How Personal Values Help Guide Us

It can be so hard to know which bridge to cross sometimes! Life may feel just “off” somehow. Our schedule can seem like it belongs to someone else because it just doesn’t fit us any longer. Our habits can create patterns in life we don’t like. Sometimes we just feel really lost, not knowing which way to go! It can seem almost impossible to re-direct a life that feels so out of line…so “not us”…so confusing. What can be done once life is like this? We don’t often talk about our values with other people. It just isn’t something we are taught or encouraged to do, but our personal values help guide us in life. They are one of the best guides we could ever use!

So what are personal values?

Our personal values are the concepts we each hold highly important and deem necessary in order to have a fulfilling and satisfying life. In our life and work they are the concepts that we personally find most important. We are often willing to make sacrifices of other less important aspects in life to ensure that what we value most exists around us.

Our values help us live “the good life”. They give us more clarity for how to make life feel more authentic, satisfying and fulfilling! Without them we would feel as if something is missing or being overlooked. Without identified personal values we can feel lost and confused, easily swayed by the values of those around us individually or collectively. Values guide our actions, words, behaviors and choices.

Values are a core part of our self and our identity. Because they are so intricate to who we are, they are also great conversation starters with other people. You can create powerful relationships with people who know or share your values.

While the notion of values may bring up similar concepts such as priorities, spiritual beliefs, purpose or culture, they are not all the same. There are similarities and distinctions between all of these concepts, which I’ll save for another post.

You may also be thinking about the idea of personal intrinsic value right now. It is important to note that a personal value is entirely distinct from a person’s intrinsic value. We are all valuable. Our worth is intrinsic; we are valuable just because we exist!

How do I know what my values are?

Before your values can guide you, it is really helpful to spend a little time thoughtfully identifying your values. One of my favorite ways to do this is through a card sorting activity. My current favorite one comes from the Good Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This online card sort makes it easy to organize 30 Values Cards (such as Challenge, Creativity, Pioneering, Faith, Independence and Curiosity) into piles based on their importance to you.

This online activity is relatively quick and you can print a record for yourself when finished. You can also see how other visitors to the site have sorted these 30 values. There is also a group tool if you want to do this exercise with others you know.

How specifically do our person values help guide us?

Once you’ve identified your top three to six values, the goal is to align your life around them. This is what it means to live out your values and let them guide you. The goal is to make decisions that reflect what you find most important, aka your values. You also live out your values by choosing daily habits that reflect your values. This also includes how your use your time, select your job, manage your stress, spend your money and so much more!

If we match our decisions and habits with our values over time, life starts to feel better! We will experience greater life-clarity, which in turn lets us guide our life in the direction we seek. Life feels more authentic and life-giving. You may also start to experience more balance. It may take a little time to feel the full impact of living out your values, but some changes can result in an instant impact. Saying no to a commitment that is clearly inconsistent with your values should bring an instant sense of relief and satisfaction with your new situation.

My top value is understanding, helping and serving people. I have learned over time that I really like to be practically helpful for people. This is part of why I love coaching. It is also why I love to do things for my friends and family that practically makes a difference. This includes babysitting my nephew so my sister can have a date night with her husband. It includes passing along books to friends that I think they will enjoy. It also includes helping build houses with organizations like Habitat for Humanity or Sierra Service Project. (Interested in this too then join me where you are by participating in the National Women Build Week with your local Habitat office!)These are ways I practically help people and it feels really “me” !

How do I avoid values creep?

This isn’t a one-time adjustment though! The term “mission creep” is very common in the non-profit world. Non-profit organizations are generally started with a specific mission in mind. Over time the organization can veer away from their original mission for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, this can happen to us too with our values.

When life starts to feel “off” again you might be experiencing values creep. Just as there are many good ways for non-profit organizations to avoid mission creep, there are ways that we too can avoid values creep!

The easiest and quickest way to keep on target with your values is to reflect on them regularly. This can include a weekly or monthly values self-check to see where they show up in your life. I do this each week during my Weekly Refresh habit.

Another helpful practice is to keep a list of your top 3-6 values on your phone, in your wallet, on your car dashboard or a bathroom mirror. Ask yourself how you’ve lived out your values in the past week. If the answer seems to be “Not much”, consider changing habits or your situation to better align your life with what you value most.

You don’t need to start with big changes. Perhaps you need just a small action to remind you of how important your value is to you. This happened to me recently. I decided to make a litter box cover for my cats out of necessity. This small project reminded me how much my #2 value of creativity and pioneering brings joy and pride into my life. I shared this insight in my recent Moment of Clarity Video, Proud Moment Tattletales below.

If you are unsure of your values or how to best live them out, really letting them guide you, I can help! Contact me and we’ll find a time to chat!


Originally posted by Jessica Lynn Johnson for in March 2018.




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