Tools for Identifying Your Core Values, and Noticing When Decisions Honor Your Values
Often we are stuck because we have not clearly identified and embraced our core values as the cornerstone of how we make decisions.
What Are Core Values?
Core values are the heart of who you are, what’s most important to you
They are NOT always things you are good at — if they are things you are not good at, they will be things you feel great when you do get to be, or that you very much long to be good at, not things you think you should be good at.
Watch out for SHOULDS — things you think ought to be important to you. Your body will tell you whether the word you are considering as a core value is a should — if it is, it will feel like a burden/weight, or you will experience a contraction
When a word that holds a core value for you is identified, your body will say yes/open, even if it is a little scary, even if it isn’t a way you normally describe yourself, and even if you aren’t good at it.
If your body just doesn’t register it at all, it’s likely neither a core value nor a should, just let it go.
Your body may also tell you that it’s close, but not quite the right word; it will feel… not quite right. If this occurs, take the time to try to identify the right word. Try asking “what is it that is important about that experience” in the context of the word that emerged, and see what rises. (If you are doing this work interactively, in a group, you can also recruit the others in the group to offer related words to see if any of them land.)
Sometimes shoulds and core values are tangled up. If a word feels like it might be both, ask “What is important about this?” and look for that opening/resonance/yes-ness as you explore other possible words that will hold the piece of it that is a core value while not triggering the contraction of a should.
Core values may appear to “conflict” (i.e. frugality and generosity) — that’s just fine; we are complex creatures (thank goodness).
Core values will not be limited to one aspect of your life — different core values may show up more in some arenas than in others, but they will be important across a wide spectrum of circumstances.
Often, in the process of identifying core values, we find ourselves naming what I call “basket words” rather than core values — things like “Family” — which are, as the term implies, baskets that hold core values. The operative question if you think you have a basket word (likely a word that is connected largely to one area of life), is “What is important about that?” or “What do I value about that?” The same basket may hold a very different mix of values for different people, so it’s important to get underneath it and see what’s there.
How to Identify Your Core Values
There are many ways to clarify our values. A few suggestions:
1. Write down 2 or 3 peak experiences you’ve had in your life, times when you felt great about who you were getting to be. In many cases, a peak experience will be one in which you were full of energy and enthusiasm and joy. In some cases, they will be times when things were hard and you were still finding yourself able to be who you most want to be.
2. Then review those experiences and write down what values were being honored in those times (i.e. courage? emotional intimacy? respect? working together? beauty? being connected to nature? creativity? really being heard and seen? making big changes happen? solitude?)
3. Write down 2 or 3 times when you felt unvalued, trapped, crazy, or otherwise miserable. What values were not being honored in those times?
4. Review the lists above and see what other values come to you.
5. Go through and read the list, slowly, out loud, pausing after you read each word. Ask yourself:
a) Is this a core value or a should (is my body opening or contracting?) – If it’s a should, cross it off the list.
b) Is it the right word? If it feels close but not quite right, get curious about what word holds the value better and write that down, crossing out the original word.
c) Am I feeling a push/pull with the word, part of me wants to embrace it and part of me is contracting or feeling burdened by it? If so, it’s likely a word that holds both a core value (or more than one) AND a should. Ask yourself “What about this experience is important to me? Write down the values that emerge and cross out the original word.
Then, when you are feeling stuck, ask the questions “Will this decision honor my values?” or “Which of my values will I honor by choosing A or B?” “What values will I disregard/ignore/dishonor by making this choice?”
Getting To Know Your Core Values
The stronger your internal connection to your core values, the easier it will be to make decisions that lead you to fulfillment. Here are some ways to get connected to your core values:
- Write each of your core values on a separate line. Then, for each value, create a value string by writing down the words you most strongly associate with that value. For example, my list for “community” might look like: Community/warmth/laughter/connection/friend-ship/working together/safety/singing). Other people’s list for that “same” value would look different. Let there be images and “nonsensical” phrases and words there if they come — it doesn’t have to “make sense,” it just needs to feel right to you.
- Values may have colors, shapes, textures, temperatures, even smells (I had a client whose core values included “cinnamon spice”). Try writing your values (or your values strings) in colored pencils, pens, crayons, watercolors, or on different colored small pieces of paper, perhaps cut into interesting shapes. Make a values collage, using images, colors, words, whatever speaks to you.
- Find pieces of music that call out one or more of your core values and listen, sing, dance, play along.
Invent and explore other ways to get to know your core values at the energetic/physical level. Find ways to be aware of them and interact with them every day and see what happens.
© Tasha Harmon, 2009, revised 2020. Please feel free to share this, but please share it with my name and contact information attached, and please do not publish it without my written permission. Thank you.