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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Define Your Personal Values and Live By Them for a Fulfilling Life

How to Define Your Personal Values and Live By Them for a Fulfilling Life

When we think about the big questions, such who we are and what we want to achieve in life, we often ponder things like our personality traits and goals. We try to figure out if we are an introvert or extrovert, if we are agreeable or not, or how many of our New Year’s resolutions we have managed to tick off our lists.

We rarely think explicitly about our moral standards and how they influence our character and life.

But what if I tell you that our personal values were around long before everyone started using goal-setting, Myers-Briggs personality tests, and self-awareness as pathways to understanding what makes us tick and how we can use these revelations to succeed.

So, let’s take a look under the hood and see how you can discover your own guiding principles and utilize them to enhance your relationships, careers and everything in-between.

What are Personal Values?

Personal values are part of the moral code that guides our actions and defines who we are. They are what we consider important, the things that matter to our well-being and happiness.

The simplest way to describe what personal values are is to think in terms of your personality and behaviors. Ultimately, your values become woven into your personality and become part of You.

Some of these are more of a universal rule of conduct—think along the lines of religion and the morals it teaches us. Then, there are some values that each of us decides to adopt, depending on what we hold dear in our lives and what we want to achieve and become. For instance, I may value kindness and compassion over fame and popularity.

To give you an idea of some person values you may have, here is a good list:[1]

  • Authenticity
  • Achievement
  • Adventure
  • Beauty
  • Boldness
  • Compassion
  • Challenge
  • Curiosity
  • Determination
  • Fairness
  • Faith
  • Fame
  • Friendships
  • Happiness
  • Honesty
  • Kindness
  • Learning
  • Loyalty
  • Meaningful Work
  • Openness
  • Optimism
  • Pleasure
  • Popularity
  • Recognition
  • Respect
  • Self-Respect
  • Spirituality
  • Stability
  • Success
  • Status
  • Trustworthiness
  • Wealth
  • Wisdom

As you can imagine, the above can play out differently for each of us—there are varied combinations and priorities we use to adopt these. The end result? The writer and poet Robert Zend greatly put it:

“People have one thing in common: they are all different.”

Before we delve further into the So Whats and Hows of our moral principles, there’s one more important thing to remember. Values are often more or less visible to others and are expressed through our current actions, words, behaviors, but more importantly, they also carve the people that we are striving to become in the future.

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That is, our personal values are not only an extension of ourselves, but they also shape our characters. They are us—who we are and what we stand for.

Why Are Personal Values Important?

Why does it all matter so much anyway?

Personal values are the main driver behind our personality and actions, and any endeavor to re-invent ourselves will have to tap into our current moral principles to give ourselves a chance at a more fulfilling life.

Knowing our moral principles can aid us in a variety of ways. It can help us find our purpose, ease decision-making, increase our confidence, and guide us through difficult situations.

Here are few other benefits of how knowing our own codes of conduct can help us turn our lives around.

Personal Values Help with Self-awareness

Self-awareness has earned a lot of attention in recent years. Indeed, its advantages are undeniable. It has been linked to enhanced personal development and better relationships, among a plethora of other gains.[2] It helps us make sounder decisions, communicate more effectively, get more promotions, and be less likely to lie, cheat, or steal.[3]

Simply put, self-awareness is a must-have skill we should all nurture.

Self-awareness is basically an awareness of your personality. There is certainly value to be had—personally and professionally—in what the Greats have wisely taught us: Know Thyself.

How would you otherwise know what you want to achieve, what you are capable of, or how far you can push yourself if you don’t have a clue who the person staring back in the mirror really is?

Understanding who we are begins with an awareness of what drives us, what makes us tick, and what we hold dear—that is, it starts with knowing our personal values.

Personal Values Influence Our Outcomes

What do you do with all the self-knowledge, though?

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The coaches and gurus often advise that, in order to succeed and get everything we want in life, we need to play to our strengths.[4] Using our powers instead of dwelling on our foibles can make us happier and less depressed. Of course, this implies that we know what these are to start with.

