There are a billion stars in the sky and there are a billion values you can follow.
But if you set sail in your life without deciding which key stars you will follow in the sky you may find yourself lost at sea, running into heavy weather or even aground on the rocks or reefs of hostile shores. Our stars are not astrology, but our core values which are there to guide us on our path through life.
Your values are your base program against which you test environments and make the right decision for you. They are there whether you know them or not, and you may have even adopted a few poor values unintentionally. Your values may also be in conflict with each other, leading you to shores you regret having sailed to. You then have to expend more time and energy correcting your course across the waters of your life.
But how do you do determine your values? Is there an easy way?
Yes and No.
The Internet abounds with a myriad of quizzes that aspire to help you determine your values (see resources below). And there are countless books that help us to identify them.
What I have found, having tried a handful of online tools, is that there is no shortcut to identifying your values but the online tools can help if you’re completely stuck. You still need to put in some reflection about your life and what is important to you. Then cut out anything that opposes this. It isn’t a one-time-deal and values can evolve over time, and you may find what you think should be your values isn’t exactly true in real life. For example, if health is a core value then is hitting the town on a Friday night for beers and cocktails followed by late-night pizza and a stinking hangover on Saturday really in line with this? Is fun actually more important to you as a value?
How to Find your Values
The Darius Foroux’s book, he takes the very straightforward approach of simply taking time to consider what’s important to you and then writing a list of your values and describing what each means to you. Similar systems ask you to simply write out a long list of words, then group and filter them to distil more generic values to which the long list relates.
I find the latter more useful to me as it allows my mind to free-wheel and get things out onto paper which my conscious, filtering mind might get in the way of.
In Vishen Lakhiani’s book, he asks you first to reflect on the emotional highs and lows of your life. Strong emotional experiences tend to imprint behaviour patterns in us which form our default values, even if we don’t realise it. Based on your own life story’s highs and lows, you then produce a list of values that are distilled from them.
The goal here is to develop a list of 5-10 values by which you steer your life. More than this becomes confusing and hard to remember, and less than this is too abstract.
Running on Autopilot?
In the book The Edge (review to follow), Michael Heppell adds an interesting dimension to this exercise because he shows that the values we are running our lives on unconsciously may not be the ones we aspire to. He uses anti-values on the list such as greed to allow us to get to the core of who we are – for example, when the buffet is opened are you the first up and pile your plate high? Take a hard look at how you behave in some situations and you’ll see the real you. You can then work out what you would like your values to be and consciously remove the unconscious, limiting patterns (values).
Making Sense of it All
This is one exercise that requires introspection and time to work out at a deep level what is meaningful to you. You may prefer Vishen’s experiential method, or just work on lists, or a hybrid of the two. Online tools can help if you are really stuck, but they only operate within the framework of the method that they adhere to, so you may find you are missing some of your key values. You will have to do further work after you have tried the tools.
I did an exercise previously where I free-wrote a list of values that I thought were my core set, then grouped them into similar themes and reduced it to a list of 5 values. They were all relevant, but having explored each of the tools below and looked at lists of other values on the Web, I realised I had missed some things which were relevant to me. I then added to (and deleted from) my master list and then dropped these into The Prioritizer (see 6 below in the resources) to help me rank them in order of importance.
The thing with your values is that they can change over time and, as you refine your initial list, you will probably come back to this a few times and iterate until you are happy. Do this work. It is very important and sets you aside from 95% of the population who are at sea without a compass.
Personally, reflecting on my list of values made me realise that I had compromised on some things that were important to me which resulted in me not fulfilling my life and my life not being fulfilling. Some were conflicts between values – which is inevitable but doesn’t mean they are wrong – for example, sacrificing a higher value for a lesser one. As Michael Heppell says (see Running on Autopilot above), my default values were not the ones I aspired to and this caused me problems and, I believe, also contributed to unconscious self-limiting beliefs. Looking at my life experiences as Vishen recommends, I can see how events which occurred to me have also reinforced these limitations, and also see how these life lessons often repeat themselves because I was not living true to my values. To follow the metaphor in the introduction, it was as if my life did not follow the course my guiding stars showed, leading me into stormy waters and running aground on rocks.
When you get your list of core values you will be faced with a decision: Is your life in line with your values? That’s where you take firm hold of the helm of your ship and chart new waters. It might not be easy, and I am happy to help if you need further support. But do the work. Know your values, follow your compass and live a great and fulfilling life.
The first four of these are quizzes or tests, and the fifth one is a good starting list of common values to help you work out your own list.
- www.personalvalu.es – I found this tool a useful starting point. It has a good list of more common values and then asks you to decide which you rate more highly than the other. You can pre-select a subset of their value list, or just select all. The site then uses a standard comparison algorithm and you click value A or B from the list of values you selected. All comparisons are offered and the end result is an ordered list of your values from most to least important.
- There is another tool/quiz at mindcoolness.com which helps you rank 10 core values. The values they use are Benevolence, Security, Universalism, Achievement, Conformity, Hedonism, Freedom, Stimulation, Power, and Tradition. These are defined on the site and the tool will give you some insight into your priorities. There is a link on the page for a USD30 version of the test which goes deeper. Although the list is holistic, I felt it didn’t encapsulate the values that were important to me – for example, health – but it’s interesting to see where you rank on each category.
- Psychology Today has a 50-minute values quiz which is free. However, the snapshot you get is very limited and, in my view, not really worth 50 minutes of your time. If you pay the USD6.95 you get the detailed report. The Psychology Today report ranks you on broad categories of values, being Theoretical Values, Aesthetic Values, Social Values, Traditional Values, Realistic Values and Political Values. These are broken down into 4-7 sub-values which include things like Innovation, Idealism, Empathy, Spirituality, Financial Security, Competitiveness, etc. These are what I relate to more as traditional values and it was a useful exercise to see how I rate on each of these sub-values. The report then discusses each area in more depth. I like this methodology as you are asked to make decisions and judgements about real-life questions from which your values precipitate. Your mind isn’t focused on the actual value itself and is more objective.
- There is a Find Your Values test compiled by Benedict Heblich, a scientific researcher, coach, and trainer, which is based on 30 years of psychology research. It is a little like the Psychology Today test and takes about the same time. In Find Your Values, the report is then reviewed by humans to assess nuances in the data which a straight algorithm may not detect. It’s free as part of the research project, and they have been really busy during the pandemic. The test assesses you across 20 values and creates a wheel visualisation demonstrating your leaning towards intrinsic and extrinsic values. It goes further by assessing your values in action against key goals you are striving towards. This simple scale is extremely insightful and provides measures of the following and how aligned your actions are to your personal values. It then goes further and looks at how positive and satisfied you are feeling and assesses your fundamental psychological needs. It’s an excellent tool.
- To which degree is the goal based on your personal values?
- How easy and natural is it for you to work on this goal?
- How hard are you working to achieve this goal?
- How much progress are you making towards achieving this goal?
- James Clear has produced a solid list of 50 common values which can help you pick ones which are more important to you. There are many more of these lists on the Web, from a handful of values to hundreds! Use what works for you.
- The Prioritizer is a useful tool which allows you to prioritise any list you may have (from shopping to values). The premise is simple – just enter all of your values (the list expands to allow any number) and The Prioritizer (sic) then asks you to compare each to the others (as the first tool – personalvalu.es – does on this list), but you use your own values and not somebody else’s pre-defined list.