When you make your decisions based on your values, you make a deliberate choice to focus on what is important to you. Values are the foundation of who you are and what you stand for. But how well do you know your values?

Have you ever thought about what actually guides the process behind making the choices that you do? What influences your decisions?

Your boss is also your good friend. You strongly disagree about essential decisions related to business. Will you sacrifice your friendship’s interests or the company’s interests?

You just got a raise. Will you start making savings for retirement or make your life more comfortable now?

You have to stay at work late in the afternoon as you have planned to work on an important project for your promotion, but your child has had a tough day, and your attention would mean a lot to him. Will you prioritize work or family?

Almost every day, you face different situations that require to make choices, from small to big ones, from easy to difficult ones. There are various factors that impact your decision, but the very critical one might be your values, especially your non-negotiable values or core values.

Your values are the lenses through which you view yourself and your world – they tell you what kind of person you are or want to be, and they provide you guidelines, or even imperatives, for your choices and actions. They encompass your foundational beliefs. Values are the things that you consider from your heart to be most important as it leads you toward the direction of your true desires. Values are feelings and beliefs that operate in the background of your mind and influence your behavior. And they are developing and evolving through your life experiences.

The absolute deepest values you have are your non-negotiable values or core values. They are at the root of all other values. Most of your choices in your life are guided and made according to your core values. Everything else in your life comes second to them. The core values are the basic elements of how you go about your career and your personal life.

For example, if your core value is freedom, all your personal and professional choices will be made in alignment where you are able to experience a freedom; you have always been working in a company with flexible working hours, or you worked hard to get you to managerial position where you have more space for making your own decisions about your daily work, or you avoid structured and beforehand planned vacations, or you might always be late for meetings, and you don’t even feel too bad about it…

Values are subtle and implicit; you may not be consciously aware of them until they are questioned or threatened. Let’s say that you genuinely value connectedness or compassion. You may not have been consciously aware of this value until you realized that the leadership style in your organization is very much based on promoting competitiveness among employees.

Once you acknowledge that your values are tested in your organization, it’s difficult to hide from your inner feelings and emotions, which are coming from this dissonance. You may experience a lot of tension, frustrations, and anger, and this can only lead to severe stress.

Why is it important to acknowledge your values?

Being aware of your personal values, especially core values, is important for your personal development and daily serenity because they help you make intelligent decisions that are going to work in your favor by playing into your strengths, wants, and needs.

If you know your values and actually living in alignment with these values, you are able to prioritize your daily decisions according to your values. Life will seem much simpler because you will know clearly what decisions to make in your life. When the things we do and the way we behave in the world towards others and towards ourselves match our values, we experience greater fulfillment, pure contentment, or/and feel more proud and energized about life. But if we don’t honor our values, then our mental, emotional, and physical state is at stake.

Not honoring our claimed values is strangely not rare. Although values hold something that most matter to us, paradoxically, the reality is that quite often we don’t structure our life around values that we perceive and claim them to be most important for us. For example, a successful manager may claim that his family means most to him, yet almost every day he arrives home just before bad time or when he is at home, spends most of his time with his cell phone in his hands or behind computer replying emails.

There is a big difference between what we claim to be our value and what we are actually doing and demonstrating.

Ideally, we could design a life where we are able to make space for all our various values. We could engage in one value without taking away from another value. But in reality, values are all about clarifying our prioritization. They influence what we decide to do and not to do.

The real evidence of our true values is our actions. Ultimately and utterly, we give our time and energy to the things that we actually value.

Normally, we make these choices consciously, but many times we make them subconsciously. The problem is, the subconscious often prioritizes what provides short-term satisfaction or safety as opposed to what provides the long-term substantial personal fulfillment. If you don’t consciously acknowledge what is most important to you, you run the risk of losing it. When you find yourself at the crossroad, ask yourself, “If I could only satisfy one of these values, which one would I choose?”

We focus on our society, culture, and media values.

Sometimes after you do something, you might get the feeling that something is just wrong; however, you don’t know precisely what, and therefore you don’t know what to do about it. Your serenity is at stake; you may feel sad, overwhelmed, unfulfilled, frustrated, or under pressure. It can start to feel like you are stuck in perpetual angst. Your mental, emotional, and physical state may suffer.

