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How to Discover (and Use) Your Values

If I asked you what your values were, what would you say? If you knew them, would you know what to do with them? Say your value is love, or honesty: how does that help you? Values are indispensable in determining how you live, and how you can live differently. They become more valuable as you clarify what they are and resolve to exercise them. Values are our unspoken standards of the life that we want. We can learn to ignite our values if we invest time and effort to recognize and connect with them.

Imagine you reach a fork in the road. How do you continue? When we’re not clear about our values, decisions like these can be frustrating. It’s easy to feel anxious when you don’t know what you care about most. We live in a world of life-hacks. Often, what we try to do is cope with whatever stressful decisions we encounter. And while coping mechanisms can be effective, they’re often short-term and do not address the root cause. However, our values can help us navigate our life with more clarity. When we cope, we deal with situations. When we exercise our values, we benefit from situations. If we align our actions with what we value—we begin to feel like life makes sense. We feel fulfilled, proud, and happy.

In the past, I’ve tried to make a list of my values and ended up with a mess! I wrote down too many things because there were a lot of things that I valued. It became vague and impractical very quickly. This time, my purpose is to make it practical and meaningful for you and me. Values can be a powerful wake-up call to what we really want in life. Follow the next three simple steps to discover your values:

1. Draw a big circle and fill it up with your values

Use the following questions and feel free explore your own to help you come up with your values: What do you see around you that you are proud of, respect, and love? Who do you like to surround yourself with? What do you love doing? What particular moments make you feel fulfilled? What do you desire in your life? What are you passionate about? What moves you emotionally? What values do you want to invite into your life? If you could write a book, what would it be about?

2. Choose five (or more) of your values

Select your top five most compelling values—your core values. They should reflect who you are and what’s important to you. How do you know if you have a good set of values? If you can deeply identify with them. Core values make us feel energized. They provoke a sense of pride and reflect what we stand for.

3. Write a concrete value-message

Once you get here, please go through this next exercise. It’s the most important. Write down your core values in a list form. Then, add a message next to the value. The message should have the following characteristics:

  • Help create a concrete image in your mind
  • Resonate with you by making your value come to life
  • Be a general theme to guide you (like a compass) 

Write the messages, and expect to rewrite them as you refine exactly what you need them to convey. We want our messages to propel us into incorporating our values as part of our lifestyle. For example, one of my core values is freedom. I wrote the word down followed by the message clarifying what exercising freedom looks like to me:

Freedom: Choose your own path, and have the courage to take it.

Values can be vague. But now, I have this very applicable and concrete message that resonates with me. It helps me clarify how to honor what I care about. Our personal values matter. But choosing to exercise them matters even more. I suspect that a lot of our happiness depends on our ability to align our life with what we care about, and these messages help us achieve just that. Once you have your value-messages, it’s up to you to honor them. How will you exercise your values tomorrow?

Juan F. Diaz

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