When you think about what is important in your life, what comes to mind? Take a close look at the choices you have been, the people you surround yourself with, and what you consider to be right and wrong.
These things are all connected to your set of personal values.
Upon first thought, you may figure that defining your values is easy. However, when you truly sit down and think it through, it may surprise you how challenging it can be not only to define but stick to your personal values.
It’s an important task that each and every one of us should take the time to complete. Having a personal values list of your own has several benefits, and the simple act of intentionally defining them will affect your whole life.
With this guide, we are going to take an in-depth look at what it means to have personal values, why they are important, and how we can discover our own.
What Does it Mean to Have Personal Values?
The short and sweet answer to this question is that personal values are a “code of ethics and belief system of an individual.” That’s easy enough to read and say, but what does that mean for our individual lives?
It all comes down to what’s important to you. Personal values come in the form of character traits and behaviors that stem from these traits. Think about how you go about your daily life. What sticks out to you as important? And no, I don’t mean things like how important it is for you to have your morning cup of coffee.
Think more along these lines: is it important for you to kiss your spouse and say, “I love you,” before you walk out the door for work? Do you take the time to hold the door for the stranger behind you as you enter the coffee shop? Would you stop to pick up a piece of trash you see on the ground that wasn’t yours? Can you be honest with your boss about why your project isn’t complete yet?
The answer to these questions can help you discover values that you may not have even known you held. The thing about personal values is that many of them come naturally to us, while others require a little more effort.
Of course, some of us can become confused and a little lost in terms of our values. This is what happens when we don’t define them. Consistency is key in terms of personal values. Consider some of these situations: you saw someone do something that you felt was wrong, but you stayed quiet and didn’t speak up – and later you regretted not saying anything.
Or, you’re constantly letting people down. You make commitments and back out, or you’re always late on projects and promises. You recognize this about yourself, but you keep failing.
Finally, all you care about is pleasing everyone else. Because of this, you don’t even know what your personal values are – you’ve only ever focused on the values of others’ and making sure you live up.
If any of these situations apply to you, you’re in the right place. We’re going to talk more about how you can define your personal values – and we’ll even give you a long list to choose from.
Why Are Personal Values Important?
Your personal values impact every area of your life. They are the driving force for everything you do, think, and say. Because they are so connected throughout our lives, it is crucial that we all take the time to think through and define our own.
It’s one thing just to say owning your personal values is important, but we can actually go through a list of benefits that come from making these items clear in your life.
Personal Values Help You Find Purpose
Human beings are creatures of constant evolution and discovery. While many of us tend to view our early years as our developmental stages, we are constantly growing, learning, and changing. In a world that is filled with so many ideas, personalities, and moral compasses, it’s important that we know our own personal values to maintain our own purpose.
We may not always know what we want to do or get out of this life – people switch careers and outgrow relationships all the time – but when we have a set of personal values in place, we can at least know the kinds of situations we feel comfortable in and always have a general direction for our life.
Perhaps you are someone who genuinely values honesty and integrity. Holding true to this value can direct you through your career and your relationships. You wouldn’t enter a relationship with someone who is constantly lying, and you wouldn’t work for a boss who has no integrity.
Through your values, you can discover your purpose in this life and what it is you want. Knowing what’s important to you and sticking to that will help you find your purpose.
Personal Values are Guiding Principles
Your values set you apart from others and give you a roadmap to how you should act and what you should (or shouldn’t) say. Our values are where we get our morals, and our morals help us decide what is right and wrong.
Acting as guiding principles, your values can help you in all kinds of situations. Without a strong value system, people are more likely to react without thinking, possibly hurting someone or themselves. Your values allow you to think clearly and concisely; you already know the right decision because you’ve thought through your personal definition of right and wrong.
In all situations, you can draw on your values to make a decision. Think to yourself: As someone who values kindness, what is the right response to this situation? As a person who finds honesty super important, what should I do here?
Your personal values eliminate confusion and guessing games that often come alongside difficult decisions and tough situations. Use your values to guide you through life – don’t just go along with what someone else tells you or what the crowd is doing.
They Help You Eliminate Clutter
Someone with no values has the potential to get involved with some pretty racy stuff. With no values, you have no reason to say no to anything.
Defining your values lets you clear out everything that doesn’t align with what’s important to you. This can mean activities, physical items, or even people.
Maybe you have sat down and really thought through your values to come to realize that there are people in your life who just don’t fit into the mix of your life and what you stand for anymore. It may be tough to do, but it’s okay to eliminate relationships that cause you to falter on what you believe in.
