Finding Your Personal Core Values: The Definitive Guide
“Who am I?”
It is one of life’s most important questions, and it can be one of the most challenging and difficult questions to answer.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be!
If you have been looking for how to find yourself, then your values are the answer. Your personal core values answer the all important question of “who am I?” because they are the core of who you are.
Finding your top personal core values is also the first and most important part of the Superpower System.
This definitive guide will tell you what personal values are, the importance of values, and everything you need to know to find your core values.
What are personal values?
A broad personal values definition is, “what one considers important or worth seeking.”
More specifically, your personal core values are the select values that you hold most dear in the world. They are your core beliefs about what is important. These personal values make up the heart of who you are and what is important in your life.
Additionally, your personal core values are what you care about most in the world. It is important to understand that they are not the things others think you should care about most.
There are lots of personal values examples. My 5 most important values are family, wisdom, effectiveness, authenticity, and freedom.
Your most important personal values might be love, financial security, knowledge, creativity, or so many other things.
Below you will find a list of core values that is made up of some of the widest held and most important values in our society. There are lots of types of personal values, so feel free to come up with your own too if it feels right.
(I also created a deck of values cards that you can use to make the process of finding your values easier. You can get your own deck of values cards in the Llama Store here.)
Core Values List*
Be of Service
*This list, while not a personal values list of all the values in the world, this list is a good place to start and gives examples of personal values held most dear by many in our society.
Why are values important?
Alexander Hamilton once said, “If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.”
The importance of your values is that they let you know what you stand for. When you know your values, it allows you to “fall” only for the things that align with your deepest held truths.
Spending time observing and finding your personal values is one of the most important things you will do on the path to understanding yourself and answering, “who am I?”
Business guru and author Dr. Robert K. Cooper offered in his book The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life that:
Every one of us has inherent qualities that anchor us in the world and enable us to shine. To live in that way, we must clarify our own values and understand those of others. It’s one thing to be alive. It’s something else altogether to live – and work – according to who you are deep down.
Author Roy Posner also explained the importance of values in A New Way of Living: Essays on Human Evolution & Transformation:
Values drive us, motivate us, move life, move us forward — enabling progress even evolution.
Values are what enable us to take the Next Step — whether they drive our own individual lives in a positive direction; improve the economic, social, and cultural conditions of a nation; or, move society forward in its never-ending ascending path of progress.
Beyond these things, knowing your most important personal values gives you the groundwork for creating your most authentic and purposeful life.
You can use your personal core values as a guide to make the hard decisions in life. You can use them to set boundaries to create space for the life you want to lead. They are essential picking the right place to work. The list goes on and on! Finding your most important values is fundamental for living your best life.
Plus, when you know your most important personal values, life becomes so much more fun!
How do you find your personal core values?
Finding values that you hold dear is a discovery process. It can take some hunting to discern what they truly are.
There are a few different ways to find your personal values, but one of the best ways I have found to do it is with the following values exercise.
This values exercise can be done alone, but it is also a good values exercise for groups if you want to do it at work or with friends (this makes it more fun too!).
You will want to start out with a deck of values cards or a list of core values.
Whatever you use, whether it is a list of core values or a deck of values cards, it doesn’t need to have all of the values in the world.
It just needs to have enough personal values to start the conversation (and, if you feel like a value that is important to you is missing, you can just add it!)
With your values list or deck of cards in hand, I recommend starting out by doing rounds.
The first round is the easiest, as it is a simple, quick, yes-no-yes-no run through of the deck or list. This round is where you make quick choices on whether each value sounds like you or not. All it takes is a simple, “is this me? yes or no.”
If it’s a yes, put it in the yes pile, if it’s a no, put it in the no pile. Don’t worry about spending too much time on each value - just go with your gut.
After that first round, pick up the "yes" pile and go back through them again. Take a little more time with each card to narrow down the list of core values further.
Questions that can help guide you in figuring out whether to hold onto a value or not might be, “does this represent how I show up in the world?” or “is this something I stand for?” or “would I be okay if this wasn’t very present in my life?”
After you go through it a second time, you just repeat the process! You keep doing this until you narrow down the list to the values you hold most dear.
Don’t be worried if you don’t get it right the first time around. Our values can change, and it can take some time to figure out the heart of what you value.
You might need to periodically revisit these top values to confirm if they feel true and right for you.
How many personal core values should I have?
I recommend trying to get your list of personal values down to your 5 most important values. Whenever I do this values exercise with groups though, two sets of people emerge.
