How To Find And Understand Your Core Values, According To Mental Health Professionals

 If you’ve ever felt lost or stuck on autopilot at some point, chances are you were out of alignment with your core values. Getting clear on what’s important to you allows you to start living your daily life with passion and purpose. It raises your self-esteem, builds your confidence and makes you feel inspired and empowered. Your values are what give your life meaning.

The first step to find your core values is learning how values are created. And if you’ve ever been to a therapy session, you know the significance of your family history and upbringing. Yes, it all starts at the beginning.

Core values and beliefs are formed in childhood, and play an important role in who you become. They are learned from your parents, teachers, coaches and the environment you grew up in — but they may change as you mature and have more life experiences.

“This system of beliefs guides you through your everyday decision-making processes from deciding whether or not to treat yourself to an extravagant vacation, when and how much to give to charity, and how to handle a difficult family matter,” says Carrie Mead, MS, LCPC, psychotherapist and life coach.

It is only when we act in accordance with our personal values that we can experience fulfillment and achieve optimal well-being. They also help us determine what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior from ourselves and others.

When our core values are not the same as those around us – whether in the workplace or our close relationships — it can create emotional turmoil. In these situations, it’s important to stand by your core values. You can do this by setting boundaries and in some cases stepping out of that relationship or job position.

However, if you aren’t aware of your values, you will likely adopt the values of the people around you. Ultimately, this will cause internal conflict and hinder your personal growth.

“Your values are like your compass,” says psychologist Dr. Rebecca Leslie. “They tell you which direction to go.” They enable you to choose between right and wrong, what hobbies and careers to pursue, and the people to surround yourself with. They will also help with your self-control and act as a moral guide.

List of Core Values

How would you rank these in order of importance? What's your primary value? 

  1. Family
  2. Freedom
  3. Security
  4. Loyalty
  5. Intelligence
  6. Integrity
  7. Connection
  8. Creativity
  9. Achievement
  10. Communication
  11. Career
  12. Fitness
  13. Wellness
  14. Religion
  15. Love
  16. Respect
  17. Adventure
  18. Faith
  19. Work-life balance
  20. Mindfulness

“Your top values are often ‘non-negotiable’; in other words, if you can live without this value, it’s not a top value,” Mead explains. “For example, if you value exercise and fitness but you can imagine living without it for any number of reasons, it is not a core value. If, on the other hand, you value honesty and it is an integral part of all of your relationships, honesty is a core value.”

To find your core values ask yourself:

  • Who do you most admire and love? Why are these loved ones your role models?
  • What were the peak experiences of your life? What were the most painful experiences?
  • What makes you feel proud?
  • What makes you feel fulfilled?
  • What brings you joy?

Answering these questions is key to your personal development, give you clarity about what’s really important to you.

Then, once you get clear on your personal core values, the next step is to set goals for each value, Leslie explains. For example, if one of your life values is family you could set goals such as calling your siblings and parents twice a week.

Another example is if you choose freedom. To align with this core value, you can create a schedule that includes travel and surround yourself with people who know when to give you space. In your professional life, you can become your own boss or at the very least, make sure to include free time in your schedule.

For further self-reflection, Leslie also recommends trying this values exercise to raise your self-awareness.

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