All of us wish for our lives to be super fucking awesome. It’s safe to say that part of the allure in life is knowing that the future is, by large chance, unexpected and free to be what you make of it. Right now, as we sit here, we all have expectations about how life is supposed to go. But it takes effort, and a lot of it, to get there. You can’t expect miracles to sweep you up off your feet and find you that big house, the perfect partner, and the job that perfectly fits every one of your strengths and conveniently avoids all your weaknesses. So how do you get anywhere near the point of finding the things that make you tick? It starts with knowing your personal core values. Welcome to class, children. I’m here to teach you all about values and how to find those pesky sons of bitches.
Let’s stop for a second and play your favorite game as a kid – fantasizing. Just so happens it’s our favorite game as adults, too. Now imagine it’s 2018 and you’ve dreamt of owning a home in Tuscany, Italy. Fast-forward 15 years. Come to find out, instead of that lake house off the Italian coast, you bought a house off the coast of Florida. Well shit, it’s not quite the same as that Italian waterfront property. True. But maybe in the future, you may not want a house in Italy because some Italian girl you dated screwed you over, or you fell in love with Florida’s white sandy beaches and high humidity capable of making mosquitoes sweat.
Right now though, you don’t know that. So if in the present day (2018) you were to find out that in 15 years you’d own a property in Florida instead of Italy, you’d probably get pretty pissed that you got shorted. But did you? Who’s to say you won’t enjoy one over the other? You probably have things you thought you loved a year ago that you hate today. My closet is full of such situations. Life changes. Shit happens. We’re constantly evolving.
So if we don’t know how life is inevitably going to turn out, we have the choice to enable ourselves to achieve dreams and success beyond our wildest imagination. It takes effort though, an effort that most people don’t put in.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you want to know what you need to do in order to stop floating around aimlessly and start applying yourself. Deep down, you know having a well-paying job, a decent relationship, and maybe a few material things isn’t enough. So what do you need?
You need a set of personal core values.
They’re what will make or break your entire life. You think I’m kidding? Let’s put it this way: without a list of your values, catered to you, you can’t expect to achieve many goals. Why? Because you’re going for the wrong things or you don’t even know where to start. How do you find out where to start? You guessed it, your personal core values. Your personal boundaries are also defined by your values. Protecting your boundaries means knowing them, above all. How do you know your boundaries? Values. You always hear about others becoming successful (success being defined by your standards). How do you start the path to become successful? Values. You always hear about those lucky few who find their passion and live a truly happy life. How do you start to find our happiness? Values.
See a theme? Your values are your guide – without them, you’ll always be a few steps behind. Before you set your goals, you need to know your values. Otherwise, you run the risk of falling short and feeling unfulfilled, because you have no idea what you’re really striving for. Here’s your how-to guide.
How to Find Your Personal Core Values
#1. Describe Yourself Today
It’s important to know who you are as a person today. Sounds easy, right? Nope, hard. Can confirm, is very fucking hard. You also need to know how you come across to others. This isn’t the time to write out how you want to be, this is the time to write out who you are.
Take the time to sit down and write out how you’d describe yourself today. What would people say about you? What would you say about yourself? Remember, this exercise won’t be pretty sometimes. Think of it as a reality check. If you can’t do this, it just means you’re in denial. It’s ok, we all harbor some level of denial. In our mind, we can’t help but judge ourselves on how we want to be, not always on who we are.
This is why it’s also a good exercise to ask your closest friends for their true opinion on both your strengths and weaknesses. Try to keep it inside your close circle though for two reasons: one, your closest friends won’t be afraid to keep it real and be honest, and two, you might inevitably find yourself feeling anger towards others who talk about your shortcomings and aren’t your closest friends.
#2. Ask Yourself What You Want
Take a bit of time to think about the things you want. “Things” can literally be anything. Is it money? Power? Fame? A healthy lifestyle? A big family? Forget how this translates into actual values right now; you have a pretty good idea of what you want, even if you’re embarrassed to admit it. Write it all out. You can judge yourself later, now’s not the time. Remember, this is for you, not someone else. If you want to own your own company selling men’s one-piece rompers or Snuggies, write it down.
Tony Robbins calls these “things” you want your means values. “Ok dude, but I just heard you say a second ago how this doesn’t have anything to do with values.” True – that’s because these aren’t your end values. The difference is easy enough: one affects your emotional state (your end values), while the other (the mean values) is just a way to trigger the emotional state you really want.
If I just confused you further, hang tight. I’ll use a value that most people want: money. Money is something you want. When you’re put on the spot and asked why you want money, the value itself starts crumbling like a straw bridge set afire. Because “money” isn’t a true personal core value. As you begin peeling the layers back, you get to your real values – in other words, your end values. Going with the money example, let me ask you this: why do you want money? Freedom, security, adventure, contribution (giving to other people/causes)? These are all end values, also known as your real values.
So now that you know what we’re after, it’s time to….
#3. Write Down Your Actual Personal Values
Head online and find a couple websites that list out what are called “core values”. These are the base ingredients in the recipe of your life.
Here are a couple good sources for that:
Shorter list to get you started: http://jamesclear.com/core-values
Exhaustive list in case you’re feeling dangerous: https://scottjeffrey.com/core-values-list/
A word of caution: try to focus on no more than 10 to 15 total values. Any more, and you’re going to just confuse yourself. Any less than 5 though, and you might need to re-evaluate why your list is so short. When I stress to write down at least five or six, the biggest question that comes up is inevitably “why have so many, and not just two or three?” You probably think having more than that will make it impossible to know which ones to focus on. I get it, you’re not trying to overwhelm yourself here. On the flip side, if you go out and then list 10, then you probably feel all 10 are important. How am you supposed to order them and give priority? This is fucking confusing Adam, and I’m tired of your crap.
Valid point but here’s the reasoning: you want to write out a fairly decent list so you’ve got something to work with later. In the next part, I’ll explain why…
#4. Organize Your Personal Values
Once you have your list of 10 to 15 core values, it’s time to begin the process of organizing them in sequential order. Cue the freakout. Trust me, I was there too. And I still am. Tasked with organizing your values means you’re basically forcing yourself to prioritize. Talk about a stressful exercise, man. Problem is, if everything was easy, we’d all be rich, happy, successful, and full of zest. Unfortunately, all that awesome stuff is usually reserved for those who have the word “effort” in their vocabulary.
Organize your values the best way you can. Chances are you know your top ones pretty well. Let the rest flow behind them. All of your end values are important, but we need to prioritize in order to allow ourselves the biggest chance to take a couple steps forward.
You should always be revisiting your personal core values list every few months. Whether you change it up or decide not to, see if things are lining up and you’re moving towards them. If you find something is missing or lacking, try placing another value further up or reassess why you you put it there in the first place.
The idea behind the values list is to have every decision you make in life, big or small, line up with your top values. If you place growth or achievement at the top, then make the daily decision to take steps to reflect that particular value being so high on your list. If you put adventure up there, I’d assume you’d want to travel more and experience the world at a level that someone else (who doesn’t have adventure even on their values list) wouldn’t. If so, make the choices to take the trips, see the sights, or join the friends who also seek adventure. If you put freedom at the top because you desire to get out of the 9 to 5 rat race, what are you doing on a daily basis to get you there?
It’s not good enough to just say you want something. You have to organize the reasons behind it (the personal core values), and then do the work to get there.