For as long as I can remember, I've been that introspective, slightly nerdy girl, who enjoys sitting for hours pontificating over the meaning of life and how to live it in the best way possible.
I remember counting the days, hours, and minutes until I was "free" from childhood, a stage of life that felt repressive and almost insulting to where I felt I was at in life at that point: perfectly capable of living responsibly and making decent choices.
Over the last decade of adulthood I've daily discovered more about who I am and how to pursue life in a way that feels true to me, deep in my core.
To me, life has always been a precious gift meant to be stewarded well, and the sum of your life is a journey of discovering exactly what it means to do just that.
In my journeying so far, I've learned that to truly live a life of peace, purpose and joy we have to align how we're living each day with what matters most to us - our core values.
Most people assume they know what their values are because it's pretty easy to deduce what you should value based on how you've been raised and the culture you live in.
However, few people have actually taken the time to do the reflective work of uncovering what their core values are, which makes it difficult to live in alignment with them!
That's exactly what I'm going to walk you through today: an exploration of what exactly core values are, why they matter, how to discover what yours are, and how to purposefully live in alignment with them every day.
What Core Values Are & Why They Matter
I personally like to think of core values as a kind of internal navigation system that drives us to see, hear, think, feel and make decisions the way that we do.
They are our most important fundamental beliefs that dictate our perception of how life is meant to be lived.
Core values govern our relationships, clarify who we are, articulate what we stand for, guide us in our decision making, and underpin why we are each driven to live life the way we are.
When we're aware of what our core values are and honor them in our everyday living, we experience peace, joy, harmony and fulfillment.
When we don't, we end up suffering mentally, physically and emotionally, struggling with feelings of discontentment, frustration and uncertainty.
If we don't know what's most important to us and we aren't clear on what our core values are, it's impossible to know what we really want.
This leads many of us to wander through life on "autopilot" mode, going through the motions and never fully embracing life the way we were created to
Or worse, we live according to other people's values, conforming to their idea of what's most important and how things should be done.
I'm convinced that one of the biggest keys to a living a peaceful, joyful, fulfilling life infused with purpose is understanding what our unique set of core values are and learning to live in alignment with those values.
Picture your core values as a lighthouse, a beacon that serves to guide you as you make decisions every day.
If you honor your core values you'll naturally be swift and focused in your decision-making because your direction is clearly defined.
If not, you'll often end up somewhere you never intended to go, wondering where you made a wrong turn and how you got yourself into such a mess.
As Mahatma Ghandi said:
"Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny."
Your core values have the power to shape your destiny....they've been intricately woven into your DNA by a God who lovingly created you with unique gifts, talents, desires and perspective.
When you take the time to clearly identify your core values you become more awake in your own life, aware of who you are and what your purpose in life is....and nothing is better than that, friend.
5 Steps to Uncover Your Core Values
Now that we've established what core values are and why they matter, it's time to take action and do the work necessary to uncover what your core values are.
Revelation is pretty meaningless unless you're willing to take action and do something different than you've done before!
Spend 20 or 30 minutes working through the following steps, and remember: your core values aren't rules or commandments that need to be rigid or static. Hold them loosely, and revisit this discovery practice regularly to see how your core values clarify and evolve as you move through the rest of your life.
If you want an easy way to work through this process, enter your name and email below to download a free copy of my core values assessment that will walk you through each of the following steps to uncover your core values.
Step 1: Let Go of Preconceptions
Before you get started, I want you to let go of any assumptions that you already know what your core values are. When we think we know the answer to something already, it blocks us from being receptive to new discoveries.
Let go of what you think you know, and prepare to be totally honest with yourself as you explore and discover the core values that are hidden deep inside of you.
Step 2: Brain Dump & Categorize Your Values
Now, get a sheet of paper or pull up the notes app on your phone and spend 5-10 minutes listing out as many values or things that are important to you as you can think of in that timeframe.
Everything you list should matter to you and feel like something drives you in life.
When you're done, go through your list and begin grouping values that are similar. For example freedom, adventure and passion might go together, or consistency, stability and order.
Determine an overarching theme that sums up each grouping of values, and create a new condensed list of values.
Step 3: Determine Your Core Values
Now it's time to narrow your list down, which can be pretty difficult. Don't get frustrated by this part of the exercise!
Instead, work your way through the list figuring out which values you could live without compared to others on the list. Begin putting them in order based on how essential they feel to you or how well they represent what matters most to you.
Prioritizing your top core values in this way will help you clearly define your greatest priorities in life. It will also help you make difficult decisions when you have core values that are at odds with each other.
For example, two of my core values are stability and freedom. I've personally prioritized stability ahead of freedom because at the end of the day it matters to me more.
There's no set number of core values that you should have, but I recommend keeping it between 5-10.
Step 4: Define Your Core Values
Now that you have your list of core values, it's important to take a few minutes to define what each of them mean to you.
Words can mean very different things to different people, so take the time to dissect what each value means to you and why you've chosen it.
Your explanation of these core values you've uncovered will become something of a personal manifesto for why and how you aim to live your life the way you do.
Step 5: Test Your Core Values
The last step in uncovering your core values is to test them out! What do I mean by that?
Well, it's not quite enough to discover and decide that something is a core value....it's too easy to choose them without being honest with ourselves and allow those preconceptions we talked about earlier to influence our choices.
Take a look at your prioritized core values list. How does each value make you feel? Do they feel consistent with who you know yourself to be? Are they personal to you?
Lastly, do you feel like your values are truly in the proper order of importance to you? Be honest here - this exercise isn't about figuring out what you think should be important to you, it's about uncovering what is important to you and owning that!
How to Live in Alignment with Your Core Values
Now that you're equipped with your list of core values (hooray!) the next order of business is figuring out how to actually live in a way that aligns with those core values.
It's not enough to just say something is a core value....it needs to have an active influence over your behavior and actions. This is what learning to live on purpose is all about.
The best way I've learned to live daily in alignment with my values is to practice mindfulness. Now, I know that can sound pretty vague and ambiguous, but essentially it involves regularly reflecting on your core values and your behaviors, and making conscious adjustments to align the two.
Mindfulness is the practice of learning to be aware of ourselves, infusing our core values into our daily decision-making, and learning to respond to things out of our core values instead of reacting to things out of old patterns of conditioning.
I recommend taking time every week to journal out your thoughts and feelings about life and assess how well you spent your time and made choices in alignment with your core values.
You could even write out your core values and rate how well you're doing with each one, then identify actions steps you could take to improve that rating.
For example, if adventure is one of your core values but you're life has been pretty lacking in the adventure department lately, an action step you could take is to plan a fun weekend day trip somewhere you've never been, or a big vacation to another country to celebrate your anniversary this year.
Just remember, your core values aren't meant to be rigid set of rules that you strictly live by, but rather a sort of code that helps inform the way you live on a daily basis.
They will likely stay pretty constant throughout your life, but as you grow and change, your core values may change as well.
Don't fear that change - be open to it and honest with yourself because consistently embracing and honoring your core values is the key to living the kind of life you can be deeply satisfied with when all is said and done.
Want to find out what my core values are and have a little extra help uncovering what yours are? Pop your name and email in below to download your free copy of my core values assessment and start living on purpose today.