuses that I told myself to justify my behavior. The truth is that living your values is hard, and I wasn’t yet ready to put in the work.

At first, I could still tell myself I was kind when I was being mean, that I was in fact living my values. But one day I realized I was just making excuses, and I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I was not who I wanted to be. It seemed scary and overwhelming to start living my values, but I decided that day that I had to do it. And you can do it too.

To start, take a look at the values list you created in the last activity.

For each of your most important values, ask yourself 3 sets of questions and record your answers:

1.Are there any people with whom you have a difficult time living this value? For example, maybe your romantic partner, parent, sibling, coworker, or friend?

2. Are there any situations that make it difficult for you to practice this value? Where are you, or what are you doing when you fail to practice these values? For example, maybe you’re at work, at home, out at a bar, on social media, in the car, or at the daycare center.

3. Is there anything else that makes it difficult for you to live your values? For example, maybe you live your values in the morning but not at night, when in your hometown but not on vacation, or on Monday but not Friday.

Once you’ve identified the external events that trigger you to veer away from your core values, it’s key that you identify why these experiences affect you this way.

Look through all of the people and situations that lead you to stray from your values and ask yourself what thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations lead you to act differently than you would like to?

The emotions that trigger you may be the same across all situations, or they may be different. So just write down anything you think of that leads you away from your values.

These emotions, thoughts, and associated bodily sensations are at the root of what causes us to abandon our values. When we act in a way that’s inconsistent with our values, we are just attempting to regulate or reduce our negative emotions, even if only temporarily.

Read The 5 Cups of Creativity

Identify Value Conflicts

If you’ve been following up this point, you now know which feelings or thoughts lead you away from living your values. To move forward, we need to deal with these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings in new ways. Easier said than done though.

Often times the emotions that we’re dealing with arise because our needs are being thwarted. For example, a man may seek out an extra-marital relationship because he doesn’t feel loved, appreciated, or physically attractive to his wife.

A woman may gossip about her coworker’s poor job performance because she doesn’t feel secure in her job. Or a man may micromanage other people at work because he still feels powerless from when his parents hit him as a child.

Our actions—even the ones we’re not proud of—usually make sense when we look at them as attempts to get our needs met. So, if you’re struggling to live your values, you likely have a conflict between living your values and getting your needs met. The way forward? Learn how to get your needs met in new ways—ways that don’t conflict with your values.

To identify any potential value conflicts, take a moment now to reflect on what the upside is when you go against your values.

What are you getting out of the actions you take?

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Dr. Tchiki Davis

Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., is a consultant, writer, and expert on well-being technology. She has helped build happiness products, programs, and services that have reached more than a million people worldwide. To learn more about how Tchiki can help you grow your happiness & well-being, visit berkeleywellbeing.comView Author posts