How to Base Your Life Upon Your Core Values And Make Better Decisions

What are core values and why are they important?

How to find my own core values and use them to make better decisions in life?


This is the fourth part of the series “On Coaching Yourself & Others”.

In the first part, we established the key foundations of dealing with others, be it through coaching or in other kinds of relationship or setting that involves communication.

In the second part, we focused on understanding ourselves as well as others better through developing self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

In the third part, we had a closer look at core beliefs and on how they play a key role in determining our potential.

In this fourth part, we will focus on core values.

What are values? What is their purpose? And how to figure out which ones I should base my life upon?

These and many others questions will be answered in this article.


Introduction To Values

Imagine the following scenario:

Your friend just broke up with his long-term partner and needs your emotional support. But you are in midst of an important work project that has to be finished by tomorrow.

What do you do? Supporting your friend or finishing the project?

This is one of many potential dilemma situations we tend to find ourselves in.

We have to decide how we spend our time and prioritize. We have to make many similar decisions on a regular basis. And these decisions somehow define our life.

Why do we decide the way we do?

Very often, it seems we make these decisions on autopilot, being led by our gut feeling and the inner notion of what feels right in that situation.

Sometimes this works quite well and we find a solution that we are happy with, but more often than not we make decisions that we later regret.

How to make decisions that you will not regret, but rather fully resonate with?

The solution is to make value-based decisions.

Definition Of Values

To be able to make decisions based on our values we first need to understand what values actually are.

"Our values are the concepts that we deem as important in relation to how we live our lives."

Therefore, these values lay the foundation for our priorities in life and can be used as a compass to determine whether our life is going in the direction we desire.

We get a deep feeling of satisfaction and congruence when our decisions match our core values. However, if these decisions don’t match, we start to feel that something is wrong, become frustrated, feel unhappy and uneasy.

In order to not make decisions based on any kind of information that is available to you, it is crucial that we once actively ponder the values we resonate with and use them as decision-making heuristic.

"Should I leave my job? Should I accept this job promotion? Should I compromise my standards? Should I start my own business? Should I follow tradition, or take a new path in life?"

Every decision already involves some kind of constraint. 

Our knowledge, our financial situation, our available time and our location. In these times of option overload, it is highly important to find better constraints that further narrow down our options and support our decision making.

Therefore, only consider the options that match your values. This will make sure that your actions are in line with your priorities and lead towards the life you eventually desire.

Less Stress, More Meaning

In one of his articles about personal values, writer James Clear presents research on the benefits of writing down your core values.

This study showed that people who regularly took a short moment to write down if and how they lived their day in line with their values and reflected upon them were healthier, less stressed and showed higher levels of energy.

James quotes Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal in her book “The Upside of Stress”:

“It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. In the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.In the long term, writing about values has been shown to boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing drinking. It helps people persevere in the face of discrimination and reduces self-handicapping. In many cases, these benefits are a result of a one-time mindset intervention. People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.”

What is the reason behind these positive effects?

Scientists believe that the main reason is that connecting your daily activities with your values allows you to figure out why you are doing it, it fulfills our inherent desire for meaning, especially when presented with stressful and unpleasant events.

Knowing your “Why?” allows you to better deal with stress. McGonigal summarizes:

“Stressful experiences were no longer simply hassles to endure; they became an expression of the students’ values… small things that might otherwise have seemed irritating became moments of meaning.”

How to Define Your Own Values

In order to define your own personal core values and establish what truly matters to you, it is a good starting point to reflect on times in your life where you felt positive emotions, congruent and were confident about your decisions.

The following steps are taken from Kain Ramsay’s “Core Values workbook” and serve as a step-by-step guide for developing your own core values:

Step 1: Identify times in your life when you were at your happiest, giving examples from your personal life and your career (this will ensure some balance in your answers).

  1. What were you doing?
  2. Were you with other people? Who?
  3. What other factors contributed to your happiness?

Step 2: Identify times in your life when you were the proudest, giving examples from your personal life and your career.

  1. Why were you proud?
  2. Did other people share your pride? Who?
  3. What other factors contributed to this feeling of pride?

Step 3: Identify times in your life when you felt most fulfilled and satisfied. Again, use both personal and work examples.

  1. What need or desire was fulfilled?
  2. How did this experience give your life meaning?
  3. What other factors contributed to this fulfillment?

The general idea is to ask yourself what gave and gives you positive emotions. The following additional questions might help you with that:

  1. What organizations or people do you admire? What values do they represent?
  2. Reflect on the big decisions or changes you have made during your life. What values do they emphasize?
  3. What hobbies or activities do you have? What is essential for you in doing them?
  4. Which stories in movies, books or in real life light you up and why?

Step 4: Determine your most important values, based on your experiences of inner peace. Consider why each experience is so memorable and important?

Now use your experiences and try to come up with what seem to be values in your life

Use this or that list of common personal values if you need some inspiration and help to get started — aim for a maximum of 10 top values.

Some values will overlap, because they have a general theme and combine to a more general value (Generosity, philanthropy and community can be combined to “serving others”).

Therefore try to combine similar values and, if possible, reduce the number of values to 5 to 10, rather aiming for less.

Step 5: Prioritize your ‘top’ values

This step is usually the most difficult one as you’ll have to look deep within yourself.

However, it’s also the most important step, because some situations would present options that are in line with different values, so you need to which value is more important to you.

Look at the first two values on your list and ask yourself, “If I could only satisfy one of these, which one would I choose?”

Work your way through the list, comparing each value with each of the other values until you’ve got your list in the correct order for you.

Step 6: Reaffirm your values — Check your top-priority values, and make sure they fit with your life and your vision for yourself.

  1. Do these values you’ve chosen make you feel good about yourself
  2. Are you proud of your top three values?
  3. Would you be comfortable to tell people you respect about your values?
  4. Do these values represent things you would support, even if your choice weren’t popular, and it puts you in the minority?

Your values can and are likely to change over the course of a lifetime, but use the values that you resonate with right now.

Make sure to have a fixed time slot where you regularly revise and call your values to mind.

This will make sure that you base you actually use your values as decision-making heuristic and thus keep a sense of integrity, while you approach your decisions with clarity and confidence.

It’s certainly not always easy to make decisions that are based on our values, but trying to do so will very likely make life much easier in the long run.

Key Takeaways

Sitting down and defining the values that matter to you is a challenging, but essential exercise. These core values represent who you are, but also who you envision to become.

Having the feeling of being driven is one thing. The other thing is knowing what it is that drives you, knowing your “Why?”.

James Clear summarized it as follows:

“If you don’t know what you stand for and where you’re headed, then it’s far too easy to get off course, to waste your time doing something you don’t need to be doing, or to make an exception (“just this once”) that leads you down a dangerous path.”

Know what you stand for and let that drive your decisions.

This concludes the fourth part of the series “On Coaching Yourself & Others”.

Head over to the fifth part, which will feature the topics of Communication Skills & Language Patterns in more detail.

Until next time,


PS: Have you discovered some of your own core values? How did you do it?

 Let me know below, I'd love to connect with you!

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