When did you last think about what you value most in life?
Research shows that recognizing and living according to your values creates a richer sense of purpose. Also, it turns out that one of the best ways to significantly reduce stress is to spend time defining and aligning your life with your deepest core values.
Your core values are what you are naturally inclined to do, are drawn toward, or are eager for without effort or even goal setting.
For example, I am naturally empathetic. It’s always been easy for me to respond compassionately toward people, animals, and the natural world.
I don’t have to make myself feel or act with empathy and compassion – I just do. And I find it excruciating to witness inhumanity or meanness. Compassion is a core value that’s been with me all my life.
Sadly, I spent the first half of my life people-pleasing and trying to fit in. It wasn’t until my mid-40s that I started to look within and understand myself better. That was when I learned about value clarification, and authenticity became important. So, authenticity has been one of my core values for about 20 years.
Some people are natural explorers. They loved roaming as youngsters and still love to travel as adults. They don’t have to make themselves want to travel – they just do. And doing so is profoundly satisfying to them.
Others are natural inventors. They enjoy using their imagination to conceive and build an original design to meet a perceived need. They don’t force themselves to do this – it’s a natural inclination. Curiosity and perseverance might be two of their values.
So, your core values are ideals specific to you that guide you toward your best life. And they tend to change over time based on your experiences.
What mattered to you in high school is likely different from what you value most in the second half of life. This is why it’s crucial to revisit personal values, especially during times of transition.
Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., is a psychologist, author, and lecturer at Stanford University, known for translating insights from psychology and neuroscience into practical strategies that support wellbeing. In her book, The Upside of Stress, McGonigal writes:
“It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. In the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.
In the long term, writing about values has been shown to boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing drinking. It helps people persevere in the face of discrimination and reduces self-handicapping. In many cases, these benefits are a result of a one-time mindset intervention. People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.”
You can start by thinking about past experiences that have consistently brought you a sense of meaning, fulfillment, and joy. Reflect on the choices, actions, and relationships that have made you feel like you were living fully as your authentic self.
You might also find it helpful to view a list of values you can choose from – I know I did. In her book Dare to Lead, author and teacher Brené Brown, Ph.D., created a value list that is one of the better ones I’ve encountered. You can download a free copy here.
Start by choosing 10 values from the list, then compare them two at a time and eliminate half to come up with the final five. Brené recommends reducing your list down to only two. Many people find that too difficult, including myself. I have found that five works well for me.
My top five core values right now are Authenticity, Compassion, Holy Love, Wisdom, and Zest for Life.
Once you’ve identified your top five values, define each one in your own words. It could be bullet points, words or phrases, or a paragraph.
Writing down your definition helps solidify each value’s meaning and reminds you to align with them when making difficult decisions.
Aligning with your values simplifies everything and leads to a sense of wholeness. As a result, you find the inner strength needed to lead life calmly and confidently, no matter what is sent your way.
Without clear values, your life is like a sailboat without a wheel to steer by, tossed around by changing tides and winds. In a world that often feels chaotic and directionless, well-defined values provide clarity, motivation, and a steady sense of belonging to yourself.
What matters most to you these days? What values do you live by and why? Please share with the community.
Tags Reducing Stress