For example, even though you already have a decent career, everyone around you and yourself as well is expecting that you should consider making significant steps for your further career development. But you just can’t find the right motivation for the right actions. Whenever you are supposed to sacrifice your time and energy on some important task, you instead spend your time on the phone talking with your friend, or you prefer to go jogging. And then, when you go to bed, you feel guilty about how you have spent the day. There could be different reasons for your procrastination but consider what if the reason for your (no)actions are your values.

Your core value might be a comfort, but you were brought up in a society where you were thought that constant growth or development is essential for having a successful life. Maybe you have fallen into the loop of social expectations – you might get caught up in what you think your values “should” be or what other people decided you should value. You think you should practice growth in your career and, therefore, choices that give you only comfort and pleasure leave you with a sense that you are doing something wrong.

Usually, we don’t question our values and where they came from. We adopt and foster values, beliefs, and so-called ‘truths’ belonging to others: our family, schools, cultural norms, media, working environment, anything that has helped shape our “truth” and growth, either consciously or subconsciously. Society tells us which values are more acceptable than others. It is only natural that as a social being, we follow significant others’ values, which we rarely question. But therefore, we are not able to distinguish what really matters to us. This annulment of our values (and subsequent true priorities) is what caused us to get out of touch with our actual values. At this point, you need to purify your life.

Start discovering your values

Most of us don’t know our true values. We don’t understand what’s most important to us. Instead, we focus on our society, culture, and media values.

Without undergoing a discovery process, it’s challenging to identify your personal core values. Usually, we speculate and idealize what we do or should value — but knowing and accepting what you genuinely value takes your deliberative intention and effort.

If you don’t want to stay just at speculating about your values, you can choose among different approaches for identifying them. You can use some of the long lists of values from the internet and then narrow it down to your 5 – 10 values, or you can even find some free assessment on values (for example https://www.valuescentre.com/tools-assessments/pva/). Or you can choose a more in-depth approach, which is best to do it with a qualified coach, but with some patience and determination, you can do it on your own as well.

Start being mindful of your choices. You can start a discovery process by undergoing your daily emotions and feelings, which occur during the day.

Start paying your attention to both the sweetest and most painful moments of your life. Strong emotions are very often connected to our values. The situation we are in, where we are distraught, is essentially threatening one of our core values. It’s the same with positive emotions. So, use those times when you get triggered (positively or negatively) to become clear about your core values.

These moments could direct you to what you care about most. For instance, if you had learned a new skill at work and you felt very energized because of that, consider that “growth” or “learning” might be your significant value. Also, consider the most painful experiences. If you quickly notice or sense the pain of being excluded by others, you might realize that “compassion” is one of your primary values.

After observing your daily emotions and feelings in different situations for some time, try to see if there are any patterns behind these stories, and write them down.

The process of discovering the top values by which you wish to live your life is a journey, not a destination.

As your life circumstances change, so will your values. Values will also shift over time as you fulfill your various goals — for example, once you achieve a significant degree of “accomplishments,” that value may recede into the background, and other values may take its place, it might be “serenity,” or “contribution,” or “kindness.” So, you must let your values change and let your life change accordingly.

Discovering your values is, therefore, an ongoing exploration that will become clearer as you become the observer of whether you are living your life in or out of alignment with your values.

If you experience a lot of emotional discomfort with your choices, it could be that you don’t live up to your values, or you may need to re-evaluate what is most important to you.

You do not need to have it all perfect as your values are evolving with you, but it is essential that you feel good about them since they are your inner map to help you navigate.

Knowing your values and living by them is the difference between just going through the motions of life and really living.

Once you acknowledge your core values and start living your everyday life in alignment with them, you will be able to start creating your life in such a way that brings peace within and a joyful and fulfilled sentiment. Your core values are your inner map and will help you navigate every day, showing up whether you’re aligned with your purpose or not. They are the foundation of who you are and what you stand for.

My definition of success: When your core values and self-concept are in harmony with your daily actions and behaviors“. John Spence