Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.
Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

When I was studying for my MBA, I took a class where my professor invited us to identify our top five values. At first, I resisted. As I looked at the long list of values he provided, I thought— All of these are important! How do I just pick five?!

But, then, I decided to get curious. I looked at the list, crossed words off, wrote others down, and finally surprised myself with a list of five values. Since then, I continuously return to my list of values to help me discern my next steps forward. My experience has proven to me the power of articulating your top values, and science backs this up.

According to health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. It can help you:

  • Feel more powerful, strong, and optimistic
  • Feel more loving, connected, and empathetic
  • Increase pain tolerance and decrease doctors visits
  • Increase self-control and decrease avoidant coping strategies
  • Become more likely to take positive action
  • Persevere in the face of discrimination and adversity

Your values are the principles you aspire to, how you want to be in the world, what you deem to be most important.

Holding your values front and center can help you get clear about what you really want, make important decisions, say no to lesser priorities, and stay focused when thing get tough. Sometimes, you won’t know exactly where you’re headed in work and life, but when you live by your values, you can trust that you’re going in the right direction. Even when the road gets bumpy, if you navigate in alignment with your values, you’re more likely to experience a sense of peace on the journey and confidence in your steps.

The problem is, most people don’t live by the values they espouse.

Think of the stressed out consultant who says they value family but spends too many nights away from home. Or the activist who says they value collaboration but has a hard time sharing responsibility and asking for help. Or the working parent who says they value wellness but haven’t exercised for months.

For many very human reasons, people frequently make decisions that are out of alignment with what they say they value. If you live out of sync with your values, you’re bound to feel stressed out and out of sorts.

Living your values helps you to bring your full self to every moment. The English word “self” stems from the Old Germanic word, “selb,” which means “to be saturated all the way through.” To live your values in all aspects of your life is like being saturated all the way like a beautiful, vibrantly-colored piece of cloth.

To help you choose a path that is aligned with what’s most important to you, I invite you to identify your core values now.

First, print out the values list below, and then, get centered. When you’re ready, reflect on the following questions—

Step One: Imagine again you’re elderly and looking back at your life.

Which core values did you live by? Which values have brought you meaning and fulfillment?

Look at the values list below and circle the values that resonate the most. You can also come up with your own language.

Be wary of conjuring up values you think you’re supposed to follow or that someone else would approve of. Instead, listen to what your inner wisdom tells you.

Pay attention to your learning edge. Some values may feel as natural and necessary as breathing to you, while others make your heart skip a beat because they’re at your learning edge. I encourage you to choose values that simultaneously resonate at a deep, core level and challenge you to grow. You can take time once a year or so to revisit your values and reflect on what’s most important to you as you continue to grow.

Step Two: Write each of the five to ten values that resonate with you on sticky notes.

Stick them on a wall, and rank them in order of importance. Group similar words together, and get rid of values that are not absolutely critical. Choose the four to six values that resonate the most.

If you don’t feel quite clear yet, that’s okay. Just choose the values you believe to be most important to you right now. You can continue reflecting on your list throughout the next week, molding it as you feel called.

Step Three: Write about the extent to which you’re living in accord with your core values.

  • How are you living your core values in your daily life?
  • How are you not living your core values?
  • What obstacles (internal or external) do you face when it comes to living your core values?
  • What baby steps can you take now to embody your core values in the next week?

If you notice that you’re not yet fully living your values, offer yourself self-compassion. It can be hard to realize that you’re not living your values, and the first step towards moving in that direction is to be kind towards yourself.

Step Four: Put your values where you can see them.

Write your values on an index card on a piece of paper next to your bed or by your desk or in your wallet. Using a visual reminder will help keep your values front of mind as you face the big decisions ahead.

From now on, when you see your values, ask yourself— How can I live my values right now? When you keep asking yourself this question and taking the baby steps that arise in response, you will be more and more empowered to live in alignment with what’s most important to you.

What are your core values?

I’m curious to hear from you! Please share, and I will be sure to respond.

And, if you have a friend or two who you think would enjoy getting clear on their values, would you please share this article with them? Thanks so much!

The Values List

  • Acceptance
  • Adventure
  • Appreciation
  • Authenticity
  • Autonomy
  • Awareness
  • Beauty
  • Belonging
  • Celebration
  • Challenge
  • Choice
  • Clarity
  • Collaboration
  • Commitment
  • Communication
  • Community
  • Compassion
  • Competence
  • Consciousness
  • Cooperation
  • Connection
  • Consideration
  • Consistency
  • Contribution
  • Courage
  • Creativity
  • Discovery
  • Ease
  • Effectiveness
  • Empathy
  • Energy
  • Equity
  • Ethics
  • Expertise
  • Exploration
  • Expression
  • Family
  • Flexibility
  • Freedom
  • Friendship
  • Gratitude
  • Grit
  • Impact
  • Inclusion
  • Independence
  • Influence
  • Innovation
  • Inspiration
  • Integrity
  • Intimacy
  • Harmony
  • Health
  • Honesty
  • Hope
  • Humor
  • Joy
  • Leadership
  • Learning
  • Love
  • Order
  • Participation
  • Peace
  • Physical activity
  • Play
  • Presence
  • Productivity
  • Purpose
  • Reciprocity
  • Relationship
  • Reliability
  • Respect
  • Rest
  • Risk-Taking
  • Safety
  • Security
  • Service
  • Sexuality
  • Social Justice
  • Solitude
  • Space
  • Speed
  • Spontaneity
  • Stability
  • Support
  • Teamwork
  • Thrill
  • Trust
  • Understanding
  • Variety
  • Warmth
  • Well-Being
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