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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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

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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

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Reference

More by this author

Evelyn Marinoff

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

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

25 Questions That Help You Understand Yourself and Your True Potential

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25 Questions That Help You Understand Yourself and Your True Potential

As you keep up with everything going on in your life – the responsibilities, the obligations, even the distractions – there will be times when you’ll look in the mirror and struggle to recognize yourself. “Where did I go? How can I understand myself better?” you’ll ask, wondering how you’ve ended up where you are. “How did my plans for the future end up so… screwed up?”

When you don’t take the time to understand yourself and who you are, your sense of individuality weakens. You become easily influenced and pushed into a lifestyle that doesn’t represent who you are. The good news is you can gradually transition into the life you want by periodically “checking in” with yourself – the better you understand yourself, the easier it will be to steer your life in the right direction.

Here are 25 questions to get you started. Each answer will shed light on your individuality and unlock your potential:

1. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Make sure you’re really an extrovert and not an introvert in an extrovert’s clothing.

2. What are the top five words that describe your personality?

Highlight your key personality traits and stay true to who you are.

3. Are you comfortable or uncomfortable in a disorganized environment?

Define the ideal work/home environments you’re known to thrive in.

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4. Are you comfortable with taking risks?

Decide how you feel about uncertainty and how you’ll use it to create your ideal lifestyle.

5. Do you work better alone or in a busy environment?

When you know what your most productive work environment consists of, it will help you find (or create) a job that best suits your preferences.

6. What are your strengths?

Define what your strengths are and how you’re going to use them to your advantage.

7. What are your weaknesses?

Acknowledge what you struggle with and how you want to improve.

8. What sets you apart from everyone else?

Know your quirks and charm your ass off with them.

9. Are you motivated by competition?

Define what your ideal competition/collaboration formula is for optimal productivity.

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10. What are your favorite movies/shows/books?

Disregard what’s trending and define the types of movies/shows/books you’ll always enjoy. It speaks volumes of your personality.

11. What’s more important to you – having a career or a family?

Even though you’ll try to have both, we all teeter towards a favorite. Knowing this will help you decide which priority will receive a bigger piece of the pie.

12. Do you embrace rules or rebel against them?

This is a huge determining factor in the type of lifestyle you’ll create for yourself – structured or adventurous? Remember: there are no wrong answers.

13. Are you a morning person or a night person?

Know your energy peaks and valleys for when you’re setting goals.

14. What’s more important to you – saving time or saving money?

This will help you as you’re planning your goals – you’ll know what to outsource and what to take on yourself.

15. What do you lie about and why?

There are certain aspects of ourselves we don’t want anyone else to know about. Knowing why will help you to work through what makes you self-conscious.

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16. Do you say yes (or no) too much?

Saying yes to everything gives you little time for what you truly want to do, while saying no to everything may cause you to miss out on amazing experiences.

17. If money didn’t exist, what would you be doing with your time?

We lose sight of what’s important to us when the bills come due – regain control of what you enjoy doing the most.

18. Are you patient or impatient?

Define whether or not it gets in the way of your goals and what you’re going to do about it.

19. Who makes you feel energized/inspired and exhausted/depleted?

There could be select family members or friends who are holding you back. Decide how you’re going to set boundaries in your relationships.

20. If your home was on fire, what are the three things you’d leave with?

Answering this question will help you let go of the concept that material items will make you feel better as a person.

21. Do you take responsibility for your mistakes?

Blaming others for where your life is will get you nowhere – if anything, it will make you feel stuck. Take responsibility, learn from them, and forgive yourself.

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22. What has to happen before your “real” life starts?

You might think that when you reach a certain goal you’ll feel completely different, but such is not the case – you’ll simply set a new goal and wait for it to happen, and so on, and end up missing out on amazing experiences.

23. What are you avoiding?

We all have certain responsibilities we procrastinate on, but you have to face them eventually. You’ll feel a lot better once you do, and you can move onto the things you actually do care about.

24. Do you easily feel guilty?

You might be feeling stuck because of your years of people-pleasing; meanwhile, the only person you should worry about disappointing is yourself.

25. What do you think you have to lose?

Clearly there’s something holding you back from creating the life you want. Work with it instead of pretending it’s not there.

These questions can inspire you to reflect on yourself. Check in with yourself often and you will be amazed by the true potential you actually have.

More Self-Reflective Questions

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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