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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.

What Is External Motivation and How Can You Use It? 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

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Published on March 4, 2021

24 Self-Reflection Questions To Get You To Rethink About Life

24 Self-Reflection Questions To Get You To Rethink About Life

“Oh no, Oh no! AHHHHHHH!” These were the only words I could manage as my car spun out of control, hydroplaning across multiple lanes of the slick freeway. It was one of those moments you see in the movies where your life flashes before your eyes, and you instantly begin the process of asking yourself a slew of self-reflection questions.

I was driving back from a children’s birthday party with my wife and two very young daughters on board. My girls were strapped tightly in their car seats and sleeping peacefully. My wife had just told me to be careful as it had begun to rain heavily for the first time in months.

“Yes, sweetheart, I am.” I had responded, wanting to keep everyone safe and knowing that my tires were due to be replaced. My caution didn’t matter. Once the millions of tiny pockets of water had taken over, we were at the mercy of my out-of-control Pontiac Grand Prix.

We ended up careening across four lanes toward the center divider only to spin back the opposite direction to the right shoulder, off the road, and up a dirt embankment. We somehow had managed to avoid every other car, but that didn’t matter. What we couldn’t avoid was the six-foot cinder block wall that lined the highway. We slammed into the wall with incredible speed and force—so much that the impact caused the car to flip 360 degrees and ultimately land back on the wheels.

Witnesses said it was the most incredible thing they had ever seen and that we would not walk away. I, too, felt it was incredible but for different reasons. The impact for me was not the crash into the wall or flip. It was afterward during a time of deep self-reflection about life when all the questions hit me.

The movies make you believe that everything slows down during an experience like this to the point that you can reflect on life. Trust me, rethinking about life comes much later when your ass isn’t spinning out of control.

So, what did I ask myself? What were the self-reflection questions that came as a result of my accident?

They mainly centered around the essential components of my life—family, faith, relationships, beliefs, and actions. I had focused on these areas to that point, but I was unsure of where I stood, not just for me but for everyone I came in contact with daily. It all boiled down to being the best version of myself, which we should all truly strive for in life. I mean, it’s why we’re here, isn’t it?

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Before you answer that question, take a look at the following 24 self-reflection questions to get you to rethink life.

1. Am I Living in the Moment?

Living in the moment is effortless in our go-go-go world to live on autopilot. This is fine for things that don’t matter as much to the big picture but not for the whole picture itself. Go ahead and brush your teeth or take a shower on autopilot. Heck, our brain is very comfortable in this setting. But have you ever drove to work and not remember the trip at all? I’m sure you have, which is terrible when you think about it. It is not just because of its safety but also because of the beautiful things you may have missed along the way.

2. Do I Cherish Every Second With My Loved Ones?

While this sounds like number one, it is actually quite different. Time is one of the most valuable resources we have in this world. There’s an old saying that “time is a gift.” Think of it as precious as a gift from a loved one, and you will cherish it with the same passion and importance.

3. Do I Accept Everything as a Gift?

There are plenty of other gifts in life besides the time that blesses us each day. What gifts are a part of your life? I’ll bet something like good health or a loving family was the first thing to mind. Positive things are easy to view as gifts.

How about the not-so-obvious or even horrible? Even something as traumatizing as a life-threatening car accident can and should be considered a gift. As Steve Jobs famously said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”[1]

4. Do I Treat Everyone With Respect and Kindness?

This is one of the most often-ignored self-reflection questions yet also one of the most important. You flip the bird to someone who cuts you off in traffic, you make fun of a total stranger’s attire to a co-worker, or you forget to say please and thank you to the cashier at the grocery store. Flip the script and imagine yourself on the receiving end of all the hurt, and you’ll see it’s simply not necessary.

5. Am I Being Harmful With My Words or Actions?

Like number four, many of us practice bad habits with things that are harmful to others, and we do not even realize it. Research on communication from Dr. Albert Mehrabian showed that we get 7% of the message from the words, 38% from the tone, and 55% from the body language.

Thinking of this before you speak or act really puts this question into perspective. Any word or action can be harmful if spoken with a harsh tone or offensive body language. Check your words and actions to ensure they aren’t taken in a harmful way.

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6. Am I Foolish?

Another important self-reflection is “Am I foolish?”

Mr. T famously said in Rocky III, “I pity the fool!” when asked about his upcoming fight with Rocky Balboa. He continued saying he pitied Balboa for being predictable and stupid. What are the areas of your life where you lack good judgment and are unwise?

7. How Wasteful Am I?

We live in a throw-away society where things are quickly thrown away in the blink of an eye. These wastes are not always material objects as we can be wasteful of things like time and energy. Before you discard anything material or otherwise, think of how you can fix it. You’ll be amazed at how easily you can mend things with the proper attention.