There is another, equally important side to why knowing ourselves and what we value in life can be beneficial. Yes, I’m talking about personal reinvention, self-improvement, life enhancement, and all the similar buzzworthy concepts of late. But it all comes down to change. Bluntly speaking, you can’t change what you don’t know.[5]

When we talk about personal reinvention, we usually mean creating new habits, new behaviors, new ways of thinking, and, of course, adopting new personal values.

To change our outcomes and, ultimately, our lives, we need to change our actions and mindset. In order to do this, we need to weed out the trifles and decide what truly matters.

How to Find and Nurture Your Personal Values

To discover exactly what your personal values are, there are questions and techniques you can use. Here are a handful to help you get started.

1. Ask “Who Am I Today?”

As adults, we all have a certain set of values (adopted knowingly or not), which guide our actions and define the people we are today.

So, a good starting point is to make a list of 10-15 values we believe we live by. Use the list I provided at the beginning or find online a more detailed one. Pick the ones that best define you. Be honest with yourself.

To get a 360-degree picture of yourself, I would recommend that you do the same exercise with your family and friends. Show them the full list and ask them to pick the values that they think are synonymous with your personality. Do the two lists match?

The goal of this activity is to draw a realistic portrait of who you are. It is the starting point of the bigger pursuits of self-awareness, self-reinvention, and leading a more fulfilling life.

2. Prioritize Your Values

Not all we deem of importance is created equally in our minds. That is, some values are more significant to us than others. This is what determines your primary and secondary behaviors. For instance, you may value family and career, but we all know that a balance is hard to achieve. In your mind, one tops the other. Therefore, you would always take steps to advance what is dearer to you.

Our current lives and the behaviors that guide them are structured according to our values and their rank in our own rules of conduct list. Therefore, one way to change our results and draft a different version of ourselves is to re-shuffle the list. If you want to spend more time with family, put it at the top, above anything else.

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Read your list often. It’s also a way to reinforce your identity. Sometimes you can get so caught-up in the web of your busy everydays that you forget to focus on the most important person in your life: you.

Get to know yourself so that you can like yourself and avoid sabotaging your own efforts to change the things you want to.

3. Complete a Values Audit

The beautiful thing about personal values is that we all have a say and a choice in the people we evolve to become.

That’s what the gurus always trumpet: If you don’t like your life, change it.

Of course, this is easier said than done.

A good starting point is to have your values list, ranked by importance, and to re-assess it regularly—say semi-annually or annually. As our life circumstances change, so may the things we consider important to us. For instance, when you are fresh out of college, financial security may not be a top guiding principle as it may be for someone married with kids.

Read your existing list often and change it around as needed. Your primary behaviors will follow what you find significant.

But there is another side to this—it’s the process of adding of new values, embracing and making them part of our lives. One way to find such new values is to look at the people we respect and want to be like. Listen and watch them carefully— what principles do they live by? Can you emulate them?

Once you find a new guiding value you want to adopt, you must own it. As the popular author and entrepreneur Mark Manson writes:

“So, here’s the catch: sitting around thinking about better values to have is nice. But nothing will solidify until you go out and embody that new value. Values are won and lost through life experience. Not through logic or feelings or even beliefs. They have to be lived and experienced to stick. This often takes courage.”[6]

Therefore, a value audit is an essential part of the process, both to re-examine our current priorities and to find new mountains to climb.

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“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

Change is part of the re-invention process.

Final Thoughts

In the end, our personal values are our moral compass of what to say, how to behave, how to treat ourselves and others, and what life choices to make.

Knowing what someone finds important can help you draw an accurate picture of their inner landscape, and it can also guide how you treat them, speak to them, appeal to them, or convince them to go your way. It is a valuable insight to have.

Research confirms this:

“Personal values reflect what people think and state about themselves. Understanding personal values means understanding human behaviour.”[7]

Like our personalities, what we believe to matter in our lives is highly subjective, nuanced, and sometimes even self-contradicting. And it’s dynamic—it largely follows our life trajectory, but it can be further colored by the people that we meet, the goals we set, and the events that enter our lives.

