Human values represent things that are important to us. Just like our DNA, or our fingerprints, we all have a unique set of values that shape our emotions, thoughts, and actions.
Whether we are aware of it or not, our core values play a fundamental role in determining who we are and how we approach life. Identifying our core values is an essential step toward personal and professional growth.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through the process of identifying your very own core values and aligning them with your goals and decisions. I will also present a comprehensive list of sample core values for you to choose from.
Introduction to Core Values
Core values are the fundamental beliefs and principles that guide our behavior and decision-making. They are at the foundation of our identity and our sense of purpose. Our core values shape our attitudes, goals, and priorities, and they help us navigate the complexities of life. Without a clear understanding of our core values, we risk living a life that is unfulfilling and unsatisfying or experiencing unnecessary distress when values are out of alignment.
What are Core Values and Why are They Important?
Core values are important because they serve as a compass, guiding us through life’s challenges and helping us make tough decisions. They help us stay true to ourselves and our purpose, even when faced with difficult choices.
How to Identify Your Core Values
Identifying your core values is a process that requires self-reflection and introspection. To begin, take some time to reflect on your life experiences and priorities. Think about the moments in your life when you felt most fulfilled and satisfied. What values were you honoring in those moments? What principles were guiding your actions?
Next, consider the qualities and characteristics that you admire in others. What values do they embody that resonate with you? What principles do they live by that you aspire to?
Finally, make a list of the values that are most important to you. This list should include the principles that you believe in and that guide your behavior and decision-making. This list will serve as a reference point as you begin to align your core values with your goals and decisions.
Research-based and Spiritual Core Values
While humans can value an almost unlimited number of activities, material possessions and experiences, we have compiled a list that includes many of the most commonly held values in the modern world.
A research perspective
According to the theory of basic human values developed by psychologists Shalom H. Schwartz and Tammy D. Weisz, there are ten broad values that people across cultures tend to endorse. These values are:
- Self-direction: independence, creativity, and freedom of thought and action.
- Stimulation: excitement, novelty, and challenge in life.
- Hedonism: pleasure and enjoyment of life.
- Achievement: personal success, competence, and mastery.
- Power: social status, control, and dominance over people and resources.
- Security: safety, stability, and predictability in life.
- Conformity: restraint of actions, tendencies, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social norms and expectations.
- Tradition: respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that traditional culture or religion provides.
- Benevolence: concern for the welfare of others and a desire to help and contribute to society.
- Universalism: appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and nature.
While the importance of these values can differ from person to person and culture to culture, research has shown that most humans tend to prioritize values such as benevolence, self-direction, and security to some degree. Consider the above list to be a representation of broad dimensions of values. Not many people would identify self-direction, for example, as a core value. However, many people might identify creativity as a core value. Creativity is, therefore, a subset of self-direction, according to this model.
A spiritual perspective
Research by us at the Values Institute and according to many traditions around the world reveals that there are three primary core values. In fact, all of the other values can fall within one of these three master dimensions. The three spiritual core values can be considered to be Peace, Love, and Joy.
Spiritual core value 1: Peace
Peace is regarded as a spiritual core value because it plays a crucial role in promoting human growth and maintaining healthy relationships and societies. It is the absence of violence and conflict and the presence of cooperation, harmony, and understanding. Prioritizing peace as a core value involves resolving differences and conflicts through dialogue, negotiations, and peaceful means. It aims to create communities that embrace diversity and where everyone feels valued and safe. Peaceful societies are characterized by high levels of trust, collaboration, and mutual support, leading individuals to experience a sense of security, belonging, and purpose. Therefore, peace is a value that can contribute to human well-being and create a fair and compassionate world.
Spiritual core value 2: Love
Love is considered a crucial spiritual value as it is an integral part of human nature and plays a significant role in our social and personal lives. Its essence is based on creating bonds, showing empathy, and prioritizing the happiness and contentment of others. When we recognize love as a central value, we develop the ability to understand, forgive, and empathize, forming healthy and meaningful relationships. Love motivates us to act kindly and generously and work towards a fair and impartial society. Love, whether in personal or communal interactions, has the potential to transform lives and bring forth positive changes.