In the same way, perhaps you’ve been participating in actions that simply don’t sit right in your mind. As someone who values clean language and meaningful relationships, you may find that the bar scene just isn’t for you anymore.
Having personal values can completely change your life. Define yours, and you’ll see your world do a 180 right before your eyes.
They Increase Confidence and Character
Having personal values creates a sense of stability in your life. Those who are unsure are a bit shaky, and someone who is shaky on their values doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to speaking out or standing up.
When you are certain and secure in what you believe in, it’s easier to take a stand and do what’s right. Your personal values add to your confidence and allow you to stick to your gut, regardless of what other people might think or say.
And, having personal values significantly heightens your character. People admire a person who stays true to their beliefs and owns them, rather than someone who is flaky and jumps ship whenever it’s convenient for them.
Personal Values Improve Happiness
Let’s face it: when you know what you want and what is important, you’re just happier! Have you ever talked to someone who’s just lost? People without personal values walk this world aimlessly, not knowing where they’re going or what they’re going to do next. It’s easy for others to take advantage of people like this, and they don’t have any reason to say no.
With more confidence, truer relationships, and the ability to make sound and clear decisions, you will find your life is much easier and happier with personal values in place. You don’t need to compromise for anyone or anything, and that’s a great feeling.
How to Define Your Personal Values
Now that we all know how important and beneficial having set personal values is for everyone, we need to take a look at how we can go about doing that. It’s one thing to say you have values, but it’s another to go through the process of choosing what’s important in your own life.
Your personal values can be sectioned off into four main categories: individual, relationship, organizational, and societal. This is important to note because it can help you better organize your thoughts as you tackle each category one at a time, rather than trying to define the whole scope of your being at once.
Your individual values are just what they sound like: they are all yours and have to do with only you and the life you want to make for yourself. They have to do with your personality and character, along with your unique traits.
Your individual values encompass your specific needs and principles that you hold true to. They involve your self-interest and impact how you think and feel.
A few examples of individual values are enthusiasm, humility, personal fulfillment, and creativity.
Your relationship values impact the way you view other people and how you interact with them. Relationship values include family dynamics, romantic relationships, friendships, business relationships, and acquaintances. In fact, this area can even impact how you treat a stranger.
Every individual has specific traits that they value within a relationship. Think back to when we talked about clearing out the clutter in our lives by defining our values. We mentioned people and our relationships, and how sometimes defining what we find important in life can cause us to eliminate certain relationships.
That’s because if we do not find value in a relationship, it’s not beneficial to anyone. That’s not to say that you should only be in a relationship if you get something out of it, but rather it should hold substance and be good for both parties rather than being detrimental to our emotions and morals.
Some things that people may value in a relationship are honesty, passion, trust, generosity, caring, love, openness, compassion, and consideration.
For many people, if you lack the things they value in a relationship, then it’s not worth their time. We set standards for a reason. Relationships that don’t align with our values can tear us down and cause us to slip outside of the boundaries that we set for ourselves.
Organizational values most often have to do with areas of corporate and business. Thought this may not seem like a personal value set, many people take pride in their work and do have a set of standards that they apply to their career.
When you set these kinds of values, you can better decide what kind of company you want to work it, and the type of work environment in which you perform at your best. Just as we pick our personal values, companies set their own core standards and values. Not only do you want to work for someone who shares important views as you, but your company wants to hire someone who aligns with their values and can represent their company well.
Some organizational or professional values that people tend to hold are integrity, productivity, hard work, teamwork, growth, financial responsibility, leadership, and dedication.
Finally, we all hold a set of societal values, whether we realize it yet or not. These values have to do with your relation and view on society as a whole. What do you value about the world and the communities around you?
This one may be a little tougher to grasp, so we’ll jump right into a few examples.
One of your societal values may be environmental awareness. You value the environment, nature, and animals and feel that it is important that we as a race do whatever we can to sustain and protect our world. While others are okay with ignoring pollution and global warming, you think we should do something about it. That is a societal value.
Another example of this is the future of the people – the next generations. There are lots of people who believe it is crucial that we invest in the generations that come after us, whether it be financially, educationally, or emotionally. Somehow, we should focus on making them better and paving the way for their success.
Maybe human rights is a value that you hold strong to. You are very passionate about the fact that all humans deserve certain basic rights – that is a value that is meaningful and important to you.
There are many social issues that you can take on as a societal value. Even small things such as being kind to the homeless or paying it forward by taking care of someone’s coffee bill can be small societal values.
Steps You Can Take
You can now see that the first step to defining your personal values is to focus on each of the four categories above, one at a time, to define the areas of your life. Now, within all of those headings, you can use these steps to figure out what you find important in each of those areas.