But what we believe in, our personal values, are ultimately what shapes us as individuals.

If you want to make any kind of change, you must decide what to value and where your priorities lie.

That’s the surest path to self-renovation.

Featured photo credit: Pietro Tebaldi via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Evelyn Marinoff

A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It) How to Define Your Personal Values and Live By Them for a Fulfilling Life How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life How to Stop Struggling with Instant Gratification and Reach Your Goals What Is External Motivation And How to Make Good Use of It?

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Last Updated on January 14, 2021

10 Self-Exploration Practices to Discover Your True Self

10 Self-Exploration Practices to Discover Your True Self

Discovering your true self is a lifelong journey. It doesn’t happen in one day or one revelation, but it is still worth the pursuit. When you find your true self through self-exploration, you know what you’re meant to do and are no longer afraid. Rising up with authenticity, you can overcome anything.

What is your true self? Is it the person you were as a child? When you felt the happiest? When you learned that important life lesson? When you achieved that goal? When you helped that stranger? Or when you acted according to your values regardless of others’ expectations?

The answer is all of these things make up your true self. The key isn’t discovering your true self. It’s remembering.

Here are some self-exploration practices to help you get started.

1. Act Authentically

When you act authentically, you are stepping into your true self. You are walking with wisdom, rather than worry. People come to you because they know you’re the real deal. You are flawed but fierce. You are enough as you, where you are, with what you have.

When you are authentic, you make choices that come from character. When you stay true to who you actually are, you learn that nothing can bring you down. That’s because you aren’t looking for external validation, and when you know what you have, you can do more with it.

When you act authentically, you are also acting in the best interests of everyone around you, because you care more about the right things. A better you means a better world.

2. Use Self-Affirmations

Say the following: “I am enough. I am strong. I am a victor, not a victim. I have what it takes. I will overcome. I will keep going, even when it seems impossible. I am not perfect, but I am human. I am allowed to rest, not to quit. I am not alone. I am good. I am grateful. I am at peace.”

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When you say these things, you accept them as true. You feel them, and you become them. You discover your true self in finding your power through self-exploration.

When you tell the world who you are, obstacles and opposition will move out of the way. When you are confident, you see opportunities, lessons, and wisdom. It makes you proactive, rather than reactive.

3. Confront Your Inner Critic

If all anyone did was listen to the negative voice in their head, nothing would ever get done. Einstein wouldn’t have discovered the Theory of Relativity and more if he listened to his teacher once tell him that he didn’t have what it took. The world would be robbed of that one person, who would change so many things.

The inner critic comes from fear of the unknown, of not being good enough, or of loss and lack. However, fear doesn’t have to decide what happens. You can overcome fear by not listening to your inner critic.

Instead, you can thank your inner critic and say, “I think what COULD happen…” and spin it into a positive sentiment. Fear can make sure you wear your seatbelt, practice before performing, make good choices, etc., but it doesn’t have to control you.

It may not go away completely, when you confront your inner critic, but you can reassure it and ultimately release it.

4. Don’t Hide Your Imperfections

It’s easy to wear a mask and say, “This is who I want people to think I am.” Instead, it’s more fulfilling to take off the mask and say, “This is who I actually am, and I am proud of that person.”

Through self-exploration, you can live freely by owning who you are. That will make you more responsible and more impactful. When you tell your story and say your truth, people will listen and be inspired to find their own truth. Self-discovery can then spread.

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5. Find Who You Are NOT

If you want to find out who you are, find out who you are NOT. What part of your past has defined your present? What about your culture, religion, family, friends, people around you, etc? What is truly you and what is them? You’ll never be finished discovering yourself, but you can use differentiation[1], where you separate yourself from what isn’t you by finding the sources of your views to become independent.

When you differentiate, you do not discount or minimize the effect other things have had. You just become aware of it, and what you are aware of, you can bring into the light of acceptance, where you can do something to change it.

What are your unique goals, interests, values, and ideas? Once you figure out what you are not, start there. Self-exploration is a journey of understanding how you have been shaped and molded through life and by what.