Spiritual core value 3: Joy
The third spiritual core value is joy, which is essential to human experience and well-being. Joy refers to a feeling of extreme pleasure and happiness that can be found in simple activities like spending time with loved ones or enjoying nature. Prioritizing joy as a core value means cultivating a sense of wonder, gratitude, and curiosity toward the world. Creating an environment that encourages joy is crucial in personal relationships, workplaces, and communities. People who prioritize joy tend to be more creative, productive, and resilient, and they experience positive emotions like optimism, hope, and love. Embracing joy as a core value can help create a more meaningful, fulfilling, and vibrant world.
Remember, values are not some aspirational statement or a way of signaling virtue. Understanding what is important to you will drive the results you want in work and life.
A Comprehensive List of Core Values
While the above sections outlined broad dimensions of values, there is significant value in being able to clearly articulate your specific core values. Remember that values change based on life stage and personal experience. For example, in our youth, health may be a low priority, but it shifts to being critical as we age. Explore this list and identify 4-5 values that best reflect who you are in your best moments rather than who you aspire to be.
- High intensity
- Nature stewardship
- Openness to change
For a more comprehensive list, including 16 dimensions and 96 total values, check out the Values App.
Reflecting on Your Life Experiences and Priorities
One of the most effective ways to identify your core values is to reflect on your life experiences and priorities. Think about the moments in your life when you felt the most fulfilled and satisfied. What values were you honoring in those moments? What principles were guiding your actions?
Next, consider your priorities in life. What are the things that matter most to you? Is it your family, your career, your health, or your relationships? What values are you honoring by prioritizing these things?
Finally, think about the challenges and obstacles that you have faced in life. How did you overcome them? What values were you relying on during those difficult times? What principles helped you persevere?
Identifying Your Personal and Professional Core Values
It’s essential to identify both your personal and professional core values. Your personal core values are the beliefs and principles that guide your behavior and decision-making in your personal life. Your professional core values are the beliefs and principles that guide your behavior and decision-making in your professional life.
To identify your personal core values, reflect on the moments in your personal life when you felt most fulfilled and satisfied. What values were you honoring in those moments? What principles were guiding your actions?
To identify your professional core values, reflect on the moments in your professional life when you felt most fulfilled and satisfied. What values were you honoring in those moments? What principles were guiding your actions?
Aligning Your Core Values with Goals and Decisions
Once you have identified your core values, it’s essential to align them with your goals and decisions. Your core values should serve as a compass, guiding you towards the things that matter most to you. When you make decisions that align with your core values, you’ll feel more fulfilled and satisfied.
To align your core values with your goals and decisions, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this decision align with my core values?
- Will this decision help me achieve my goals?
- Will this decision bring me closer to the things that matter most to me?
- Will this decision make me feel fulfilled and satisfied?
By asking yourself these questions, you’ll be able to make decisions that align with your core values and bring you closer to the things that matter most to you.
Living by Your Core Values: Tips and Techniques
Living by your core values requires discipline and commitment. Here are some tips and techniques to help you stay true to your core values:
- Write down your core values and display them somewhere where you’ll see them every day.
- Set a reminder on your phone to ask whether you lived in alignment with your values today.
- Surround yourself with people who share your core values.
- Make decisions that align with your core values, even if they are difficult.
- Take time to reflect on your actions and decisions to ensure that they align with your core values.
- Be willing to make changes in your life to honor your core values.
By living by your core values, you’ll feel more fulfilled and satisfied in all aspects of your life.
Examples of Companies with Strong Core Values
Many companies and high-performing teams have strong core values that guide their behavior and decision-making. Here are a few examples:
- Patagonia: Patagonia’s core values include environmental sustainability, transparency, and quality.
- Google: Google’s core values include innovation, accountability, and inclusion.
- Zappos: Zappos’ core values include delivering “WOW” through service, embracing and driving change, and creating fun and a little weirdness.
These companies have built their success on a foundation of strong core values. By aligning their behavior and decision-making with their core values, they have created a strong sense of purpose and direction.
Conclusion: Embracing Your Core Values for Personal and Professional Growth
Identifying your core values is an essential step toward personal and professional growth. By understanding what you stand for and what you believe in, you’ll be able to make decisions that align with your goals and bring you closer to the things that matter most to you. Living by your core values requires discipline and commitment, but the rewards are worth it.
Embrace your core values, and you’ll feel more fulfilled and satisfied in all aspects of your life.