Determining Your Core Values

Leadership LessonsBrigida SwansonComment
How to determine your core values to start an intentional life..

Listen to your values. One of the most life-changing exercises I’ve done in the past five years was to reflect on my core values and how well I’m living up to them. Since then, I’ve referred to those initial notes to help me decide whether the big goals and actions I take each year help me to experience a life I value, or whether my goals and actions are a way of distracting myself or avoiding the hard work that will lead to personal success and contentment. I’ve found that by intentionally focusing on my core values, I’m more equipped to overcome my fears and just get started even if I don’t feel ready. If an action is based within a value, I’m more willing to put in the effort even if it’s an action that’s out of my comfort zone. Learning about my core values has also helped me to determine which goals I should focus on and has given me the long term motivation to keep pushing forward on those goals.

The essence of any goal that has the potential for success is that it’s a change that aligns with what’s most important in your life. When you create a goal based on your core values, you can start to live the life that you envision for yourself. It’s difficult to maintain persistence when working towards a goal, so it’s essential that the deeper reasons behind each of your goals starts with your core being. If a goal is based on external factors that aren’t very important to you, you’ll lose interest quickly. This has certainly been true for me.

Before you can start to create a values-based goal, you have to go through the process of figuring out exactly where you stand in terms of what you value in life and how well you’re living up to that ideal. Here’s how to determine your core values.

Reflect on Major Life Categories

Think about the major roles you play in your life. These might be relationships or other life categories. Here are some you can start with:

  1. Family and/or Parenting
  2. Friendship
  3. Romantic Relationships
  4. Work/Career
  5. Health
  6. Curiosity/Learning/Education
  7. Community
  8. Spirituality
  9. Nourishment/Passions

This is a general starting point and you may choose to alter or get more specific within each category. For example, two of my core values are creativity (which I add on as its own category) and sustainability (which I consider to fall under community and health in my interpretation of this value).

What Are Your Values For Each Life Category?

Write down who you want to be in each role or how you’d like each category to affect your life in a positive way. Consider questions like:

  1. What qualities do you admire in others whom you see as successful in their careers, relationships or hobbies?
  2. How do you want to feel in each category?
  3. How do you want to make others feel?

As you write down your reflections for each category, try to stay away from extrinsic motivations like money, appearance or success. Focus on your internal feelings like a desire to feel secure and independent (instead of money), to feel strong and energetic in your health (instead of appearance), or to be able to help others (instead of success). For example, going back to my value of sustainability, extrinsically I care about sustainable food from a perspective of health and the environment. Intrinsically, I have a desire for independence: to know where my food comes from and to feel like I can nourish my body through the food I grow and raise.

Rank Categories to Determine Goals

Now, rank your categories in order of importance. Which values do you think are most essential to your contentment in life? Then, rank your categories in order of satisfaction. How well do you think you are living each value?

For example, you might rank being a supportive partner to your spouse as very important, and also feel pretty satisfied at how you are doing. In this case, both rankings for the category of Romantic Relationship would be pretty much in alignment and you’d know that you’re living your value of being a supportive partner. Conversely, you might see a hobby like painting as bringing your life a lot of joy and nourishment, and rank it very high in order of importance. However, if you realize that you haven’t given much time to developing your hobby in the midst of the rest of your life, you would rank it low in order of satisfaction. This would make the two rankings for your Nourishment/Passion category out of alignment and help you to see it as a value that you can prioritize in the future. This second example is something to consider creating a goal around because it’s very important to you, but you haven’t devoted much energy to it.


Look at the categories where the ratings most conflict in terms of being very important but feeling very unsatisfied. Reflect on the following questions:

  1. From your most conflicting categories, what is the one value do you want to prioritize your efforts on improving?
  2. What’s working for you in this value? What’s not working?
  3. What changes can you make to improve your relationship to this value?
  4. What is one small action you can do today to start your journey of living this value?

Determining your core values is the first step of leading a more intentional life. Take some time to reflect on your values. In the coming months, we’ll explore how to use your values to set goals that you won’t give up and how to maintain persistence on doing the hard work involved in living your values and goals.