4 Questions to ask yourself to help identify your core values
If you read my previous post about values and goals, you understand the importance of identifying your core values. But how do you get to the bottom of what your “core” values are? How do you determine what should be guiding all of the decisions you make on a day to day basis?
I recommend that everyone identify 3-5 “core” values. Sometimes my clients’ final lists are more like 7-10, but around 5 is a more manageable number when you go to set goals or make choices. These are the things you value the most and what you want to hold most dear in your life. In counseling sessions, I have some specific questions I ask. As I ask these questions, I listen closely to a client’s answers, ask follow up questions and try to identify themes. I have a few exercises I also like to use, but asking yourself these questions is a great place to start.
What’s important to me?
This sounds basic, but that’s why it’s a good place to start. What was the first thing that came to mind when I asked that question? Why did that come to mind? Now keep in mind that for some people it’s something cliche that comes to mind first because they feel like it’s the “right” answer or what they are “supposed” to say, so feel free to challenge your initial reaction just a little bit. Is that really what’s the most important to you or is it what you’ve been told you should value? Some of the questions below will help clarify this a bit.
How do I want to be remembered?
Some people go so far as to write their own obituary. By thinking about how you want others to think of you and remember you years from now, you can identify what values you need to live by now to make that happen. If you want to be remembered for making a huge contribution to your field, what does that say about you? If you want to be remembered as someone who stood up for those without a voice and advocated for the rights of the disenfranchised (racial minorities, LGBTQ, children with disabilities, veterans, etc), then what value does that speak to? If you imagine at your funeral someone will say that you brought joy to everyone and were the life of the party, what value can be your “North Star” to keep you moving in that direction?
When do I feel the most alive or most satisfied?
The things that give you energy, purpose and make you feel fulfilled can be a good indicator about what’s most important to you. For instance, I feel most alive when a client who used to live in constant fear of having a panic attack comes into session and reports that they are now able to do all of the things they avoided in the past and when I’m on vacation somewhere with my husband and children several days into the trip just watching my children smiling and feeling that sense of camaraderie and adventure. Those point to my own values of helping others and family (and hint at my value of learning about/respecting other ways of living). Your answer may be very, very different than mine. That’s ok. There is no right or wrong when it comes to values. I have worked with countless clients to identify their core values and have never had two clients identify the exact same values. Why? Because we are all different. Just think about what you enjoy doing, what gives you a feeling of satisfaction or when you feel the most present in your own life. Then ask yourself why? Why was that the answer that came to mind? What is it about those moments?
How have I made difficult decisions in the past?
What factors did you consider when you were deciding what classes to take in high school, which college to attend, what career to enter into, who to marry, whether or not to have children or when to retire? I could go on and on listing important decisions at various points in the life span, but I think you get the idea. Looking at how you came to these decisions may provide valuable clues about what is most important to you. You may also discover that somewhere along the way you made a decision for reasons you no longer agree with. Maybe you chose to go to college to please your parents and you realize now that taking a gap year to backpack through Europe would have been more consistent with your values of independence and adventure. Go easy on yourself, because that is exactly why you’re asking yourself these questions now. You can’t change the past, but you can be more aware of your values when making decisions in the future.
The next step
Now that you’ve started to develop a list of your core values, how can you use these to provide some direction in your life? Can you make a change in your life so you are living more in line with your personal value?
If you need help identifying your core values or living more authentically in a way that is consistent with those core values, please reach out and call (573-328-2288) or e-mail Aspire Counseling today. Our therapists will get to know you and help you find the strength within yourself to create a life with purpose.
Jessica Tappana, LCSW is the founder of Aspire Counseling, a Columbia, MO counseling center that specializes in treating trauma, grief, anxiety/fear and those who are going through a stressful period in their life. She believes in creating a welcoming therapy environment so people of all walks of life can find emotional healing, peace and joy. Jessica enjoys writing blog posts that give people hope and practice advice about how to improve their mental health. In her spare time, Jessica enjoys spending time with her family, cheering at MU sporting events (go Tigers!) and traveling.