Yesterday (12/29/09) in my post “5 Steps to Smarter New Year’s Resolutions” I talked about making sure the goals you choose for next year are based on your values.

However, values are not always easy to determine because:

  1. They are so much a part of who we are, that unless we have completed some kind of values-clarification exercise, we may struggle to articulate our values.
  2. Values-labels are bandied about so often that they lose their meaning – “love”, “peace”, “kindness” etc. What do we even mean by these words?
  3. We tend to choose the values we “should” have rather than those we truly do have – especially when presented with a list of values.

In this article, I will help you clarify and describe your top 5 values. I hope to leave you surprised and enlightened!

But first, what are values? Let’s be sure we are all on the same page.

An Example of Stated Values: Tulane University Center for Public Service

Values are:

  1. lenses through which we view ourselves and the world
  2. the basis for our thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
  3. the basis by which we evaluate (judge) ourselves and others
  4. standards we hold, and thus we experience them as “shoulds” and “oughts”
  5. highly influential in the way we make decisions
  6. satisfying when we take part in activities that express our values
  7. varied, and so we must participate in many roles to satisfy all our values
  8. potentially conflicting – if the demands of one of your valued roles (e.g. work) prevents you from participating fully in another valued role (e.g. creativity), you will experience conflict and dissatisfaction
  9. motivating, when you are engaged in something related to them
  10. important characteristic of success and leadership, when you know who you are, what you believe in and what you stand for.

Okay, by now you are convinced that clarifying your values is a very productive exercise!

There are many ways to do it. Here is one way that is both simple and very effective:

Write down the 3-5 people you have consistently admired most in the world (famous or not).

  1. Next, spend some time writing down the actual qualities they have that is responsible for your admiration of each of these people.
  2. Circle the qualities that you believe YOU also have
  3. Define and elaborate what you mean by these qualities. Don’t be glib! These are your values.
  4. Describe them in your life and how and when they are present or absent.
  5. Now pick your top 5-7 values.

When picking your top 5-7 values, don’t worry about order. Just pick the ones that are most important to you. A good way to do this is to list all the values gleaned from the above exercise and then begin eliminating the ones you feel you could live without. Keep eliminating until you get left with 5 or 7.

Those are your top values.

To live a satisfying and fulfilling life you should find ways to express every one of them daily. If altruism and generosity are important, start giving every day. If creativity is important, start expressing yourself. If money and financial security are important, then get focused on accumulating money. If fun and laughter are important, why are you not having fun in your life? If children and family are important, how can you spend more time with yours and create the family you long for?

Bottom line, stop wasting time on activities that you do not value! Or perusing goals that are not based on your values.

I leave you with a quote by Mildred Newman:

“If you know what your values are —
If you know what your standards are —
If you know what is important to you –
If you have a point of view —
Then you have a sense of direction.
Then you know where you are going.”


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