Values are your guide to life—if you know what they are.
When we don’t stay true to our values, we suffer. I’ve experienced this too many times in my personal life as well as coaching people.
This exercise will help define (or reconnect with) your values. It can be used for personal purposes, or as a team-building practice. “What do you stand for?” is a great way to get the dialogue started around core values.
When you are aware of your values, it’s easier to make decisions. Understanding your values helps you prioritize things and make it easier to say “no” to something that won’t help you become the person you want. They can help you address common questions like:
– Is this the kind of job I want?
– Should I compromise, or be firm with my position?
– Shall I follow what others are doing or create my own path?
– Will this decision make me feel happier or guilty?
While the following process works best when facilitated by an external coach, you can do it on your own. Just remember to keep your mind open, challenge yourself, and be honest.
What Matters to You?
1. List what matters to you
Start by capturing on sticky notes everything important to you. Don’t focus on people (names) or actual things (your car, your house, etc.); the list is about what you value about the relationships or things that matter to you.
For example, you might value “friendship,” “comfort,” “patience,” or “integrity.”
There are many lists available online. I strongly recommend that you write your values without consulting any. Pre-built lists are tricky; instead of doing self-reflection, we focus on choosing one of the options. Also, every list is different, and the words might differ from the way you express your values.
2. Reflect on key moments
List the moments that you felt happy in your life
- What were you doing?
- How did you feel? Why?
- What exactly made you feel happy?
Identify the times when you felt proud or fulfilled
- Why did you feel proud or fulfilled?
- What exactly made you feel that way?
- What drives your desire to feel fulfilled?
Identify the times when you had to make tough choices
- What was the challenge?
- What made you feel afraid?
- What did you have to overcome?
- How did you feel about making the right call?
3. Reflect on values
Go back to everything that you wrote on the previous step. Think of different values that come to mind as you revisit the list. Capture those values on sticky notes (one value per Post-it).
4. Group your values
Put all the values from the previous steps in front of you.
Group all the values that are similar.
Create five groupings. If you have more than five, drop the least important. Pick the top two values from each group. The idea is to end this portion of the values exercise with a list of 10 core values.
5. Shorten your list
Now, you have 30 seconds to get rid of 3 values. What are the ones that matter the less? Which values can you get rid of without losing your essence?
Choose the least important values and throw them away. Don’t overthink it; just act.
Now you have 30 seconds to get rid of two more. Which values will you throw away?
This is your last chance to focus on what really matters to you. Take another 30 seconds and throw away 2 more values. Which ones will you get rid of?
You should finish this section with only three values left. Those are the things that matter to you, your core values.
6. Reflect on your values
Read your list out loud. Share it with a friend or colleague. How does it feel? What’s missing?
Do these values make sense to you? Does any value surprise you? Why?
Does this list really capture what matters to you?
How can you live these values?
What actions are you willing to take to live by those values?
How have you betrayed these values in the past? What can you do better next time?
Revisit your values from time to time.
You can do the same exercise but end with 5 values instead of just 3. However, I recommend that for the first round, you stick to three. The pressure to finish with fewer will force you to make tough choices: you will focus on what really matters to you.
It’s okay to consult a predefined list of values. But, once again, try to postpone doing so as long as you can. You could do it at the end of step 4, or later, but avoid the temptation of choosing your values from a list.
Keep your mind open; avoid being influenced by a list.
Variation for Team Values Exercise
If you are working on defining your team or company core values, you can follow the exact same steps.
The only key difference is that people will work in small groups and then they need to consolidate all results.
Organize the group into teams of 3-5 people. Each team should sit around a table. The whole group should work in the same space.
There are two ways to do this:
1. Start with the Individual:
If you have time, this is the ideal option.
Run the whole individual exercise as described above. The idea is to allow people to first reflect on their personal views before working with others. Also, working on their own minimizes groupthink.
Now let every person share theirs with the people sitting on the same table.
Once everyone is finished, eliminate repetitions. Go back to grouping values and run the elimination phase, but this time the selection should be done collectively.
2. Start with the Group:
This version works well but is not as effective as the one I just described.
Basically, facilitate steps 1-6, but everything is done as a group
What Are Your Core Values?
Identifying and selecting your values is not easy. Regardless of how challenging this exercise might be, it’s crucial to bring focus to your life.
Your core values play a critical role. They influence your decisions even if you don’t realize it. Having a written list of your values will increase your self-awareness and help you make better decisions.
Most decisions are based on what matters to us. When you know what’s important, it’s much easier to make any decision.
Just in case you need it, here’s an extensive list of values.