Identifying and living out your core values

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Core values matter

Do you know what your core values are?

Many of us think we know what we’re all about, yet we can’t quite articulate it. Others of us have repeatedly seen corporate values enshrined on office walls yet rarely see them lived out. Values can appear to be an irrelevant set of words, OR, values can help unlock your potential, guide your day-to-day decisions, and offer you a north star worthy of the life you’ve been given.

Values shape both people and brands, and values underpin how they shape the world around them.

If you’re ever feeling stressed, dissonance, or unease, odds are you’re out of alignment with your core values.

Values are a matter of integrity – when your insides match your outsides. Consistent congruence in living out your values leads to a healthy sense of confidence.

Clear values help humans flourish.

What core values are

Read on if you’re a personality / self-understanding junkie like me, but feel free to skip to the next section if you’re not.

There are many ways and layers in which we show up in the world. Core values are one of many dimensions of who you are, and it’s tightly connected to other aspects, so it can be confusing to define.

Core values can’t be taken; they can only be relinquished. 

Very often, values are listed as things that matter most to you. Your partner, job, or iPhone might be highly important to you, but they are not values. They can be taken from you. They are valuable, but they are not values. Core values are attributes you have a significant degree of agency over at any time. You can choose to live into your values or not, at any given moment.

Core values shape personality.

There’s a lot of fascinating work happening in the world of personality, and it’s important to understand these parts of your personhood, but values run deeper than personality. The Kolbe crew does a great job of delineating aspects of how we engage the world

  • Cognitive – our thinking capabilities as often assessed via IQ, SAT, Wonderlic, and typical skill assessments
  • Affective – our motivation/feeling styles and preferences, often assessed via Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DiSC, StrengthsFinder, Enneagram, Big Five
  • Conative – our instinct-based, action orientation, assessed via Kolbe

In my view, these are all aspects of personality, which show up as observable repeated behaviour. It’s core values that direct and drives these behaviours. They are tightly tied together, and they can also change over time. I subscribe to Dr. Benjamin Hardy’s thesis that Personality Isn’t Permanent. Values and personality are picked up through our environment or our conditioning, and they can also be redirected with intentionality over time.

Core values are different from beliefs.

Beliefs centre around convictions we hold to be true, while values centre on what we hold to be important. They both shape our opinions and attitudes, but beliefs tend to take a contextual and moral angle while values are universal and shape character.

Values are also deeply tied to our common human needs. I’m a big fan of Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication practice and the list of human needs inventory here. There are many overlaps between needs and values. Not all values are needs, but they are all rooted in these universal needs.

Exploring and identifying your values

If you’re looking to identify your core values, or it’s time for a refresh of your current values, here are a few questions to help you get started:

  • What quality of yours do you appreciate the most? 
  • Looking at critical choices in your past, what principles or virtues have shaped your decisions? 
  • Think of those you admire, what are all of the specific traits you are drawn to?
  • What values do others fail to demonstrate that agitate or trigger you the most? 
  • When you’re feeling the most yourself, what aspects do you lean into or desire the most? 

There are many lists of core values online (List from VisualCapitalist, Brene Brown, and James Clear for starters). Some included values, like money, which aren’t actually values. Others listed broad values that missed the subtle nuances in more specific values. I’ve created a comprehensive alphabetical list of almost four hundred core values you can use to unearth your personal values. Let me know if I’ve missed any or if you have feedback.

In my book, I unpack five facets of human flourishing, that to be human is to wonder, create, persist, love, and be. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I think it’s a good breakdown of top values within each facet of being human.


It’s easy to turn this exercise into values you think you should have. The goal isn’t to embody every value. What you want is to distill your values down. Whichever list you use, start with a first-pass, jotting down the ones that mean something to you.

Go back through your shortlist with clarifying questions like

  • Which values sound most like me?
  • What values would I not want to live without?
  • Which values would I maintain even if it was costly? 
  • If I had to choose one value over another, which would matter more to me personally? 

Brene Brown suggests narrowing it down to two values. If you’re struggling, try ranking down five to ten values and observing what matters to you most over the next week.

Questions and activities to help you live our your values

  • Reflect deeply on your core values. What exactly do YOU mean by them? This is your chance to add context and your specific angle on your values. Are there scenarios in your past where you’ve demonstrated these values to yourself? 
  • Vet your values. Let someone you trust come up with the values they see in you. This is where the real magic happens. Where is there resonance? What do they see differently, and why? This isn’t about right or wrong or changing your values; it’s about feedback, conversation, and deeper understanding.
  • Affirm your core values by accepting and acting upon them. Now that you’ve clearly defined your core values, how might you keep them top of mind for an upcoming conversation, activity, or decision? This is why it’s important to focus on the few values that matter most. It’s hard to keep a dozen values front and centre. See your values at work and how they are a natural strength for you as you lean into them.
  • Challenge yourself by practicing a value you’re looking to strengthen. You likely have dormant values that are yearning to be expressed. They may not have made your final list because you haven’t seen enough proof of it in your life. Like personality, values aren’t static. You can practice your way into them.
    Identify a single core value you want to work on. As you look towards your future self or the person you’re becoming, what value do they embody? Again, this isn’t about what you should have; it’s about building muscle on a core value that’s innate to who you are already. If you’re serious about making progress here, write this value down, place it somewhere prominent, and tell another person about it.
  • Repeat all of the above with an organization or shared project you’re working on. This makes for a fantastic team/group exercise that will help you further clarify the core essence of your brand, company, or initiative.

Your personal core values define who you are, and a company’s core values ultimately define the company’s character and brand. For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny. – Tony Hsieh

When you hire, collaborate, and work with values-aligned people first, it helps us avoid unconscious affinity bias which tends to happen when we’re drawn to personality and relatability. Values alignment allows us to bring together people of different representation, lived experiences, and opinions while still rallying behind common goals and what’s most important.

Values matter. Especially personal core values. Gaining clarity on your values is about living closer to the essence of who you are. It eases cognitive load, helps decision-making, and will serve you well when things are difficult.

Book a coaching session with me if you’d like to explore how you might live more closely to who you really are.

Values shape destiny. 

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