Roy E. Disney, Walt Disney’s nephew and former senior executive of The Walt Disney Company, once said: “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” Your values function as your internal compass, guiding your life choices and directing you toward your life purpose. If you’re clear on what you value, you’re clear on what you stand for in life. This self-awareness will allow you to discover your ideal career path and set relevant career goals.
Researchers from UCLA published findings in 2005 in Psychological Science demonstrating that people who reflected on and affirmed their values had lower stress levels. You’re less stressed and happier when you’re making choices and acting in line with what you care about, what you believe in and what’s most important to you. As your values can evolve over time, make sure that you continue to reassess and re-clarify them.
Start with these three ways to identify your personal values:
- Values Inventory
The most straightforward way to zero in on your values is by tackling a list of them. The Alumni Association of Mount Holyoke College has a stellar worksheet to help you identify your values. Start by dividing the values between those that are important and unimportant to you. Take your list of important values and separate the ones that you consider absolutely critical to your well being and fulfillment. Now, take your time to choose your top five to ten critical values and then prioritize them. This is the hardest part!
Dr. Chad LeJeune, a psychology professor from the University of San Francisco, offers another way to approach this exercise in his book, “The Worry Trap.” He reframes value identification as a day shopping at the “Values Mall.” In his list, each value has a price; you choose which values to buy and keep in your life, but you only have $100 to spend. Choose wisely!
The following are some questions that you can reflect on to help you identify what’s important to you:
- What are your priorities in life?
- What do you love to do? What would you never get tired of? What are you passionate about?
- What makes you angry, disappointed or upset in others’ actions and why?
- What was one of the highest highs in your life and why?
- What activities fill you with energy and purpose and why?
- What qualities do you admire in your role models or in people that inspire you?
- What are your strengths and how are you applying them?
- What would you do if you only had a week left to live?
- What do you want your memoir to say? What do you want people to remember you for?
In answering these questions, what themes arise in terms of your beliefs and principles? How are these in line or not with the value hierarchy you established using a values inventory?
You can often tell what people value by observing the little daily decisions they make. Do they opt for flexible scheduling or usually stay late at the office? Do they help the old lady cross the street or jaywalk? Do they mostly talk about others or themselves? Do they speak up or stay out of the way?
Turn that analytical eye on yourself. If you took another person’s perspective, what would he or she notice about the decisions you make and have made in your life? What would people say matters to you? What would you like for that person to think about you? If you have the opportunity and feel comfortable doing so, it would be worthwhile to interview people closest to you and get their opinion on these questions.
Are you making life decisions in line with your top values? Why or why not?