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How to Discover Your Core Values

Core values are those things that mean the most to you and can be subjective things like compassion, love, honesty, wholesomeness, etc., and they also can encompass objective interests like education, hobbies, exercise, sports, etc.

How do you determine your personal core values?

Ponder these questions:

  • How do you love to spend your time?
  • What were your childhood tendencies toward?
  • What activities/subjects did you gravitate to in elementary school? in college?
  • What activities/subjects are you drawn to at this point in your life?
  • What could you see yourself working at without getting bored or burnt out?
  • What activity have you started early in the day and are still going full force with until the wee hours?
  • What subject, when you overhear someone mention it, causes your ears to perk up and your eyes to light up?
  • What gives you the most satisfaction after you’ve finished it … a well written article or a beautifully decorated cake, for example?
  • Have you often thought outside the box?
  • Have you refrained from joining certain groups?
  • Have you clamored to join others?
  • Are you ever torn between two favorite things to do … or does one always take priority?

Make a list, inspired by your pondering the above questions.

  • Write down everything in which you are interested.
  • Write down everything that attracts you.
  • Write down everything that you lose track of time while you’re doing.
  • Write down everything that you forget to eat while you’re doing.

If you could spend tomorrow doing anything you’d like to do, what would you do, where would you go, who would you be with (if anyone), and how long would you do it?

For years, It has been a ritual of mine to make the same resolution every New Year: to make the upcoming year twice as good and successful as the outgoing one. It rarely happened.

This year I was sick and tired of the lack of progress. So on January 1, I resolved, very quickly, decisively, and firmly, that I would leave my present position and place of residence on or before June 1. Furthermore, I would leave my position to pursue my number one love: writing.

Result? As I write this, it is May 18, and I am now writing like crazy and scheduled to move to a new location on or about June 1! I just wouldn’t let myself take “no” for an answer or procrastinate one little bit.

At age 69, I’ve done that enough!

Having an “aha” moment at my age is enough to make a person rue all the years of doing comparatively nothing to grow into the person I was born to be.

So, I am writing this to inform all of you younger ones to stop in the middle of our chaotic lives and THINK! Actually think about what is really important to you … before you wake up one day at age 69 and have a long overdue epiphany as I did.

Ask yourself what you hold dear over and above everything else in your life.

You just have to dig deep inside and remember who you truly are and what you are really all about, not what you may have grown into or what other people may have “helped” you become.

You have to discover your own reality. If you knew you were going to die today, what would you regret not having done? You know, it really is what you have not done that you will regret at my age, rather than the mistakes that you may have made along the way.

Realize that everyone is a creator. We just have to ferret out exactly what it is that we prefer to create.

Of course, we have all heard that you should “do what you love, and the money will come,” so if your security seems to be holding you back from “going off” in another direction that doesn’t seem as lucrative as your present occupation, seriously consider following your dream.

And don’t ever look back at what you imagine “might have been.” If you follow your true dreams, you won’t have to!

If you find yourself dreaming but cannot manage to “go off” to pursue a “pipe dream,” because you have a family to support, do not despair.

Search Techniques

There are several techniques that might help when you actually set aside a block of time to start determining exactly what your core values are. You can try them in turn or just pick one … it doesn’t matter, as long as you take action.

  • If you have a walk-in closet or pantry or storage space, light it with scented candles in glass jars (for safety), and take a notepad and pen in with you. The light from the candles will be enough for you to make notes, and the distraction-free atmosphere will help you concentrate.
  • If you have access to a gazebo or other outdoor refuge away from barking dogs, screaming kids, and other interruptions, great … that will work as well.
  • Public parks where there are nature trails to walk (sometimes with convenient benches) also are good spots, if you pick a time when it’s not crowded.
  • Secluded areas along rivers, lakes and ponds can be ideal, as the sound of water seems to bring out the best in people.

These are just some ideas if you need them, but anyplace in your home where you will not be disturbed will work, because you will feel secure there.

Realize that identifying your core values comes down to simply identifying your purpose in life, nothing more, because if you know your life purpose, your core values will fall in place naturally. Some people know where they wish to go from childhood. Others, like yours truly, wait until they are my age to get serious.

When first evaluating and identifying their core values, some people will feel a little indecisive about pinning them down, and that’s quite all right. In fact, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being drawn to more than one, or even several, different attractions at the same time. Doing so merely reflects your complexity as a human, especially in the times in which we live with all the different distractions at hand.

(Personally, I experience this every time I get online, and I know that I am not alone in this. I get online for a specific reason, and an hour later I realize that my original purpose has taken a back seat to several other things.)

You can enjoy different things, simultaneously, or just go with the flow. There are no rules where creativity is concerned. The important thing is to create something and to do it on a regular basis … whatever moves you into habitual expression of your core values.

An important point to keep in mind is that, once you decide on your core values, they are not set in stone, and you are free to change them at any point. Just don’t change them to conform to other people’s ideas or to your own idea of what they SHOULD be. If you feel led along those lines, ask yourself WHY you think they SHOULD be. Remember, you are looking for your true self. Your core values distilled will reveal what you are all about.

