I love working on individual values. All the choices I make — or don’t make — are driven in one way or another by my values. When I’m upset, it’s usually because my values are being trampled on. When I’m anxious or nervous, it’s usually because I’m not living in alignment with my values.
Values matter, but I don’t always have a crystal-clear view of what they are or which are really important to me. Which means that I’m not always crystal clear about my decisions and feelings. I believe that a deep understanding of our values is the core of self-awareness.
So how can we get just a little more clear about what our values are?
Mining for Values
The only way we can get closer to our values, to understanding our values, is to make them more conscious. Meditation, prayer, reflecting, journaling — this is all meaningful work that can help us bring our values into focus. I’ve written about three other exercises that I find really helpful:
The Life Map exercise is a great way to take stock of the past. Take 20 minutes to draw out your life’s ups and downs from birth to present. And don’t stop there, reflect and ask “What did this bad experience give me?” “What did this great part of my life give me?”
The 80th Birthday Party exercise allows us to step into the future. It’s pretty quick, but a powerful visualization exercise where you simply imagine what your 80th birthday would be like. Who would be there, what would they say about you? What mark would you want to leave on them?
The Who Am I exercise is one of my favorites because it’s focused on the right here, right now. And it’s one of the best ways of mining for values and purpose. It takes a bit more effort, but it’s worth it. All you need is some free time and 10 blank sheets of paper.
But now I’m going to talk about a very simple, very straightforward exercise to help us mine for our values.
The Values Downselect Exercise
This exercise is useful for those of us who are a bit more practical. I like it for shorter team workshops because it’s also very action-oriented. Give it a shot, it’s only three steps.
Take a look at the below 60 values (plus 3 left intentionally blank). Don’t worry about choosing any yet, just sit with them and see what comes up. Which really resonate and why? What is the truth for you behind each one? Which do you bristle against and why?
Now it’s time to choose which values really represent you, the ones that are really core to who you are. Choose six.
I recommend printing this off and cutting out the values as little cards to make it tangible. Print off two copies and do the exercise with a partner or friend. And don’t forget that there are blank spots for a reason. Choose whatever is core to you, even if you’re writing it in.
Choose three values. Of the six values that you selected, which three are you most inspired by? Although they might overlap, all six are important. But you have to make the hard choice and only keep three.
Reach deep inside yourself and be honest with which values resonate the most. Ask yourself whether a value is truly important to you or something you think you “should” have. Ask yourself when you’d be most hurt by a value being violated or absent from your life. Ask yourself which values you most admire in others or seek out in friendship.
This is one way to narrow down a view of what really matters to you. You can go a step further and choose just one or two, but I find that three is the sweet spot. And yes, we’re much more than just three values. This is only an exercise to help us clarify which values are most meaningful.
Once you try it, let me know how it goes. Share it with a friend or bring it into your next working session or team offsite. It’s a great way to see how team values map back to individual values.
Good luck on your journey.
Originally published in The Ascent