How to Determine Our Values for more Values-Based Living

March 11th, 2022

Are you ever faced with a decision that feels impossible to make? Most of us probably have at one point or another. Sometimes this difficulty in decision making is a result of competing values. For example, you have a big work presentation tomorrow and you really value work, but your kid comes home from school and had a bad day and could use some support and you also value your family. This decision requires you to decide which you value more. For some, making that decision may be easy, for others, it’s less black and white. 

When we live in such a way that’s aligned with our values, we feel good, like our life has a purpose. Not only that, living a life based on our values can improve our overall well-being. In other words, when we act in alignment with our values, we experience a host of other benefits including, contentment, satisfaction, happiness, and inner strength. The opposite is also true. When we do not live our lives in a way that is consistent with our values, we feel uneasy, disconnected, restless, and overall unhappy. Oftentimes, we don’t know why our life feels ‘off’. So, it’s important to understand our values in order to help us determine what is important to us and therefore do our best to live in a way that is consistent with our values.

But, how do we determine our values?

What are Values?

First, let’s define what a value really is. Values are your deepest desires for how you want to behave as a human. According to psychologist Barb Markway and Celia Ampel in The Self-Confidence Workbookvalues are “the principles that give our lives meaning and allow us to persevere through adversity.” That being said, values are not something that’s imposed on us, such as rules we must follow, they’re chosen freely. 

It’s also important to make the distinction between values and goals. Values are how we want to live our lives, while goals are the specific ways in which we intend to execute our values.

A goal is something we can aim for and accomplish while values are ongoing and provide us with direction. 

How to Determine Our Values

There are numerous ways to go about discovering what your values are but here we will explore a few of these methods to get you started on the journey. 

1 Start with a core list of values. 

  • You can start with a list of common values such as the one here and write down (or circle) the values you identify with. If you’d like, you can start by circling as many as you’d like but the end goal should be to narrow it down to the most important 6 or 7. 
  • Starting with a list like this can help us to put words to the way we are feeling about the values in our life which can be a great place to start.

2 Think about the people you admire most. 

  • Consider what it is that you admire about them and what values they, or your relationship with them, embodies. For example, honesty, acceptance, listening.

3 Think about a defining moment. 

  • Take some time to think about a moment in your life where you really felt yourself, when you were really connected to who you are – a defining moment. Describe it in detail. 
  • When you’ve fully recalled the moment, and written down how you felt in that moment, think about what made that moment special. What were the values being expressed? 

4 Listen to yourself. 

  • Our values are expressed in the decisions that we make every day. Consider listening to yourself for a few days and writing down some of the decisions you made. Also, write down the possible values behind these decisions. What can you learn about what you want? What you are willing to give up, and what is non-negotiable in your life? 
  • Also, notice whether or not you’re feeling dissatisfied with your decisions. This may be an indicator you’re not living in accordance with your values. 

5 See a career counsellor.

  • Our values are a significant contributing factor when it comes to our career choice. So, speaking to a career counsellor (or any counsellor) can help us to determine what our most important values are.

Our values have a significant impact on our daily lives and our everyday decisions. In order to live in a way that aligns with our values, we must first understand what they are. Determining our values doesn’t have to be challenging but it does require us to be open, vulnerable, and honest with ourselves. Determining our values can really go a long way in supporting our psychological health and wellness. 

Ph.D., RCC
Psychological Health & Safety Clinic
Vancouver, V6B 0L1

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