What are personal values?

What Are Personal Values?

July 01, 2018

What Are Personal Values?

Have you ever stopped to think about why you make the decisions you do? For example, do you prioritize hitting the gym after work or grabbing beers with coworkers?

Or, is spending a fun-filled weekend outdoors more important to you than staying in to clean the house?

Whether we realize it or not, each decision we make throughout the day, both big and small, is guided by a set of principles unique to us. These principles influence our actions, and are better known as our personal values.

But do we always act in accordance with our deepest values? Or, are we just as likely to spend our lives doing things others think are important, while our deepest values rot in the basement?

We've found the latter to be true. We've had many hundreds of individual conversations about purpose. And we've taught The Purpose Method to well over 100 individuals. We've found that, without intentional focus on first identifying, and then living your deepest personal values, people inevitably drift towards living out others' values

And who are these 'others?'  No, we're not talking about the White Walkers from Game of Thrones. Most typically we adopt the values of popular culture or influential family members. 

In other words, it's 'money and hoes' or 'safety and stability.' 

More on that below, but first let's answer the question: "What are personal values?"

So, What (Exactly) are Personal Values, You Ask?

Personal values (AKA: core values) determine our priorities. Essentially, they're ways of being that we value above other ways of being. Our values highlight what we stand for, and, if we're in alignment, guide our behavior and decisions.

Your values are what you hold most important. And everyone has their own unique set. For example, anyone with two or more children will tell you how naturally different two people can be, even with a similar upbringing. 

If you fail to live in alignment with your values, you won't be fulfilled. Full stop. You won't have that deep sense of purpose that comes from taking healthy, positive daily action.

The biggest problem we see is that people aren't intentional with their values. Instead, they unconsciously adopt society's values or the values of an influential family member.

For most people, this leads to misalignment. It leads to a lack of fulfillment. It leads to an un-lived life. Imagine knowing there was a parallel universe where you actually did live your deepest values. Imagine if you could look through a peep hole at that version of you.

Would you feel envy? Regret? 

Choosing vs. Receiving Values

Have audited your personal values? Beyond identifying them, which The Purpose Method helps you do, it's important to question where your values originate from.

At one time in history, we simply received our values, often passed down from religion. But modern, Western culture (and increasingly the entire world) began to find that path unsatisfying.

And today, our received values stem from a variety of sources. From pop culture, to our upbringing, to societal expectations, we're influenced throughout our lives and collect our values from a variety of sources.

Often, we do things because we’re taught to, we're obligated to, and we're expected to, not because we value it. This inhibits our potential and likelihood of fulfillment.

Ultimately, we can only be aligned with our values when know our values.

Take, for example, Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. She was born in 1820 into a wealthy, prominent family. She was active in philanthropy from a young age, and came to see nursing as her ‘divine calling’ and purpose, much to her parents' dismay. Upon sharing her ambitions with her family, it's said they were unsupportive. They even forbade her to pursue her chosen path.

As explained in her official biography, “During the Victorian Era, where English women had almost no property rights, a young lady of Nightingale's social stature was expected to marry a man of means to ensure her class standing—not take up a job that was viewed by the upper social classes as lowly menial labor.”

Florence Nightingale went on to defy those societal norms (and her parents' expectations) by not only refusing a marriage proposal from an ‘appropriate’ suitor, but also by pursuing her true calling and enrolling as a nursing student in 1850. By identifying and living in alignment with her personal values, Florence Nightingale went on to found what we know today at the modern nursing profession.

Getting Clear on Your Values

So, we've identified that a purpose requires alignment with your values. It's not enough to state them. We must actually live out our values to feel a sense of purpose.

But that's not to underplay the importance of stating them. It's only possible to live in alignment with personal values, when you're clear on what it is that you truly value. To get clear, ask yourself these questions:

  • What does my ideal day look like, free of obligations, expectations, and unfulfilling commitments? What would be different about my schedule without these?
  • If you could cancel any commitment in your life, would you? If so, what would it be?
  • When you think of your ‘dream life,’ what does it look like? Feel like? Are your daily actions leading you closer to that life, or further away?

Our culture is a strange paradox. We believe wholeheartedly in self-actualization. But often unknowingly, we don't choose our values. We inherit them. Then we wonder why self-actualization feels so far away.

That's why now, more than ever, with more of us eager to realize our full creative, intellectual, and social potential, we must be intentional about identifying and purposefully living our own values.

