“We stand at the crossroads, each minute, each hour, each day, making choices. We choose the thoughts we allow ourselves to think, the passions we allow ourselves to feel, and the actions we allow ourselves to perform. Each choice is made in the context of whatever value system we’ve selected to govern our lives. In selecting that value system, we are, in a very real way, making the most important choice we will ever make.” —Benjamin Franklin, The Art of Virtue (compiled and edited by George Rogers)

  • Develop a comprehensive list of all possible personal values. Now rank each one as “A” (high importance), “B” (medium importance), “C” (low importance). Review your A and B values. Are there any that you feel are essentially the same value or is one an obvious subset of the other? If so, bring them together and rename it if necessary. Rank order the remaining list from highest through to lowest priority. You should now have your top five core values.

Focusing on your core values: 

  • Ask yourself whether these are your true, internal “bone deep” beliefs or an external “should” value. These are very tough questions to answer. We often don’t recognize a lifetime of conditioning that has left us with other people’s belief systems. Replace any “should” values with your own.
  • Examine each core value to ensure that it is your end value and not a means to some other end. For example, wealth is seldom a value in itself. It’s usually the means to status, power, security, recognition, freedom, accomplishment, pleasure, helping others, or some other end value.
  • Write out a “statement of philosophy” that outlines and explains each of your core values. This is for your own private use, so be as honest and candid as you can.

  • These exercises are rarely done quickly. It could take dozens or even hundreds of hours to sort through the “shouldas,” “oughtas,” and “couldas” and get to our basic, core principles. The more mediation, contemplation, and writing time we put into this, the truer and more energizing our core values will eventually become.
  • We can also go through this values clarification exercise with our spouse or significant other. It can be a powerful way to get in synch and focused on the same priorities.
  • Have a few close friends, associates, your manager, or your spouse give you their A, B, C ranking of what they think your priorities are on your values hierarchy. Instruct them to rate your values according to what they think you value, not their own values. Discussing the reasons for their choices with each of them can be a very rich source of feedback. It also provides a great external perception of what your behavior says about what you value most.
  • Are core values consistent with your vision and purpose?
  • Check your values against your current job. How well are they aligned? There’s a direct relationship between your level of job energy or satisfaction and your personal values. If there’s a big misalignment you probably hate your work and resent all the demands people put on you. If that’s the case, you need to make changes to your work (such as developing new skills or taking on new assignments) or change your work.
  • When you’re faced with major personal decisions or tough choices, pull out your core values for help in deciding what to do.
  • Put yourself to your own values test. Look back at decisions and choices you’ve made. Were they consistent with your core values? If you had to make those choices again, would you make them differently now that you’ve clarified your core values?
  • Use a priority and goal setting system and a disciplined time management process to allocate your time according to your values.

 Our values and priorities will change as we move through different stages of our lives. It’s one of the reasons that setting aside regular R & R (reflection and renewal) time is important to a more balanced and satisfying life.