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Why you need to know your values

The subject of ‘values’ often comes up in my sessions, in fact I spend much more time talking about values than I do about ‘goals’.  As Russ Harris, author of a number of books on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and The Happiness Trap, says “if you’re living a goal-focused life, then no matter what you have, it’s never enough.”  I’ve written before about how I feel about the subject of goals – they’re necessary sometimes but not my preferred way of creating lifelong behaviour change.  Knowing and more importantly, living in alignment with your values, well, I often find that is a real game-changer for many people.

According to Barb Markway and Celia Ampel, values “are the principles that give our lives meaning and allow us to persevere through adversity.”  When we are living in alignment with our values we often find that:

  • Our stress levels reduce – research has shown knowing and being able to hold onto our own inner compass (set of values) when faced with a stressful situation allows us to let go of things that don’t matter.
  • Decisions are easier to make – we can reflect the ‘why’ behind our choices and being able to problem-solve based on our core values, rather than getting tied up in knots in the details of the options.
  • It helps support our motivation or willpower to stick at difficult tasks – whilst willpower is a vague and wishy-washy term, our ‘why’ is the thing that keeps us keeping on. That ‘why’ is (or at least should be) firmly rooted in our values.


Essentially, living a values-aligned life allows us to make different choices – about our work, who we work for, what we do, who we choose to spend our time with, even what brands we spend our money with.  Sometimes when people describe an inner tension, a strong discomfort in their lives it has its messy routes in not having, knowing or living by their values.


So, how do we figure out what our values are?  Well, I have a process that I like to work through with clients which involves a bit of a deep-dive into the very deepest parts of their being.  This is the essence on it:

  1. What do you believe in? Spend five minutes with a blank piece of paper and let your mind run wild – from the insignificant to the profound, just keep writing for the full five minutes.  “I believe in…”
  2. Use a list of values (I love to use Russ Harris’ as a start-point – click here) to create a short-list of VERY important values that matter to you.
  3. When you’ve selected your short-list you’ll probably find that you have quite a few that are similar to each other. So now create between 4-6 groups of values, sorted by theme, choosing one that resonates most strongly for each group.
  4. That should leave you with 4-6 core values. Now right a sentence or two summarising what each of those values means to you (because what ‘integrity’ or ‘compassion’ or ‘passion’ means to me, won’t be the same for you!


Choosing your values is the first part of this journey – I’ll share how to actually put those values into practice in a few week’s time.

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