Personal Development

How to Identify Your Personal Core Values

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Core values are the fundamental beliefs that serve as the guiding principles in our daily lives. Our personal core values help us distinguish between right and wrong, and they influence every decision we make.

If you’ve had extensive training in the fields of psychology or sociology, you might already be familiar with the intricacies of how we come to define our core values and the role they play in shaping our relationships, hobbies, career paths, and overall identity. But most of us have never received that type of guided instruction, and so labeling our core values has really only ever meant acknowledging that we are striving to be the best version of what our parents, mentors, and other loved ones raised us to be. And while those environmental and circumstantial lessons inevitably leave a lasting impression on who we become, somewhere along the way they stop being enough to foster the kind of personal growth we crave as lifelong learners.

My Journey to a Value-Centered Perspective

As for me, I’ve always been a curious person when it comes to the art of finding out why people do what they do. Even as a child, I felt relatively in tune with my own feelings and how others seemed to behave as a result of theirs. But it wasn’t until I gained some independence in my late teens and early twenties that I started to be more discerning about the true nature of what was taking place in my mind, body, and soul and whether others were experiencing the same inclinations and thought patterns as I was. It was then that I became especially intrigued by the relationship between our external behaviors and the concepts, characteristics, and fundamental truths we hold most dear.

But despite my relentless curiosity, and most definitely as a result of my stubbornness and naturally-passive personality, I muddled my way through the messy middle of my transition into adulthood. I maintained my composure on the surface, but internally, I longed to gain control of my present and future in a way that didn’t involve letting everyone else make my decisions for me. I was an advice-giving, people-pleasing machine, but in the midst of trying to be everything to everyone, I lost sight of what lit my soul on fire and who I was created to be. 

Then I stumbled on these words, spoken by Mahatma Gandhi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny.” 

So, in an act of desperation to regain some authenticity, I took that insanely inspirational quote, and I turned it on its head. I started at the bottom, and I transformed the way I thought about my life and my interactions with others.

The very first step I took was to identify my personal set of core values, and that’s what I hope to help you do today.

How to identify your personal core values

Ask Yourself These Questions

What roles make up your identity? In other words, who are you?

Write down or type up as many of these as you can think of by finishing the sentence “I am a(n) _______.”

Some possibilities:

  • Wife
  • Mom
  • Christian
  • Friend
  • Daughter
  • Sister
  • Student
  • Teacher
  • Employee
  • Athlete
  • Career-woman
  • Entrepreneur

Speaking in the most general terms, what do you need to live a happy, fulfilled life? What matters most to you?

Let’s make another list. These can be broad life categories, but keep in mind how they fit into the context of the roles you just identified above.

Some ideas:

  • God
  • Family
  • Relationships
  • Success
  • Wealth
  • Health
  • Education
  • Community

Refer to your previous two lists. What characteristics do you need to exhibit to embrace what matters to you and be the best version of yourself in each of the roles you listed?

Remember, your thoughts, words, and actions are a reflection of your core values. So, what is the underlying factor influencing your most authentic behaviors?

Some examples of common core values:

  • Beauty
  • Boldness
  • Citizenship
  • Compassion
  • Commitment
  • Competency
  • Consistency
  • Contribution
  • Courage
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Determination
  • Efficiency
  • Fairness
  • Faith
  • Honesty
  • Humor
  • Innovation
  • Kindness
  • Knowledge
  • Leadership
  • Loyalty
  • Meaningful work
  • Motivation
  • Open-mindedness
  • Optimism
  • Passion
  • Peace
  • Perseverance
  • Poise
  • Positivity
  • Reputation
  • Respect
  • Service to others
  • Spirituality
  • Stability
  • Status
  • Wisdom

Tools and Activities for Narrowing Down Your Core Values

Now, after reading that list, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably hoping you can answer “all of the above” and call it a day. And even though it is normal to see some of ourselves (or at least of who we hope to become) in most or all of these values, there are some that, without even noticing, we cling to so tightly that they have become interwoven in every fiber of our being. We just have to let ourselves be vulnerable enough to see them.

So, with that in mind, I want you to take your list and narrow it down to your top 10 core values.

I don’t know about you, but when I got to this part, I started wishing I had added “decisiveness” to that list!

But all jokes aside, that’s the beauty in this process. Once we realize we have to figure out what makes us who we are before we can visualize and forge a clear path to who we want to become, we put ourselves in a position to get unstuck and experience unprecedented growth in the most important areas of our lives.

I say all of that to say that narrowing down what makes you you is not going to be easy. And even once you’ve done the brainstorming and answered the hard questions, you’re still going to want unbiased confirmation and perhaps even a visual representation of how your core values influence your overall identity.

To that end, I recommend using the following activities to gain some clarity and self-affirmation.

Take a Personality Test

Even though most of us don’t have a PhD in psychology or sociology, we are fortunate enough to have access to many of the tools and resources developed by those who do. In my opinion, some of the most practical and valuable of those tools exist in the form of personality tests and self-assessments. Personality tests take a unique approach to revealing our most prevalent tendencies and presenting a case for how they work together to influence our behaviors and decisions. These tests are administered in a variety of forms and sizes, but the ones worth spending your time on take their assessments a step further by offering detailed reports and recommendations based on your results. 

I wrote an entire post dedicated to my top three Personality Tests. You can read it [HERE].

Create a Mind Map

Mind mapping is designed to tap into our visual learning preference and offer an outlet for producing an external illustration of the processes and connections present within our thoughts. Mind maps can be as casual or professional as you want them to be so long as they are effective in helping you make connections between the ideas you are exploring.

Core Values Mind Map

In this example, you can see I’ve created a mind map that identifies the overarching themes in my life, the roles I occupy, and the top 10 core values that influence my daily decisions and behaviors.

Canva is one of my favorite online tools for creating mind maps because they have built in templates (like the one I used here) that make it easy to get started. MindMeister is also a great tool for creating mind maps. However, this isn’t an activity you have to be tech savvy or design-oriented to do. You can very easily create your own map with a pen and paper and get the same results!

Craft a Personal Mission Statement

After coming up with list upon list of single word variables (values in this case), it can be difficult to think holistically about how the items on those lists work together to produce a greater outcome. Crafting a personal mission statement is a great way to get yourself thinking about how you want to exhibit your core values in your everyday life. 

In essence, your personal mission statement should be a summarization of your life’s purpose in 50 words or less. Ask yourself, what is the most important work you can do here on this earth? Think of it as the legacy you want to leave behind, but in present tense. Make it your mantra and personal tagline, and make it count!

That’s all I have on my heart today, friend. I hope you’ve found the information helpful and that you will take it and implement it as part of your journey to becoming your best self!

Until next time,

Catie

3 Questions and Activities for Defining Your Core Values
Affirmation Cards for Owning Your Core Values and Living with Purpose

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