8. Am I in a Hurry?

We are too often focused on a destination that we fly through the process and don’t enjoy the journey along the way. We may miss crucial details, opportunities to learn, or experiences with others. A mentor once told me, “Don’t be in a hurry with anything.” These are wise words for all of us to live by every day.

9. Am I Myself in All Situations, No Matter What?

A lot of us find this challenging as we have our work persona and family persona. We are all beautiful individuals that are both flawed and awesome. Don’t deprive yourself or other people in your life of your “flawsome” self.

10. Is My Heart Open?

When you live with an open heart, you allow all the fantastic parts of life on earth to be a part of you as you connect with others in the universe. Don’t be afraid to be open to new possibilities in any facet of your life. You’ll be glad you did.

11. Do I Take Anything for Granted?

Unfortunately, we don’t often realize this is happening until it is pointed out by someone on the losing end, usually a loved one. Never take things for granted. Trust me, you don’t want ever to have regrets. By asking yourself many of the self-reflection questions on this list, hopefully, you won’t.

12. Am I Putting Enough Effort Into My Relationships?

This is another self-reflection question that others frequently answer for us by letting us know where we stand. Your answer to the question, “How much does each person contribute to the relationship?” should be 100% and nothing less.

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13. Do I let Matters That Are Out of My Control Stress Me Out?

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it,” according to author and educator Charles R. Swindoll. This quote emphasizes the role our attitude plays in life and whether we are affected negatively by things outside of our control. The more you accept what happens and live by this quote, the happier you are.

14. Am I Taking Care of Myself Physically?

One could easily relate self-reflection to mental and spiritual health as it is considered internal. It’s important to remember that we are genuinely at our best possible self when our mind, spirit, and body are all running at optimal levels. This is enough of a reason itself without considering all the health benefits one gets from taking care of their physical self.

15. Am I Achieving the Goals That I’ve Set for Myself?

A wise man once said, “A life lived without achieving your goals is not a life worth living.” He was definitely someone who accomplished a lot in his life. Goals are not just something to write down at the beginning of the year, but they also give your mind purpose and clarity.

16. What Does a Perfect Day Look Like for Me?

The beauty of this self-reflection question is that you may answer it in hundreds of different ways throughout your life. This also makes the question extra special. Whenever you are feeling down, take a few minutes to answer this question for yourself and put more of the components you come up with into your everyday life.

17. Am I Holding onto Something I Need to Let Go Of?

At the center of this question, you will usually find forgiveness of some sort. When you answer this question honestly, you will realize that you need to forgive yourself or someone else. Please make this happen ASAP because forgiveness is one of the most incredible things we can do in life.

18. When Did I Last Push the Boundaries of My Comfort Zone?

Living comfortably may sound nice at first, but it truly means you have stagnated. To get the most out of life, you need to grow continually. So, get uncomfortable and push past the comfort.

19. What Do I Need to Change About Myself?

The subtly in this question is that it asks “need” rather than “want.” Many of us get caught up wanting to do things but never translating them into action. When something is important enough, it becomes a need, which means it will get done. Needs lead to action, and action leads to change.

20. Am I Serving Others?

According to Zig Ziglar, you can have whatever you want in life. You just have to help enough other people get what they want.[2] This is one of the secrets to an abundant life. Serve others, and both of you will reap the benefits of goodwill.

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21. Who Has Had the Greatest Impact on My Life?

Reflecting on one’s life would not be complete without realizing the impact of others. All of us have had someone that had helped steer us in the right direction when we needed it the most, whether we knew it or not. Acknowledge them in your heart and to their ears by expressing gratitude for grabbing the wheel when needed.

22. Do I Have a Purpose?

Ask any of the most successful people in this world what is the most important for them, and they will tell you that it’s not the riches, fame, or power that is matters—it’s purpose. When you have a purpose, you are fulfilled, and a fulfilled life is one worth living.

23. What’s the One Thing I’d Like Others to Remember About Me at the End of My Life?

This is a question that typically isn’t thought of until someone is at the final stages of life because it’s usually related to question 22. Be proactive in life and ask yourself this self-reflection question early enough to make that “one thing” your mission.

24. Am I the Best Version of Myself?

This question may seem difficult to answer at first glance, but it’s really not. Just ask yourself every other question on this list first, and you’re sure to have your answer to this one.

Final Thoughts

Looking back on these questions now, I realize my answers have changed since my accident—mostly for the better. I’m grateful that the life-changing experience happened nearly twenty years ago because it set me on a path of development and growth.

So, I ask you, what is your path? Hopefully, you won’t need an accident to answer that—you’ll only need the 24 questions above.

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Featured photo credit: Matthew Henry via unsplash.com

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