What are core values, why have them, how do I figure out mine, and what are ways to incorporate them into my life? I’ll answer these questions, as well as share resources you’ll need to make it happen.
“Those who stand for nothing, fall for anything.” Alexander Hamilton
That statement is as true to today as it was when Hamilton made it, and I’m sure it will be just as relevant 100 years from now.
You have to know what you believe in. You have to know your values. And I’m not just saying you need to have an idea of what you think is right or wrong, and of the greatest importance to you. I’m saying you need to spend time thinking about this concept of your values, writing them down, revising them, and putting them into practice.
Knowing and applying your core values are a skill which can serve you for the rest of your life if you take the time to learn them. They can help you to lead a happier and more content life because you’re living them. They can help you know when you need to make changes because you’ve strayed from them.
The definition of values is, “The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.” The definition of personal values is, “Broad desirable goals that motivate people’s actions and serve as guiding principles in their lives.” Values are the unique life beliefs and principles that you feel are most important to you. They are the things you believe in and want to support, or that you feel are not beneficial or harmful and want to avoid.
Having personal values can serve as a framework for your decision making.
- How we spend our most important resources. If you’re not a good steward of how to allocate these, a million others are ready to do so.
- Protecting our bandwidth. Can I afford it according to my budget? Is this something I want to give my attention to? Values give permission to say yes or no.
I don’t want you to figure out your values so you can tell other people you have values. I want you to figure out your values so you can become the best possible version of yourself and live the best possible life you can. Being clear in what my values are has helped me to be a better and more effective leader, and the same can be true for you. I’m someone who wants to be thought of as a leader; someone who talks the talk and also walks the walk. When you make your values known to the world, you put yourself “on the hook.”
Once you’ve identified your values, you can invite accountability and expectations from yourself and others. That’s what it means to be “on the hook” and that’s a big part of what it means to be a leader. Think of it like this: “This is who I am and this is what you can expect from me.”
Consider doing this exercise for three major areas of your life:
- Personally: Once you’ve decided on your core values, you’ll know if your thinking, decision making, and behavior is aligned to them.
- Your family: As a family, deciding on what your core values are will give you the same benefits as they do for you as an individual. You’ll collectively know if what you’re doing is aligned.
- Your community: Community comes in many forms. It can mean your neighborhood, business, or clubs. Once you’ve made it known who you are and what you believe in, others can know what they can expect from you. Imagine a world in which everyone was clear in what others can expect from them and what they can expect from others.
Determining your values
Now that I’ve built this up, know that it’s not easy to come up with your values out of thin air. Prompts help. Go through this list and select those that resonate. Certainly, you can add any others that aren’t on the list.
Try to narrow your list down to 5, then 3. There’s not a correct answer to how many core values you have. They’re your core values.
Think about what each value you identify means to you. What do people who embody that value do or not do? To think beyond yourself, consider if there are things you want to change about your community or the world. Figure out what they are and why.
I didn’t start seriously thinking about my core values until I was in my mid thirties. I started thinking about my core values a lot harder once I had kids and a new desire to be a good parent and instill good values in my kids. Through this process, I came upon the idea of having a personal code, which I liked a lot.
A personal code puts into writing those ideas and philosophies that are the essence of your life and allows you to say, “I will do this because I believe this.” Creating a code made me think like I have a personal operating system, just like our technology has an operating system. I came to think of it as a blueprint for how we live our lives. As I went along, I realized I needed to go deeper than just core values, and to dig into what my core beliefs were as well. What I discovered was that these beliefs are critical components of our operating systems.
Just like our phones are constantly running programs, humans are constantly running them as well. Many of these programs were installed at birth, others by our parents, environment, and experiences. While there are constant updates in the form of new learning, a lot of the programming from when we were kids is the underlying code.
This operating system informs so much about us and our lives
- It informs the basic beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world we live in. When you believe you can achieve whatever you set your mind to, that others are good and willing to help, and the world is a fair place, you’re probably going to be successful.
- It helps us determine how we perceive and interpret the world. If you believe the world is out to get you, you’ll act accordingly.
- It is very convincing and full of persuasion and conviction. It’s not easy to change our opinions on things we’re firm on.
- It informs the things we accept as true without question. These are the way things are and have always been.
- It creates negative beliefs that are deadly and limiting. Self-fulfilling prophecies play out everyday. Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.
When I became aware of the role these core beliefs play in our lives, I wanted to learn more. So I dug into what my core beliefs are and I want to help you figure out what yours are. Below is a list of common beliefs. As you read them, don’t read too deeply into them at first – just be mindful of your first reaction to them. The more emotional your reaction is, the more powerful that belief may be.
Life is good
The universe is abundant and grants my wishes
People always like me
I can do anything I want to do
Things always work out for me
I’m good at a lot of things
My future will be better than my past
Good things happen when you make them happen
Others will help me
I can do this
I believe in myself
I can make tomorrow better
Opportunities are all around me
I can make something bad into a good thing
I am not special or different
My mind is capable of great things
My hard work will pay off
I can change if I want to
I’m not limited to anything
Learning is key
Failure does not exist
I deserve love; I can have love. I am a good person
I am worthy; I am worthwhile
I am honorable
I am lovable
I am deserving
I deserve good things
I am healthy
I am intelligent
I am significant
I deserve to be happy
I am okay as I am
I do the best I can
I am trustworthy
Do you agree or disagree with them? Which resonate with you the most? Take some time to think and write about them. Many of us will spend a lot of our lives to unwind negative core beliefs. While that’s not my intention or goal here, I encourage you to explore your beliefs as deeply as you can.
Like your values, start with five that really resonate with you, and then work to narrow the list down to three. Once you’ve done that with both your values and your beliefs, you can bring them together into your code.
Here are mine
- The universe is limitless and grants my wishes
- My future will be better than my past
- Things always work out for me
- Friendship, justice, and learning
- Increase confidence, build community, live intentionally
- Encourage, empower, and entertain
Our Code (For myself and my family)
- We have fun with everything we do
- We work hard at everything we do
- We do our best at all times and in every aspect of our lives
- We are kind to ourselves and others
- We are honest in every aspect of our lives
- We accept responsibility for everything in our lives
Once you’ve done this, revisit them everyday. Think about them and then write about what your experience is in living them. The real value is when you find yourself running contrary to them; when you’re not living them. Recognize when it happens and dig into the reasons for it. This will help get you closer to truly owning and living your code and becoming the person you really want to be. When you do this, you’re making your life better, as well as the lives of those you come across, and that’s an incredibly powerful and impactful thing.
If you’d like to dig deeper into this, you can access our Values course at no cost.
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