Over the last few months, I have been regularly meeting online with M-Powered’s resident work-life balance and design thinking expert, Kasia Piecuch. The premise of these meetings is to help Kasia improve her English, although it’s proven to be a mutually beneficial experience. These Saturday-morning conversations have given me so much food for thought, I often feel that it is Kasia who should be the teacher and I the student. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to discuss and reflect on our work, lives, goals, and beliefs.

In one of our conversations, we touched on the topic of core values, something that Kasia often refers to in her writing and training. Core values are principles or beliefs that a person or organisation views as being of central importance (Lexico.com). Determining your core values is often the first step to establishing your own internal compass that will lead you towards success and fulfilment.

I admitted, somewhat sheepishly, to Kasia that I’m not really sure what my core values are. I can think of a lot of nice adjectives that I would hope to apply to my life, but how do I know which ones are core values and which ones simply are just nice adjectives?

Kasia reassured me that this was a common obstacle for people trying to figure out what is truly important to them. You list out values and they all sound good. Who wouldn’t want to be adventurous, kind, loyal, authentic and compassionate? These are all wonderful things! To help me narrow it down though, Kasia presented me with a simple idea that she discovered in the time management book First Things First by acclaimed author, Stephen Covey:

Think about all the various roles you play in life, e.g. partner, sister, friend, etc. Now imagine that it is your 80th birthday and you are having a big party. Everyone you love is there and they are all making speeches about that role you have played in their life and what it meant to them. What would you want them to say about you?

Later that day, after lots of thinking and going down a YouTube rabbit hole of core values videos, I used this question that Kasia posed as my starting point and put together my list of core values, and a plan for how I will live by them. My methodology is an amalgamation of several other techniques and is definitely not the most sophisticated way of discerning your core values. However, I have found it really worked for me and the process has had a significant impact on decisions I have made since. So, I thought I would share it here so that if, like me, you’re struggling, not just to determine your core values, but to figure out how to implement them, you might find it a helpful guide on your core values journey.

1.The birthday party

Start with the question Kasia asked me above. The roles I chose were partner, daughter, sister, friend, creative, and professional. As a complete afterthought, I added myself in there: What would I want to stand up and say about myself and my life at my eightieth birthday party? I wrote down all these roles and how I would like each person to describe me.

2. Pick your themes

Next, I created a shortlist of words that came up repeatedly. This included:

  • Generous
  • Kind and compassionate
  • Humour/sense of fun
  • Intelligent
  • Loyal
  • Creative
  • Adventurous/curious
  • Grateful

3. Narrow it down

I decided to limit myself to five core values as I believe this is the maximum number I could realistically implement. This meant I had to choose which of the shortlisted themes were the most important. I took time to think about each one and reflect on whether there was a more efficient way of encapsulating them into an overarching value. For example, kindness and compassion came up a lot, but, when reflecting on what they actually mean to me, I found that it boiled down to generosity. I wanted the people who matter to me to feel that they could always rely on me to give them my time, understanding, patience, help and support. To me, that’s what kindness and compassion essentially are, and so I narrowed down the shortlist from generous, kind and compassionate to simply generous. I repeated this process for each one until I got my five core values.

4. Ownership

The fact that you’re describing these values as concepts can make them feel abstract and distant. To counteract this, I decided to personalise the core values I chose to increase my sense of ownership over them and to encourage me to think of myself embodying these values, and, therefore, living according to them. I did this simply by summing them up in a series of “I am…” statements. So, my core values went from a set of abstract statements to the following:

I am generous

I am fun loving

I am creative

I am loyal

I am curious

5. Behaviours

Next, I went through each of my core values and attached a behaviour to it. By practising this behaviour, I will know I am living according to my core values. For example, what does being “fun loving” mean to me? It means that I don’t take myself too seriously, I look for the humour in things, and I seek out joy, even when life is at its darkest. I went through each of the values I chose and wrote a set of behaviours to accompany them.

6. Living by your values

Our core values are supposed to inform our decision-making in life so that we know we are making choices based on what is really important to us, rather than circumstances, fear, what others think, or any of the myriad factors that influence our life choices. Being a bit of a project management nerd, I decided that I wanted a tool that I could use to easily check in with my core values when making a decision. I ended up creating the following decision-making table, which I filled in with an example so you can see how it works:  

Value

Behaviour

Question(s) – questions to ask yourself based on this core value when facing a decision.

Answer(s) – reflect on and answer each question honestly.

Does it violate this core value? (Yes/No/

 

Generosity

I am giving of my time, kindness and compassion. I share what I have with others.

Would this decision compromise my ability to give openly? Would it drain me of the energy I have to give? Is it unkind or selfish?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To use this, fill out the table with your own core values, behaviours and the questions you would ask yourself based on each one when facing a major decision. During the decision-making process, use the “Answer(s)” section to explore the answers to each of these questions before making your final verdict about whether the decision would violate your core values. If you find that your verdict is “Yes” or “Somewhat”, you will know that this decision is not in line with your core values and you should seriously consider taking another course of action. If you find that the decision violates a core value, but you still really want to do it, you may need to re-evaluate your core values.

As this is such an interesting and new area for me, I would love to hear about your views on core values! This is a method I found works for me, but what works for you? What kind of techniques or tools help you to determine and live by your core values? You can get in touch with us on Facebook or Instagram to discuss this or any other topics that come up in our blog posts and courses. And stay tuned for more updates on core values and other self-development techniques in the new year.