How do I determine my personal values?

By Angela Cox

What are your personal values? Accountability? Compassion? Loyalty?

Our personal values are shaped by the way we were raised, our past experiences, and the people we look up to.

Our personal values are what shape our decisions and our actions. They’re our compass and map as we navigate through life.

When something goes against one of your personal values, you may feel quite uncomfortable. This is because your personal values are at the core of who you are.

It’s when we act out of alignment with our values that things get tricky. When we do something that isn’t within our values, we diminish our self-esteem and self-worth. And, sometimes, we take on other people’s views of the world which aren’t aligned with ours – this often happens to people pleasers who compromise on their values to please others.

You need to determine and define your core personal values so that you can stick to them in every situation and avoid losing sight of your own beliefs. Here are some suggestions on how you can discover your personal values.

What are personal values?

Before we dig into how to define your personal values, let’s look at what this term actually refers to.

The most basic definition of personal values is that they are a set of beliefs or opinions that influence how we live our lives.

They are ideas that are important to us and characterise who we are as individuals.

Personal values play a significant role in shaping how we respond and react to situations and how we set goals for ourselves.

Your values could be happiness, joy, and kindness. They could also be faith and respect for others. On the other hand, they could be risk-taking, dishonesty, and overindulgence. You can imagine how each of these sets of values would affect how you choose to behave.

Now, let’s look at how to determine these values.

Identify the times when you were the happiest and proud

If you’re not sure what your personal values are yet, the best place you can start is to give some thought to the last few times you’ve felt really happy or particularly proud.

What were you doing? Were you with other people, and who were they? What contributed to your sense of happiness and pride?

You can also apply this to when you last felt the most fulfilled and satisfied too. What made you feel fulfilled? Why did it matter?

Spend some time writing these thoughts down and see if anything jumps off the page in terms of what could be defined as a value.

Think about when you were last triggered

Another way to uncover your personal values is to think about the last time you were triggered – when someone said or did something that just left your blood boiling. What was it about what they said or did that upset you most?

If something feels unfair or unjust, this could be an indication that fairness and justice are important personal values for you.

Choose them from a list

Take a look at this list and decide if any of these words truly resonate with you. Choose your top six to eight values while ensuring you’re being totally honest with yourself. You might like the idea of having confidence as a value, but is it really important to you deep down inside?

It turns out that it can be really valuable to look at an existing list of words rather than trying to come up with them on your own.

You might want to take this a step further and categorise the values you’ve selected from the list. What are the top three most important personal values to you? Which are the least important?

Prioritise your top values by comparing them

Now that you know what your core personal values are, it’s time to prioritise them. It’s worth noting that this step can be quite difficult, but it’s important to practice.

Take your list of values that you’ve now written down and ask yourself which ones you would choose in certain situations.

If your values are creativity and connection, which of these two would you choose to do on a Saturday morning if you could only do one of these activities? Is painting and crafting more important than spending time with others?

Let’s say your values are stability and service. If you had to choose, would you sell your house to move to another country and do foreign aid work, or keep your house and remain stable?

Continue working through the list by doing this exercise – comparing each value with the next. This will help you dig deep and truly uncover what’s most important to you.

I’ve helped hundreds of clients to narrow down their personal values, prioritise them, and live by them so that they can live truly authentic and meaningful lives. If you need a little help getting to the root of your personal values and how they affect your self-esteem, book a 1-2-1 coaching session with me via my website.

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