Psychologists, coaches, mentors and actually executives and leaders all around the world generally love to talk about core values. There is a reason for it. As much research has now demonstrated, living in alignment with your core values is one (maybe the) essential element to living a happy and fulfilled life.
Any CEO will be able to explain you the core values and mission of his/her company (click here if you are curious about the values of some of the most well-known companies). Organisational leaders spend days discussing them, hire consultants to help and go on reflection retreats identify and clarify what their company values are. But somehow, though we live with ourselves everyday, do you really know what your core values are? What are the beliefs you hold most dear to you?
The solution is simple, even if not always easy to implement. You need to allow yourself some time to reflect on it. Awareness will then bring direction and purpose. And that will be reflected on motivation, energy, drive.
I have now created a repeat event in my online calendar to make sure 3-4 times per year I really spend some days reflecting, confirming what I can and adjusting where necessary. I prefer to do it over a weekend, when I promise myself not to be distracted by phones or TV (though I do allow myself some Netflix in the evening if I've progressed enough :) ). It's important to get in the right mood. Find what works out for you (a walk, some exercise, listening to some music) but avoid distractions or multi-tasking when you are actually reflecting. And boredom can be more creative and insightful than you may think...
You may need to break it down into smaller phases, if you cannot find several dedicated hours in a row for it. Can you use some of your daily commute time? Can you go 30 minutes earlier before your child's pick up time and think in the car? Can you go for a longer walk and reflect while walking? How will you create time to think about your core values?
Once you've found some time, how can you actually identify your core values? Like many coaches, I have done specific exercises with many of my clients to identify their core values; and I've done them myself too. But these take some extra time. For a simpler approach, I suggest you ask yourself the following: When did you feel most proud of yourself? What made you feel proud about it? Take some time to make your list; you can do a first draft and come back to it later. Once you think you have the most important moments there, order them starting with the most proud. Look at that order and the reasons behind each moment: can you find commonalities, or a pattern? Those will reflect your core values. Maybe it was the moments when you where there for your family, or when you stood up for an injustice or overcome a difficult obstacle, or when you were able to share your love of nature and beauty with others. Only you will know what feels true to you...
Ultimately, your core values represent your personal code of conduct, your most fundamental beliefs or guiding principles. They are not meant to please other people; forget about what others would think about your own core values (you don't need to share them with anyone).
Knowing what your core values are will not only bring you greater clarity about what really matters to you in life, it can also be a crucial tool guiding you in the most important choices in life (and smaller ones too). The next time you have a difficult decision to make - move to a different country, marry your girlfriend, buy a house or find a new job -, ask yourself: is this really aligned with my core values? Will it put me closer to living a full life? And that is your answer... Be true to yourself!
(First published on: 22 November 2019)