Determining Your Personal Values

For the past couple of blogs, I’ve been writing about the three-step process of creating a compelling personal vision. We’ve explored the first step: writing your life purpose. My last blog showed how to complete the second step: envisioning your picture of the future. This week I’ll explain the third and final part of creating a compelling person vision: determining your values.

It’s been said that the most important thing in life is to decide what’s most important, and that’s what determining your values is all about. But what is a value? In Full Steam Ahead: Unleash the Power of Vision in Your Work and Your Life, Jesse Stoner and I conclude that:

Values are deeply held beliefs that certain qualities are desirable. They define what is right or fundamentally important to each of us. They provide guidelines for our choices and activities.

Let’s face it, if your personal vision is going to have any real meaning, you have to live it. And where you live your vision is in your values, because values are what guide your behavior on a day-to-day basis.

Select Your Core Values. The first step to determining your values is to write a long list of qualities that have meaning to you. For example:

  • Truth
  • Wisdom
  • Courage
  • Recognition
  • Creativity
  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Freedom
  • Spirituality
  • Love
  • Success
  • Humor
  • Peace
  • Security
  • Excellence
  • Learning

There are many more, but you get the idea. Once you’ve generated a long list, begin to narrow it down. Hold each value up against the others and see if you can pick out your three to five most important values. Winnowing down your list is important, because research shows that to be memorable and effective, values must be few in number—no more than five.

Define Your Values. The next step in clarifying your values is to define them. Why is this important? Because to be able to live consistently with a value, you must be able to explain what that value means to you.

For example, let’s take a value that has many meanings, like “love.”  I define this value by describing how it feels, as well as how I express it to others:

“I value love. I know I am living by this value anytime I feel loving toward myself and others, anytime I express compassion, anytime I show love to others, and anytime I receive the love of others.”

To give you a better sense of how this works, listed below are my rank-ordered values and how I define them.

Spiritual Peace

Because my mission is to serve, not to be served, spiritual peace is my highest value. I know I am living by this value:

  • Any time I realize I am a child of God and He loves me no matter what I do.
  • Any time I am grateful for my blessings.
  • Any time I pray and feel God’s unconditional love.

Health

This value has moved up in rank since I’ve had 59th anniversary of 21st birthday! I value health and know I am living by this value:

  • Any time I treat my body with love and respect.
  • Any time I exercise.
  • Any time I push my body to expand its present limits.
  • Any time I eat nutritious food.

Love

This had to be one of my values, because I’ve always said, “Love is the answer. What is the question?” I know I am living by this value:

  • Any time I feel loving towards myself and others.
  • Any time I express compassion.
  • Any time I show love to others.
  • Anytime I receive the love of others.

Integrity

My father taught me the importance of integrity. I know I am living by this value:

  • Any time I am honest with myself and others.
  • Any time I walk my talk.

Joy

Businessman and author Fred Smith said, “Real joy…is when you get in the act of forgetfulness about yourself.” This value is so important to me that I named my dog Joy! I know I am living by this value:

  • Any time I let my playful child express itself.
  • Any time I wake up feeling grateful for my blessings, the beauty around me, and the people in my life.
  • Anytime I smile, am happy, laugh, and kid.

Rank Order Your Values.  Think about which values are most important to you and write them down in that order. Listing your values in order of importance will further guide your decision making. If a situation arises where two or more values conflict, you’ll know which action to take, based on the value of highest importance.

Make Your Vision Come Alive. It’s one thing to write a personal vision statement—and another thing to put it into practice. Many years ago, I learned a wonderful lesson from Norman Vincent Peale, my coauthor on the book The Power of Ethical Management. Norman contended that we all have two selves. One is an external, task-oriented self that focuses on getting jobs done. The other is an internal, thoughtful, reflective self. The question Norman always posed was, “Which self wakes up first in the morning?” The answer, of course, is that our external, task-oriented self wakes up first. We leap out of bed, jump in the car, and race from activity to activity.

It’s hard to put our vision into practice when we’re caught in an activity rat race. What we all have to do is find a way to enter our day slowly, so we can awaken our thoughtful, reflective self first in the morning.

I’ve been working on entering my day slowly for many years.  One way I encourage my reflective self to guide me is to read my personal vision statement each morning, to remind myself of my purpose, my picture of the future, and my operating values.  This helps my behavior line up with my good intentions.

At the end of the day I like to pick up my journal and reflect on the day. What did I do that was consistent with my vision? This is an opportunity to praise myself for a job well done. What did I do that was inconsistent with my vision? This is an opportunity to redirect my behavior and possibly make amends for any errors I’ve made.

I hope this series of blogs has inspired you to create your own compelling vision. Having a personal life purpose, a compelling picture of the future, and your own clearly defined values can give you the clarity, inspiration, and motivation you need to make a difference for yourself and the world.

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