How to Practically Define Your Values

personal values

What do you value?

It’s a big question, maybe even one of the most important questions. Often, people struggle with putting their values into words. For some, in difficult times, it can seem like there is nothing of value to hold onto. For others, we know that there is much to appreciate in our life, but it’s hard to pinpoint the actual value in it all.

The answer to the question of values can move mountains. I’m being serious. Let’s imagine for a minute that this mountain represents all of the things in life you struggle with most. Take a second to really consider these struggles, and imagine what they would look like all piled up. Here we have your mountain of pain and struggle. What thoughts or feelings come up when you find yourself standing in front of it all? You might feel small or insignificant. You might feel defeated before even starting the journey. You may have memories of times you tried and failed to conquer this mountain before.

This is where values come into play. Identifying what’s most important to you can keep you in the game when the mountain seems too threatening. Values remind us why we should keep putting one foot in front of the other, despite the intimidating mountain of fear. A value is something you are deeply connected to, something that inspires and moves you. A value, a real value, can overshadow the largest and scariest of mountains.

Here are some important things to remember about values:

1. Values should be clearly defined.

Like I said, we all have values, but we often don’t take the time to identify what they are. If you struggle with identifying them, you’re not alone, most people do. To help, think about a really sweet delicious memory. A moment in your life that gives you all the good feels. Why is this memory so wonderful? What are the emotions that come up when recalling this memory? What in this memory is of value to you?

We can also find value in pain. Take a look at that mountain again. Why are the things piled up in this mountain so painful? What does your pain tell you about what really matters to you? What do your fears say that you care about?

Values remind us why we should keep putting one foot in front of the other, despite the intimidating mountain of fear.

2. Values can be found in every corner of your life.

Look at all areas of your life when identifying values. Family. Friends. Faith. Health. Work. Play. I want to highlight the importance of play here. We often forget about this area of our life, but what we do for pleasure and fun is of great importance.

3. Values have to be prioritized.

Not everything can be equally important at all moments. We have to prioritize our values. While they can be ever-shifting in priority, we have to allow ourselves to be fully present with whatever is taking priority in that moment.

personal values

4. Values are different than goals.

Values can and should inform our goals, but they are different than goals. Goals are whatever is on the other side of the mountain, values give you direction and motivation when the going gets tough.

5. Values are deeply important, but not commandments.

We should genuinely feel deeply connected to our values, but they are not personal commandments. If our values become rigid, they can lose their inspiring and activating powers. When they lose their flexibility to evolve as we evolve, they just end up adding to the mountain of pain.

6. Values are uniquely yours, and others don’t get a say.

You do not have to explain your values to anyone. Also, really pay attention to where your values are coming from. Is it something you feel deeply connected to, or is it coming from somewhere else? Is someone or something (family, culture, media) telling you that this should be important? If the value isn’t something you truly believe in, let it go.

If I were to ask you to sit and write down your mission statement, what would it say? Would it include something about community? Independence? Security? Change? Adventure? Humor? If you find that you’re struggling to move forward with an idea or project, look to see if the ultimate goal is connected to something you find personally valuable. When blocks show up, remind yourself that you are moving towards something of value. When they show up again, remind yourself again.

Before you know it, you’re on the other side of the mountain.

Images via Andrew Kearns

Dr. Cassidy Freitas is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist with a private practice in San Diego, California. She is also a professor, researcher, writer, wife, and mother.

3 COMMENTS
  • Ashley August 6, 2016

    Love it <3 🙂

  • Jen Nikolaeff July 24, 2016

    This really rings true for me. As a Westerner living and working in Kabul, Afghanistan, I hear often from my Afghan colleagues about how values are imposed on them and they have to adhere or risk marginalization or worse. We should really examine our values and constantly ground truth them. We are lucky to have that freedom.

    • Cassidy Freitas July 24, 2016

      We are so lucky to have that freedom. I’d love to hear the stories from your experience in Kabul!

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