How to Uncover Your Core Values

Your core values are an unstoppable force that make you who you are and this article will help you uncover and live by them.

Core Values

Whether you know explicitly or not, you all have a set of core values that determine almost everything in your life. You are at your best when your actions correspond to your values and your beliefs. But how can you rely on a value that you cannot name? How can you infuse your life with core values that you cannot understand.

This article is based on book I recently read – Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead (link to Goodreads). Core values is not the center topic of the book and I also recommend a lot of other gems in it, but the chapter about core values struck a cord with me and I think I discovered a nuance that Brené did not uncover (or at least did not write about).

Time to read

Time to read: 9 minutes (based on 150 works per minute).

Introduction

When you take a look at the list of values (link to Brené’s website which lists all the values that she identified) you usually end up with fifteen to twenty that make sense to you. Then, the book instructs, you need to narrow down the list to two core values and really dive deep into them. You understand more about them. This is great and I support that approach (you will see in the steps that I listed below), but I did not want to discard the extra values so easy.

This article is about using that process to define your two core values and then to understand how they connect with all the other values that you identified. When I did this exercise myself, I found some fascinating things about the way I approach every task, every assignment, every challenge. And I also learned more about my aspirations, my striving.

Problem

But lets start with a question: Why don’t you already know more about your core values? Because it is hard! It takes a lot of alone time and courage (as Brené would put it) to sit down with yourself and get to know you (I have already written about self-awareness here – Emotional Intelligence – 10 Ways to Improve Your Self Awareness). Your relationship with your self is the only relationship that will last your whole life. Why not invest in understanding it? Because it is scary. You leave yourself vulnerable and you can (and most probably will) uncover a lot of stuff that you’ve buried down. You will create a lot of clutter in your mind that you will have to then clear (more about decluttering your mind here – Zero Inbox for the Mind).

What you will hopefully get from this article is tool to help you uncover those core values and the relationships between them. And also how to live your values by understanding more about yourself when living those values. For all the other steps (e.g., how to “rumble with vulnerability” in order to embrace daring leadership) I will leave you in the more capable hands of Brené Brown and her book.

Personal story about core values

My journey into core values began many years ago when I was wondering which professional path to take. I tried doing on-line questionnaires which, I hoped, would help me uncover them. The results were promising, but not too detailed. Gradually, I started trailing the self-improvement path which helped me improve my self-awareness. I started to get to know that self better. And, naturally, I started learning more about my values and beliefs as well.

Fast forward to last month, I was not surprised by most of the twenty values that I identified from the book. Brené’s advice to narrow down to two made sense from every point of view. I pick three MIT (most important tasks) on my agenda every day. I pick two specific focus topics for each month (i.e., deliberate practice and thinking about hard problems). So I also needed to make up my mind about the two core values.

I did that after a lot of rumble sessions with myself (I ended up with Knowledge and Order). But I could not detach myself from the rest of the values. Thus, I started plotting them on a diagram on a blank sheet of paper. There were some values which seemed like prerequisites for my core values. For example, Curiosity and Learning fed into Knowledge. And there were some which I was striving for. For example, Wisdom and Growth came after Knowledge.

This is what I ended up with and this is what I want to influence you to create for yourselves.

My Core Values
My core values flow

How can you identify your core values?

Below is the list of steps that I followed. I will be happy to hear your comments about your own personalized steps.

Step 1: Get to self-awareness through meditation

There is no way to achieve any of that without a solid foundation of self-awareness and self-trust. I have personally achieved that through meditation, but there might be other ways to get that. What would you know you are there? When you can comfortably sit alone with yourself for a few hours without distractions and just think.

Step 2: Cross-out the non-values

Then, you can do your first pass over the list and cross out anything that is not you. What you get is the following: 1) A list of values you are good at; 2) A list of values you know you don’t have, but you want to have; 3) A list of values that you know you don’t have or want, but they sound cool; 4) Somewhere in this list are also your core values.

If you can get honest with yourself, try to cross out the 3) in the list above. You won’t achieve anything if you lie to yourself.

Step 3: Circle the finalists

Out of that list of hopefully twenty or less values you need to pick about five to six. There should be several clusters already (i.e., values that seem closely connected to each other). Compare them between which other so that the ones that feels most like you can stand out. Circle these.

Step 4: Think about sequencing

This is probably the project manager in me talking, but the next step that I tried was to sequence the values (as crazy as it sounds, it worked for me). I divided these values into prerequisites and results. Thus, what was left in the middle were my core values. As I already said, they were Knowledge and Order for me.

Step 5: Put the other values

After that go back to the non-circled, non-crossed-out values. Put them in the sequence as well. What you end up with is a better understanding of how to get to your core values. For example, for me Curiosity and Learning are definitely values. I am curious about everything and I enter flow state when I am learning. But I am at my best when I know, especially when this Knowledge leads to Wisdom. I must admit that I thought I was wise when I was in my twenties. And a few years later life taught me how wrong I have been. So, most probably, my wisdom now is hilarious, but I hope you get the point.

Step 6: Practice your core values

Finally, you put the core values into practice to understand more about them. I do not want to get things wrong, so I will quote directly form the book:

1. What are three behaviors that support your value?

2. What are three slippery behaviors that are outside your value?

3. What is an example of a time when you were fully living into this value

Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

Make no mistake. This is hard and you will probably need many iterations to get it right.

Step 7: Share with somebody you trust

Show these values to your spouse, or to your best friend, or anybody you trust. This takes courage, but their feedback might help you identify the third item.

Step 8: Empathy and self-compassion

Once again, quoting from the book:

And the self-compassion seat is for us. It’s a reminder that if we can’t cheer ourselves on, we shouldn’t expect others to do it. If we don’t make our values priorities, we can’t ask other to do it for us.

Brené Brown, Dare to Lead
Core Values
Eight steps to uncover your core values

Summary

Your core values are an unstoppable force that make you who you are. You cannot live your values if you cannot name and understand them. By uncovering your core values and looking for behaviors that embody them you can really start living them.

Next steps

What are the next steps?

If you have liked my article, please proceed to my contact page, where you can view various ways to contact me.

Thanks!

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