It’s okay that things have influenced you, but have you ever asked yourself why? If you can answer that question, you can start to find out who you are and set yourself free from the things you aren’t.

6. Log Your Life

Journaling is a great tool for self-exploration. All you need to do is write down your thoughts, either as free writing or following prompts. If you can’t think of anything to write, start simply: Write down your mood and the date.

What causes you to feel better or worse? What are your triggers? What makes you triumph?

When you discover what makes you tick, you learn how to better manage yourself and your life. You have a safe space where you can be your true self, and only share entries if you feel comfortable. You can pour it out daily, or just check in.

You can also observe what’s around you, letting your mind go and flow. Focus on your feelings, and allow pauses and moments for reflection before resuming writing. Let the end of it come naturally, when you feel like you have nothing else to say.

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As long as you keep some sort of log, you can learn how your mind operates, and you can pick up unhealthy patterns, which will help you regain control of your life.

You can check out more benefits of journaling here.

7. Focus on What Is Right With You

Maybe your mind ruminates on what you don’t like about yourself and what you think others don’t like. Maybe you feel like opportunities pass you up because you are not worth it. If that is you, know that you’re not alone. Everyone has a negativity bias[2] where they tend to believe more in the bad at first then the good.

Recognizing your mind may lie to you is the first step in seeing the truth. When you focus on what is right for you, you counteract those thoughts telling you that you have nothing to offer. If you have control over what you think, you have greater control over your situation.

Have you ever given yourself a compliment? Why not try one now? You can personalize it, but you can say things along the lines of, “I like how you care for other people. You have a great attitude. You always rise when bad things happen. I love you.”

8. Find Solace in Solitude

Sometimes, unplugging and getting away is the best thing for self-exploration. If you step outside into nature and invest in yourself, then you will feel better and be better.

Use time to meditate and focus just on yourself, not the world around you. Listen to your own thoughts, not what others are saying. When you check in, you know yourself again.

Recharging may not change everything or stop that difficult circumstance, but it can help you develop the mindset and energy to face it through your inner strength.

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9. Practice Self-Care

Often, when people try to relax, they worry with guilt and anxiety. You may be on vacation, but your brain is still at work. If you give yourself permission to relax, you will see that you fight your battles even better and can really dive into self-exploration.

Breakthroughs will happen in self-care more than in self-sabotage. When you try some self-care, it’s not just about pampering yourself. It’s taking the time to do what you need to do in order to be who you need to be.

Self-care looks different to each person. For some, it may be using essential oils and taking a bath. For others, it may look like hiking into nature, away from your problems and troubles. Whatever self-care looks like for you, know that you deserve it.

10. Try Mindfulness

Being present and in the moment is a great way to discipline your mind into not catastrophizing. When you fail, you don’t say, “I’m a failure.” Mindfulness[3] helps you stop judging yourself by just observing your thoughts and stopping negative thought patterns.

Imagine your thoughts are like leaves flowing past you in the cool breeze. As each thought comes up, place it on a leaf and let it pass. You don’t have to be attached to each one. Instead, work on breathing deeply, which activates the Vagus nerve[4] and releases tension and stress. As you breathe out, notice those leaves getting farther and farther from you, until they are in the distance.

You can be mindful at work, when your boss is talking over you and you want to raise your voice. You can be mindful with your kids, when they are asking for their sibling’s toy and you just want to give in to make it stop. You can be mindful when you are in the most stressful situations, and it gives you a pause to reassess the situation.

Whatever the situation, you calm down so that you can act with a clearer head and make choices that will bring the best results.

Conclusion

Self-exploration looks different for each person, but authenticity always brings you back to yourself. When you are exploring who you are, you must start with what matters to you. You have to assess your values and that will give you the criteria for living.

Self-discovery is about self-love, most of all. When you love yourself, you have more to give, and you find happiness in the process.

More Tips for Self-Exploration

Featured photo credit: Jonas Svidras via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Psych Alive:  Psychological Differentiation
[2] Very Well Mind: What Is the Negativity Bias?
[3] Psychology Today: Mindfulness
[4] Mayo Clinic: Vagus nerve stimulation

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