What are core values?
Learn what values and core values are, how we acquire them, how to choose your own core values, and how to use them to live a more fulfilling, meaningful life.
What are values?
Value are the compass with which we guide ourselves through life. Their purpose is to reliably point the way to our true north when we are unsure, and form a solid ground to stand upon when making decisions.
The set of guiding principles we use to form our perceptions and inform our decisions
They create our gut sense of right/wrong, and give us an innate feeling of how the world should be when all is right.
Where do values come from?
Values root within in us during our formative years, as psychological imprints internalized during interactions and observations throughout our upbringing. These imprints come chiefly from our parents (our family of origin), but also other family members or guardians, role models, teachers, mentors, and others who are some combination of familiar, appreciated, or respected others.
Some values are also absorbed into us from the society and culture we live in. From the media we consume, to the communities we surround ourselves with, to the cities and neighborhoods we spend our time in, to our schools and workplaces, to our friends and acquaintances, and so on.
Because we internalize values from the world around us throughout our childhoods and even into adulthood, we do not consciously choose our the set of values we initially operate by.
As we grow older, we progressively accumulate more life experiences. As we leave our homes and strike out on our own (physically and metaphorically), we kick off the process of maturation: a coming more deeply into our own conscious being, rather than being a product of influences outside of us (from our upbringing and society).
The internalization of our decision-making processes, values, wants, and needs
As part of the process of maturation, we necessarily undergo the process of distancing from, selecting, and reinforcing the set of values we were initially imprinted with. We deepen some of our values, discard others, and internalize other values we aspire to embody.
As we mature and more consciously select our values, our values solidify into core values.
Core values are:
The values we choose of our own volition to embody
If we do not come to the task of considering which values we were imprinted with, and consciously deciding which we want to keep/change/add, then we stunt our maturation process.
If we never choose to metaphorically leave home and make our own way of our own volition (independently of the forces/values that shaped our childhood) then we do not mature into fully-fledged adults.
Without developing our imprinted values into core values, we lack the navigation tools that are crucial to living our most meaningful and fulfilling lives, and are simply living as “adult” children. As adult children, we are not in control of our own lives, but rather unconsciously acting out our lives according to the way we “ought to.”
Blocking the maturation process in this way will result in growing unhappiness and psychological dissonance, which can ultimately culminate in a full-blown existential crisis.
How do I discover my values and choose my core values?
There are many processes for discovering your values. A personal coach can help, as can certain exercises.
As a note, I offer life/career coaching, stating with one free exploratory session
You can begin the core values discovery process by stopping for a moment and asking yourself these questions:
- Have you ever thought about what your imprinted values are?
- Which of those do you wish to keep?
- Which values do you wish to change or discard?
- Which new values do you aspire to embody?
- What core values do you want to live by?
Some other common methods involve a visualization experience, such as:
- Imagine yourself at the end of your life. You are on your deathbed, looking back and reflecting on the entirety of a life that was meaningful. You are at peace and without fear to pass on from this world. Describe what you feel.
- Imagine one of the best moments in your life. A moment when you were full of life and enjoying every second of being alive. Describe what you felt.
- Imagine writing the story of your final 10 years of life, under a chapter called “my most fulfilling period in life.” You can write anything into your story you wish, and you are only limited by your imagination. Describe what you write and how you feel imagining it.
In each visualization exercise, write down the words that come to mind, and answer the following questions:
- What do you feel?
- Who is with you?
- What do you see?
- What is present for you?
Try to focus less on what you are doing, and more on what you are feeling.
The words you write down are some of the word materials you can use to define your core values. Those which resonate most when you imagine a happy or peaceful life for yourself — beyond the problems of today — are your core values.
I also developed this values survey using a list of 30 values, which may help you understand more of the language of values. If you fill this survey out, I will email you a copy of your responses.
Feedback on the survey or this core values essay is more than welcome.
Core values are fluid, and are for each of us to choose
One final note: values are the guiding principles which we feel most solid to stand upon, which give us the confidence to orient our perceptions and decisions upon. And, as we embody our values, we also inspire and imprint values on others.
However, it is important to realize that:
- Our values are formed, relative to the experiences we have had in life
If we were born in another country, time period, or to different parents, the initial map of values we had, with which to develop our core values would be different. Our working set of core values can also change as our experiences change. It is completely normal and healthy to continue evolve our set of core values as we continue maturing. As we know more, we have more insights with which to consciously inform our decisions.
2. While we may inspire others, it is not proper for us to force our values onto others
To draw on the compass example again, if one uses a non-adjusted compass in the southern hemisphere, then the compass will point south to the nearest pole, not north.
If we can appreciate how our values are guiding principles that we have honed, we can appreciate how following our own values does not require us to convert others to follow our values in order for us to be fulfilled. We can be happy living our lives in a manner consistent with our core values, while not judging others who live their lives according to a different set of values.
After all — core values are those that each of us chooses for ourselves in the path to maturation. If we tried to directly change others’ values, they would no longer be core values to those others, and no longer properly serve their purpose.
Thanks for reading! Thanks for reading! Learn more about how working with a personal development coach can help you to live a more fulfilling life.
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