The first group can narrow their values down to their 5 most important values very quickly and easily. The second group is stuck at 10 to 15 values and they struggle to figure out how to whittle the group down.
Since this is a process, neither group is better than the other, but someone in the group with more personal values inevitably asks me why they need to narrow down their list of core values down to their 5 most important values.
My response is usually that it doesn’t have to be 5, but we are complex people. Three values are not enough to honor our complexity, and 7 to 10 is too many and makes it hard to make decision.
One of the powerful benefits of knowing our 5 most important values is that we can use them for different things like making hard decisions. If we have too many values then it becomes difficult to make those important decisions quickly and decisively.
How do I narrow my list of personal core values?
It can take a while to get to know your values and figure out exactly what it is you hold most dear. Your values aren’t a constant either; they can change as you move through life.
If you are struggling to narrow down your list, there are several options for finding out what truly are your top personal core values.
1. Narrow your list of core values based on types of personal values
There are lots of different types of personal values, but certain values are often grouped together and belong to a family of values. For example, the values of truth, trust, honor, and integrity often show up together.
They would be considered similar types of personal values and classified in the same family.
Another example of a family among the many types of personal values would be spirituality, religion, and faith. Or creativity, originality, ingenuity, curiosity, and open-mindedness.
People have a hard time narrowing down among values in a family because they can be so similar. My recommendation is to watch yourself in action for a while to decipher which value really shines through the most.
2. Ask others what they think.
Others often can see us more clearly than we can see ourselves. If you ask others what are your core values, they will likely be able to provide some valuable insight.
Your family and friends are a great resource for helping you find your 5 most important values. Ask them what they see in you and what they think you might value most, or, if you already have an idea of your values, ask them what they think sounds the most like you.
3. See what makes you angry.
Behind our anger is often a violated personal value. If you find yourself getting angry at someone over something, see what value it is that they violated. That might be one of your top ones! Anger, while not always fun, is a great tool to find your top values.
So what do you do now that you know your values?
The purpose of finding your most important personal values is to use them to make your life better than ever. There are two steps in doing that: understanding how they show up, and then putting them to use.
Understanding how your top personal values show up
The way I like to think about how our personal values show up is that every value comes in 2 flavors: above the line or below the line.
Using your personal values in an above the line way means that, when you rely on that value in the world, that value has a positive impact on you and on others.
Using them in a below the line way means the way you stand in that value negatively impacts you or others.
When I started trying to figure out my 5 most important values, I wasn’t even aware that some of them were being used in a below the line way.
One of my 5 most important values is wisdom. Once upon a time I was also an attorney. When those two came together, I had a habit of being a smartass. I loved feeling like the smartest person in the room and letting everyone else know that.
I was using my value of wisdom to show, “I’m smarter than you,” as opposed to working to use that value for everyone’s benefit. It was only when I became aware of how I was holding my value of wisdom that I was able to use that value to build others up instead of tearing them down.
Another important element of understanding how you hold your personal values is understanding how you hold them in relationship to others.
When others have values that go against what one of yours is, it can be a source of friction if you don’t become aware of it. For instance, one of my most important personal values is family, whereas one of my son’s is independence.
I love to spend time with my family, but my son greatly values going off and doing his own thing, and it would be easy to take this personally if I wasn’t aware of his values.
For each of us, the way that our values show up in our lives is going to look a little bit different depending on our unique set of values and how we go about living our life.
Knowing how your top personal values show up in your life and in your relationships with others will start to give you clarity on why you live like you do and exactly how you hold your top values.
Putting your personal values to use
Now that you know your personal core values and have an understanding of how they show up in your life, it is time to put them to use!
Finding your most important values is just the first step of the Superpower System.
Now you can write them down in the values section of the Tomi Llama Superpower Model (get your free superpower worksheet packet by signing up for the Llama Times) and use them to find your superpower!
You can also check out Grow Yourself in the Superpower System to start putting your values into action in lots of different ways - setting boundaries, making hard decisions, picking the right place to work, you name it!
Now that you have your top core values though, you have answered one of life’s biggest questions - “who am I?”
If you don’t quite have it down yet, that’s fine too. It took me a long time to find this answer, but the process of getting their was the most powerful part. The most important thing to keep in mind is:
This is just the start!
Your best life is ahead of you. Your superpowerful life is calling you!
PS, I’d love to know: What are your values? Comment below!
Want more life-changing wisdom from the Tomi Llama? Sign up for the Llama Times newsletter below!