How To Find Your Unique Personal Values

How to find your unique personal values is not a quick exercise, but involves 6 steps of real thinking.

Suppose you’ve read my article on What You Need to Know About Personal Values. In that case, you will know how important it is to identify your personal values.  Values provide you with a blueprint for your life.  They’re a code of conduct.

But values are not just words you pick off a list, like children at Christmas going through the Argos catalogue and selecting what they want Father Christmas to bring them.  There’s a lot more to it than that.

How To Find Your Unique Personal Values

There are six steps to finding your values. 

  1. Create a list
  2. Group similar words together and pick the most meaningful word
  3. Define what the word means to you
  4. Prioritise and select
  5. Test your values
  6. Live IT
make a list of all your values

Start with a blank piece of paper and let your mind spill out onto the page

How To Find Your Values: Step 1 Create A List

In this step we are going to look at how to find your values by creating a list.  There are numerous ways you can create a list of values.  Here are 3 different techniques you can try.  Pick the one which makes most sense to you.  

Life Experience Review

This tool is similar to the game ‘Kiss, Marry, Avoid’.  If you’re not familiar, then you’ve never had one of those drunken evenings when things get silly!

Take each stage of your life: child, teenager, adult, work, home/leisure, and make a list of the following:

  • Love
  • Like
  • Dislike or hate

Use these prompts for each stage of your life.  Try to come up with 5 items in each section.  This tool is also handy when looking at how your views on life have changed over time.

The Hero List

Another helpful technique is to look at who you admire.

Make a list of your heroes:

  • Real or imaginary
  • Characters from films and books
  • Sports personalities
  • Friends and  family
  • celebrities in the media

Once you’ve identified your heroes, make a list of what you admire about them.  Perhaps they exemplify a quality you aspire to achieve.  

One of my heroes is Audrey Hepburn.  Audrey was a great actress who bucked the trend by being a petite, dark-haired actress at a time when Hollywood was full of blond sirens.  She overcame great adversity in her childhood and towards the end of her life worked tirelessly for UNICEF.

The qualities I admire about Audrey are:

  • Perseverance
  • Work ethic
  • Compassion
  • Quirkiness – happy to buck the trend
  • Positivity
 My personal values encompass some of these qualities.

Choose From A Pre-Determined List

I’m not a fan of pre-determined lists because we automatically start looking for what looks and sounds best rather than thinking deeply about what is important to us.

But, it’s an excellent way to start when you’re struggling with how to find your values, or come up with words to describe your values.  

For a list of 100 values, click here for a free download.

When considering an extensive list, my best advice is to go through it quickly and select the values which resonate with you.  Otherwise, you spend a lot of time trying to analyse each word (although we look at this in another step) and what it means then trying to make it fit into something you believe.

The result is you end up with values you think are acceptable to others.

Find similar words and group together

After making a list, it can help to separate the words out so you can prioritise them easier

Step 2  Group Your Values

Now you have your list of values.  Don’t worry if it’s a long list; we are now going to look at how to reduce it.

Many of the values we select follow a similar theme.  Look at the list you have compiled and consider how they might fit together.

For example, one of my core personal values is growth.  When I looked at the list, I had several similar values that seemed to relate including:

  • Education
  • Knowledge
  • Learning
  • Personal development
  • Teaching

When I considered all of these together, I chose growth.  I’m happiest when I’m coaching and training.  It satisfies my desire to help others in their journey of self-development—part of that includes education, learning and teaching.

Don’t worry if at the end of this stage you still have more than 3 personal values.  The next step, prioritisation will help reduce the list further.

Step 3  Define Your Values

Now you have a list of values, you can look at how you want to define them.  When you look at a list of values, they're quite ambiguous.  For example, beauty.  What does that mean exactly?  That you value your appearance?  Or perhaps you define that word as finding the beauty in everything around you.  Can you see the difference?

Your values are personal to you.  Therefore take the time to really think about how you would define them.  Remember that these are your values and how you wish to interpret them is a matter for you alone.  Defining your values also makes them more personal and easier to live by.

Step 4 Prioritising Your Personal Values

Hopefully you have now managed to reduce your list of values to a reasonable number.

Your values aren't created equally.  You will have some values you apply in your life more than others.  Remember, they can change throughout your life as your priorities change.  But think about the values you live by every day at this moment in time.

I’m a fan of Mark Manson who writes ‘we all have a few things that we think and say we value, but we never back them up with our actions.’

Mark gives the example of

'I can tell people (and myself) until I’m blue in the face that I care about climate change or the dangers of social media, but if I spend my days driving around in a gas-guzzling SUV, constantly refreshing my newsfeeds, then my behaviors, my actions tell a different story.'

Prioritising your list is perhaps the most challenging part of identifying your values.

One technique is to ask yourself:  Which of these values could I not live without?

Step 1: Take a couple of minutes to prioritise your list quickly

Step 2: Grab the first value and compare it with the second value.  Which one of the two values could you not live without? 

Keep going down the list comparing the preferred value with the next value in the list until you’ve identified your first personal value. 

For example – say you have 10 values on your list as follows:

  • Accomplishment
  • Collaboration
  • Contentment
  • Determination
  • Environment
  • Growth
  • Honesty
  • Joy
  • Respect
  • Tradition

The first step is to choose between accomplishment and collaboration.  You choose accomplishment.

You then compare accomplishment with contentment.  Again you choose accomplishment

But when you come to comparing accomplishment with environment, your choice changes.  You then compare environment with the rest of the words on the list until another value takes precedence.

If after comparing ‘environment’ with the rest of the list, you still choose ‘environment’, then you’ve just identified your first value.

I hope this makes sense.

Step 3: repeat the process until you have identified your 3 values.

Please beware of being seduced by ‘should have’ values as mentioned in the section about reviewing pre-determined lists.  And do take on board the comment by Mark Manson.

You are looking for the values which have a deep and meaningful impact on you.

Your personal values shape who you are

Live by your values - let everything you think, do and say be a reflection of them.

Step 5  Test Your Values

I mentioned above – when you are looking at prioritising your list of values, consider which ones you could not live without.

Now is the time to put your 3 values to the test.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Would you sacrifice any of your values if someone was to offer you £1,000,000?
  • When stressed, would your value stay the same?
  • What would you do if you discovered that your value would disadvantage you in some way?

If, after undertaking this exercise, you discover that you'd give up a value in a heartbeat, then go back through the selection process again.  What you're looking for is a value you would live and fight for.

The Final Step On How To Find Your Values – Live IT!

You might think because you’ve identified your three personal values, you can sit back and relax.


The challenge continues.  Having values and declaring them is one thing.  The important thing is to live by them. 

You have to live and breath it to make it relevant.  Don’t worry if you discover you’re not sticking to a value.  It might be your choice was flawed in some way.  If necessary, change it.

I mentioned previously how your values are a reflection of where you are in life right now.  Accept that your values are not set in stone but influenced by life and your circumstances.

Finding your core values is not a quick exercise.  But it’s a worthwhile one.  Like the children’s Christmas list, you are pre-determining the gifts you want to share with the world.  The behaviour you will embrace and the behaviour you’ll reject.

Knowing your core values brings a sense of harmony.  You stay in tune with your authentic self.  As a result, you will experience less stress and more happiness.  Your confidence will soar as a result.

About the author Alison

A qualified UK based coach with 30 years of experience in personal development.

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