The Common Personal Value Dimensions

When identifying important values, students of The Purpose Method often state some version of the following dimensions:

  • Close, intimate romantic relationships
  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Success in terms of career and educational ambitions
  • Moderation or self restraint
  • Health, both mental and physical
  • Productive use of time outside work

These are seven areas of life where we most commonly seek fulfillment. Although they differ from each individual to the next, most of our values derive from some combination of these seven.

For example, under the rubric of 'productive use of time outside work,' you may value the stable structure of home renovations and yard work. While another may value the adventure and spontaneity of regular weekend getaways. 

So, you see, the variance is large. But the dynamics are generally consistent.

In The Purpose Method, we go deep identifying values. We help you determine which ones resonate with you so you can align with your purpose.

It's common to have a long list of values, but at any given time of life we generally prioritize a small handful, say 3 or 4. For example, a couple of years ago, Purpose Method co-founder, Michael Muscari, worked as a financial advisor. While he was highly successful by society's standard, he was unfilled in his work life.

He felt his financial state was too dependent on other people and factors out of his control, which led him to re-evaluate his Purpose Constitution™ (although it wasn't called that at the time), including his personal values (which we call the Values Ledger). During this process, Mike identified one of his most important values: financial freedom.

He began prioritizing this value for many years, and this led him to create his successful supplement business, which now provides him with the financial freedom he desired.

This is such an important point. Keep in mind that Mike was in a state of struggle and confusion about his life. So, he got very specific about his financial life. Keep in mind he was already making a lot of money as a financial planner.

His value wasn't more money. It was financial freedom. This is a fine distinction. And without understanding it, he might still be chasing money in the financial planning space. Instead, he got clear and built a company that provided financial freedom. 

And this is the power of intentionally identifying our personal values. Once we're aware of them, we can then truly begin to take aligned action.

Why Are Personal Values Important?

Your personal values are about designing your life from the inside out. They're an efficient guide when saying yes or no to choices, big and small. Your personal values provide clarity, and are the prerequisites to living with purpose. 

When you know your personal values it means knowing what's truly important to you. This makes it easier to draw boundaries, make decisions with clarity, and be fulfilled. Decision-making becomes easier.

Take for example consultant Chris Cook, founder of Lionheart. It's hard to believe now, but a few short years ago Chris embodied the term 'golden handcuffs.' He had a corner office, high up in a downtown Vancouver office building, overlooking the harbor.

He held a number of director level roles at a large corporation. As such, he held significant shares in the company. The salary alone provided a comfortable and profitable lifestyle for Chris and his family of 5.

It was a classic example of societal values. Chris is super talented and hard-working. As such, he naturally climbed to the top in academic and professional endeavors. But as time went on, he felt more and more unaligned with his job.

Of course, leaving was difficult because it would mean losing his significant salary and having to walk away from his unvested shares.

Golden handcuffs.

Over time he would become more and more unaligned and his happiness level plummeted. This misalignment eventually bled into every other area of his life -- health, family, friendships, etc.

But incredibly, Chris eventually found the courage to choose his purpose. He had to realign many areas of life. But he eventually began living his deepest values.

So, why are values important? Well, it's the difference between happiness and fulfillment versus internal strife and deep unhappiness. Chris embodied this difference.

Prioritizing Your Personal Values

When we haven't identified our deepest values, we commit to things out of obligation. We say yes to things that don’t feel good. We overextend ourselves for the sake of others' expectations. We accept others demands of us, because it’s easier to do than becoming clear and standing up for our own values.

In order to live a fulfilling life, you have to make a shift. Life is much more enjoyable when you make decisions that honor your values. Not to mention the fact that our time on Earth is pretty damned short. Do you really want to spend your limited days on Earth living what someone else thinks is important?

It should also be noted that the people around you may not like or understand the decisions you make, but that’s because everyone’s values are different. When we fail to ask ourselves, “What are my personal values?” before making decisions, it's a slippery slope towards purposelessness.

What Are Your Personal Values? Get Clear.

Now that you understand the importance of having personal values, it’s time to get clear, make a plan and stick to it.

This is where most people fail. Sure, we all love to get inspired and talk a good game. But aligning with your values goes beyond doing the feel-good task of picking words from a list.

Very few people seem willing to actually make a plan, stick to it, evaluate their progress, adjust course accordingly, and be honest about their true values.

In the Purpose Method, we use a visioning process with key questions and a values’ self-analysis to help you first get clear on (and then live) your values.  

Our goal is to help students understand their deepest values, and to equip them with a plan they will follow. Your values change throughout your life as your priorities do, and it’s important to revisit them regularly.

If you'd like to get started identifying and living your deepest values, schedule your free coaching call now.

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