Step 1: Relax
Life is hectic – we all know that. We have also already discovered that identifying your personal values can be a confusing and complex process. That’s why it is important for you to relax and center yourself before you dive it.
You should have a clear mind and plenty of time to yourself to think when you’re defining your values. So, it’s probably not a good idea to whip out a piece of paper while you’re drinking at the bar with your buddies on a Friday night.
Instead, aim for a quiet time of the day when you have nothing else going on. Perhaps this is after work when the kids have gone to bed, and your wife is upstairs reading. Maybe you can sit in a quiet coffee shop during your lunch break. Whatever it is, make sure you’re comfortable, and your mind is cleared of your to-do lists, family issues, and after-work plans.
Step 2: Analyze Your Background… And Your Future
Many of the values that we hold have been passed down from our parents, who may have gotten at least some of those values from their parents, and so on. Your family and your culture can say a lot about what you hold near and dear, so a good step to take it to think about what you were raised to view as important and examine what your family finds important.
Likewise, think about the kind of values that you would like to see in your future. If you have kids, how would you like to see them grow up? And if you don’t have kids yet, what kind of future do you envision for them?
What kinds of values are going to get you and your family where you want them to be?
At the same time, make sure to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of these values. You may find that some of the things your parents valued are no longer important to you. You’re allowed to redefine your family’s values and create your own, too.
Now is the perfect time to make a change in your family and break a chain of poor values as well. Perhaps you come from a long history of poverty and family members who didn’t value hard work. You can decide right now that your family will value financial responsibility, hard work, and integrity, regardless of your family’s past.
Step 3: Who Do You Look Up To?
There is great truth behind those who you have chosen as your heroes in this life. You admire them for a reason, so in defining your own values, you should examine the values that your role models hold dear.
Most of us can name at least one person who has had a strong influence on our lives. Maybe it was your mother. Perhaps she valued kindness, strength, and dignity, and in examining her characteristics, you can discover that you value those things too.
Or perhaps you look up to a celebrity who does large amounts of charity work, donating, and volunteering. You can look to them and find that you value generosity, giving back, and kindness to strangers.
Values drive actions, so look at your hero and analyze their actions. By doing so, you’ll be able to see what they value in this life and find out whether you feel the same way.
Step 4: Review Your Choices
Take a moment to think about the choices you have made in your life up to this point. Depending on your age, this may take a little while.
Think about who your friends are and how your relationships have evolved. People tend to choose friends who hold the same values as them, so if you’re not sure what you believe in, you may be able to find your answers in your closest companions.
Examine how you have responded to various situations in your life and the decisions you have made – large and small. While doing so, take note of how you have grown. After all, we have all made some questionable decisions at one point or another – especially in our teen years.
Consider how you treat people. Are you someone who likes to be kind to everyone? Do you like to make people laugh? Do you prefer to form just a few deep relationships, or do you like to have lots of friends? Are you someone that people come to for advice?
All of these questions matter in defining your personal values, and they reveal much more than you might think.
Step 5: Think!
There’s very little that a good, strong brainstorming session can’t fix. Make sure you have something to keep track of your thoughts. You can use the notepad on your phone, but I’ve always found that a pen and paper work best for this step.
Based on the previous four steps, write down your thoughts and ideas. Start making a list – if you haven’t already by this step – of values you think may apply to you. Don’t be afraid to get messy. Write, cross things out, rewrite.
Come up with a list of possible values. It’s okay if it’s super long. It’s possible that they all apply, but you can also go through that list and pair it down.
Be thoughtful, critical, and picky during this step. But most important, be honest with yourself. Don’t write things down because you think you should, write things down that are true. And write things down that you aspire to be – but only if you want to be that.
Before you know it, you’ll have a list in front of you that looks pretty darn good. All you have to do now is live it out.
Personal Values List
When all else fails, and you’ve run out of ideas, you can always go ahead a look at a literal list of personal values. You may find some traits that you didn’t think of or forgot about that resonate with you, so take a look:
- Financial Responsibility
- Hard Work
There are so many other values that we could go through today, but for now, we’ll leave you with this guide to spur some thought.
Defining your personal values list isn’t something that you should stress about, but it is something that you should take seriously and put into action. Your personal values really drive who you are, how you act, and where you are headed in this crazy life.
Ground yourself by knowing what’s important to you. Make your decisions based off of your own personal truths, and don’t compromise those values for anything. As we grow and learn, we can feed off of the discovery of what we value most to strengthen our inner selves, our relationships, our businesses, and our societies.