Personal values explained: three fun exercises to discover your core values

Posted by Olena Mytruk

If you want to build a meaningful life, if you want to be able to make the right choices in life, if you want to find motivation to do something, then it is essential that you know your personal values. And today I would like to share three fun and easy to do exercises that you can use in order to discover your core values.

I talk about values all the time, I really love this topic, and today I am excited to talk to you about what personal values are, why you should care about them, and most importantly, how you can identify your own values.

What are the personal values?

And we’ll start with understanding what personal values are.

The short answer is values are things that are important to you in life. They are some guiding principles that allow you to live your life in a meaningful way. So when you ask yourself, “What is important to me in life?” you will likely be thinking in terms of values.

If I ask you this question right now you will probably say things like family, health, personal space, work, friends, hobbies.

And these are very good answers. However, I like to think about them in terms of life areas, or life domains, because these are the parts that your life consists of – these are areas of life where you spend your time on.

And how I like to think about values is what is important within each life domain.

For example,

What do you value in relationships?
What do you seek in your life partner?
What do you want your relationship with your children to look like, or with your siblings, or your parents?
What do you like in the work environment?
As a business owner, what kind of culture do you want to create within your team?

Answers to these questions will be your core personal values. Thinking about them in this way makes it much more actionable and useful because then it can actually help you make decisions.

It can help you navigate your day-to-day life and to make right choices – the choices that you will find meaningful.

It will also help you find motivation, especially when things get hard, when you don’t really like the specific task or activity that you need to do. When that happens, it is really important to understand what the underlying value is, why you really want to do this. And as long as that connection is strong enough, you will be able to get through the discomfort of doing this specific thing.

This is why it’s really really important to know what your core values are.

Once you identify them, you can simply write them down on a piece of paper and place somewhere where you will be able to see it easily. And then whenever you need to make a decision or set a priority, you can refer to your values, and they will guide you toward the right decision or the right choice.

How do you discover your core values?

And now let’s address the most interesting topic – how do you actually identify your values. Because it’s not very obvious, and unfortunately there are no shortcuts to get it done. The only way to do it is to go through a self-discovery process, to be present and aware of what is going on:

Do I feel good or bad when I express specific behavior? How does it make me feel when people do something? What do I think about it?

These are good questions to start.

And be sure to dive deep and to not stop at the surface-level answer. Be sure you ask “why?” multiple times until you get to the root cause. (Remember 5-year-old kids that keep asking “why?” so many times it drives you crazy? You will have to become that kid now haha!)

Get curious about why things work a certain way, why you feel a certain way, why sometimes you express certain behaviors, and then once you get deep enough this is where you get to your values.

But having said that, actually there are many specific exercises that you can try to discover your personal values.

And today I would like to share with you three exercises that I have played with myself. They are very different, feel free to try them all, and hopefully, if not all three then at least one of them will resonate with you.

As you will see from my personal findings and insights below, even though these exercises are different, the results actually follow a few common themes. These themes are the values you are looking for.

Exercise #1: Value tattoo

I’m going to start with the most fun one for me personally, it’s called value tattoo.

The idea is simple: if you don’t have any tattoos, think about a tattoo that you would want to get someday, and then try to understand why:

What meaning would it have?
Why exactly would you choose this specific tattoo?

Or, if you already have tattoos, one or several, think about why you chose them:

What do they mean to you?
What do you feel when you look at them?

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I’ll share with you one of my tattoos as an example.

I actually have 6 tattoos, and I got my first one right before I moved to Los Angeles back in 2017. It is a tattoo of rosemary. If you ask me why rosemary, my immediate answer will be that it is a plant that I love the smell of and that was very common in the place where I grew up. So, it reminds me of home. This is already a good starting point, but a true, deeper meaning of that tattoo for me is freedom and authority.

Here is what I mean by that.

In 2015, I moved in back with my parents after living independently for about 10 years. Prior to that, I had my job, I had my family, I was in charge of my life, I was making good money – I was living my own life, I was in charge of my own life. And when I moved in with my parents, I lost that. I lost that personal space, that ability to control my own life. It was a very difficult time for me. I felt like I’m not owning my life anymore, I didn’t feel like I was in charge anything, whether it is my daughter or me cooking dinner.

Also, my parents were always against tattoos, and although I’d always wanted to have one, I had hesitated for many years because I didn’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation with them.

And when I made a decision to move to the United States and to finally get back control of my life, I wanted to create something as a reminder, as a symbol of this important decision and life milestone.

And this is when I decided to get that tattoo.

It was my way to show to myself that I earned that freedom, that I had that authority, that I took back the ownership of my life.

And whenever I look at this tattoo, it reminds me that:

I am in charge of my own life.
I am capable of making important decisions.
I am brave and strong.

Exercise #2: What do I value in my relationships with people?

Another exercise that I would like to share with you is about analyzing your relationships with other people:

What do I like about other people and what do I dislike?
What earns my respect and what, on the other hand, makes me feel annoyed or angry?

I can give you two examples.

One of the reasons why I broke up with my ex-husband was I lost respect for him. And here is why I think it happened.

I have always been a very ambitious person. I have always strived for something. I would set goals for myself and would try to accomplish those goals. I have always been passionate about my career and have had many hobbies.

I’ve always been driven by something.

He, on the other hand, was fine just sitting in his corner and playing video games. He would never ask for a promotion, he wouldn’t want to travel as in his eyes it would be a waste of money, and so on and so forth. He just never cared about these things, he was never passionate about something, he didn’t have big goals in life.

For me, in order to respect someone it is really important to see that they have passion for something, that they put effort into achieving something.

And when I met Kevin, I immediately knew that he was the right person. He was very successful, and still is. He is very passionate about his job, but at the same time very loving and caring. Because being ambitious doesn’t mean you don’t want to spend time with your family or you don’t love your family!

You can do both.

And here is another example. At work, I always get annoyed when people say that they will do something, and then when you check in with them, they haven’t done it. I see it as a lack of accountability, lack of responsibility, lack of commitment.

If you ask me, if you commit to doing something then you go and do it.

Taking responsibility for one’s words and actions is really important to me personally, it is one of my personal values. So whenever I see that attitude in somebody I immediately start respecting them much more, and on the other side, when I see that somebody lacks commitment, it is hard for me to trust that person.

Exercise #3: Overcome negative beliefs and dream big

And here is the third exercise. It is related to the fact that in order for you to understand your true, deepest values, you need to be thinking and dreaming big. You really need to open up your imagination and to think about what’s possible.

The problem is that sometimes we have these mental blocks, or limiting beliefs, “This is not possible, I’m never gonna get there, so what’s the point of even thinking about it?”

In order to overcome these blocks and to get around these beliefs, you can ask yourself such questions as,

“What would I do if I won a lottery and got a hundred million dollars?”

What is important here is, again, to not stop at the surface-level answers. For example, 95% of us will probably say that we will start traveling the world.

Okay, then ask yourself, “Will I be traveling the world for the rest of my life?”

What will happen after you’ve traveled everywhere?

Another common answer is, “I will help my family.”

Alright, pretend that you have helped everybody, and you still have plenty of money. What now?

This is when things get interesting. This is when you begin to uncover things that are uniquely yours. And these are going to be your true values.

As you go through these exercises, remember to look for the common themes. Not just some one-time answers, but those common words and phrases that you see through different questions, different answers, different areas of your life – because it means that this is what’s truly important.

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