Identifying Your Core Values

It took me about three months to write this post. Before you judge me as the worst writer ever, know that it didn’t take me three months to actually put these words on the screen. That process took a couple of hours. But getting to the writing took months of overthinking.

It’s ironic that I mulled this post for so long because the idea for it came in March when I was listening to Anne Bogel’s new book, Don’t Overthink It. In the book, Bogel wrote about how knowing your core values can help you easily make decisions instead of overthinking them.

Our values, according to Bogel, can clarify how we allocate our resources, including our time, money, energy and attention. Your core values also can guide you when you’re stuck making a decision, Bogel wrote.

After I read this chapter in Bogel’s book, I talked with my husband about what we identified as our family’s core values. They weren’t that surprising—honesty and love.

I still found myself thinking more about core values because I believe in honesty and love, but I also think those things just exist within me. I didn’t see how those values were going to guide tough choices.

Identifying Your Core Values

“Values guide our behavior. They represent the underlying fabric of how, what and who surrounds you and how you navigate life’s daily challenges and opportunities,” Brian Solis wrote in his book, Lifescale.

Your core values, Solis wrote, are what keeps you true to yourself.

The problem is when our actions and decisions don’t align with our values or we aren’t sure what our values really are. The problem with not knowing your values is that you can’t use them to guide your life if you can’t identify or understand them, author and scholar Brene Brown wrote in her book Dare to Lead.

You have to get clear on what really matters to you so you can act in a way that is congruent with your values. Brown wrote:

Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk — we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.

Once you’ve identified your core values, they will lead your behavior in your personal and professional lives, Brown wrote. When we experience conflict, it’s because something we’re facing in our lives doesn’t align with our values, Brown wrote.

Brown offers a list of common values from which she encourages readers to identify their values, then continue eliminating until they’re down to only two.

Two values doesn’t seem like much, but Brown wrote that identifying only two values is important for two reasons. First, if every value is important to you, there’s nothing specific to drive your behavior. Second, your two core values typically are where all of your other values also lie.

I’m pretty sure I did Brown’s core values activity when I first read Dare to Lead, a book I plan to revisit soon. But I decided to try it again and see if I could get a better handle on things.

First, I printed the values list. Then I highlighted every value that really spoke to me. This was a little overwhelming because I highlighted a lot of words and I had no idea how I would whittle the list to just two. But soon I began to identify two words I was drawn to. They were the words that seemed to encompass all of the others and represent how I want to live my life.

I chose the phrase “making a difference” and the word “authenticity.” I chose these two because I want my actions to make a difference in the lives of people I care about, whether they be my family, my students, my peers or just random people I meet whose lives I can impact. And I want this difference to be made by me being authentically me. Being authentically me encompasses all of those other traits that I identified with like freedom, honesty, integrity, growth, learning, trust and loyalty, just to name a few.

Being authentically me made me think of Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project. Rubin wrote the book when she realized her life was passing her by and she wasn’t focusing on the things that really mattered. She decided to spend a year identifying and focusing on the things that really made her happy. She documented them in her best selling book. The first of Rubin’s 12 Personal Commandments, is “Be Gretchen.” Being Gretchen meant accepting her quirks, likes and dislikes and strengths and weaknesses, while still working to become a better person. Being authentic to me means “being Kenna” to make a difference for others.

It’s freeing to identify my two core values. They allow me to articulate and organize in my own mind what I stand for. I can use them to guide future decisions.

Which leads me to… What two values guide your thoughts, behaviors and actions? If you can’t identify them, consider going through the process with Brown’s list. I’d love to know what you discover, if you’re comfortable sharing.

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