Don’t fail to write down something outlandish. Just keep going, and something will click eventually. After all, no one will (or should) see these notes. If you think it, write it! And whatever you do, don’t put anything down just because you think you “should.” That’s utter nonsense!

An exercise in English composition class was called “stream of consciousness,” and that’s what we’re after here. Just write down every thought that comes to mind, even if it makes no sense or seems silly. Let everything be natural and random.

Some things may appear again and again. Catch a clue! If, at any time, you feel you have more interests than you think practical, you will probably want to eliminate some, but how? Take them two-by-two. Look at each and decide which one you would stick with if you had to choose for the rest of your life. Stick with the winner, and then repeat that with the rest of your ideas. One will always come out on top.

If you need direction, a good little exercise is to visit any or all of three Web sites (and there are many more, I am sure): craigslist.com, ebay.com, and amazon.com) and look through their lists. As you do, jot down those that catch your eye. Also, watch your emails, especially if you get a lot of spam. Subject lines are a rich source of information as to what appeals to you.

If you haven’t already, you may wish to add some of these to your list: adventure, creativity, education, mentoring, spirituality, family, growth, health, God, financial security, independence, wisdom, knowledge, power, security, success, integrity, understanding, truth.

The trick is to balance your life between doing the mind things you feel you should do and pursuing the heart things you really wish to do.

What you DO has to fit who you ARE. Put another way, your mindset has to match the things that you hold dear in your heart. You cannot, for example, take a job which requires you to compromise the core values deep within yourself. If you do that, you will not be happy or content very long, and both you and the job will suffer accordingly.

If you allow yourself to slip into thinking along the lines of what society makes you feel you SHOULD do, instead of sticking with the leanings of your heart, you will never find peace. Sometimes it takes both guts and grit to make the right choice, especially if what you are looking at is very much more lucrative, compared to the seemingly inferior choice that you feel (know) is right.

Someone recently shared his personal core values with me (which, by the way, is fine to do but only after they are firmly entrenched in your own mind and heart), and these just happen to be mine as well. In order of importance, they are family, health, financial freedom, learning, and writing.

Another aspect of all this soul searching is to ensure that you do not allow other people to influence these all too important decisions about your life. You can have mentors, yes, but all too often family members can be the most detrimental and hold you back from full fruition. So be wary and guard against that. It is best to confer, if need be, with someone who is unrelated to you.

How Do You Apply Your Core Values to Daily Life?

From my vantage point, there are some ways to get started with your dream that will allow you to “transition” into it, rather than to “chuck it all” and start from scratch.

First, realize that the online world holds multifarious opportunities that previously were nonexistent, and information that you may need is always at hand, literally. That said, implement the following:

  • Allocate definite time slots to pursuing your dream on a daily basis, even if you are forced to work a job that is not your ideal.
  • Make an irrevocable decision to do something every day to move toward your dreams and goals, for these longings are the core values that add value and meaning to your life.
  • Establish perspective by realizing that these definite time slots of yours will reduce the stress in your life and make you more productive and valuable in other areas, including increasing your happiness and the quality of your family time.

And do know that, unless you are actively pursuing your dreams, you are adding stress to your life, albeit subconsciously.

If it feels good (and it’s not illegal, immoral or fattening—and if it hurts no one else), do it! If it gets you excited, go for it! If you’re passionate about it, live it!

Be true to your self! If you won’t, who will? Be honest with yourself, and thus eliminate dissatisfaction and unrest.

In addition to drilling down to what really motivates and turns you on, you also need to deprive yourself of people and circumstances that offend you deeply and raise your shackles. What gets you really stirred, really angry? Usually it will be something deeply important and meaningful to you that you respect and honor, and when other people reflect the opposite, that rankles you to the nth degree.

So you can learn a lot from what turns you off, just as you can from what turns you on!

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever read concerning implementing your life’s purpose and core values is to combine them into one activity, such as authoring a book or a blog perhaps. This would bring you the highest satisfaction and ignite your passion in a big way.

There is just something about combining two or more of your core values into one concentrated activity that takes you into the realm of eagles. You will soar as never before!

Remember, when you realize that your heart is singing (and maybe even your mouth!), you are most probably in the throes of really living your life and experiencing your passion.

You will wake up one day soon after you implement the foregoing with a song in your heart, joy in your being, and a spring in your step, because you will find that you are coming to realize that your inner core values are being expressed and really lived.

The Benefits of Being True to Your Core Values

The ultimate benefits of discovering your core values and what really makes you tick are that you will experience better health, less stress, longer life, and a more meaningful, fulfilled life, full of adventure and escapades that previously eluded you. Food will taste better, flowers will smell better, music will sound sweeter, your sense of touch will be heightened, and the beauty all around you will come to the forefront as you relish your newly found sensitivities.

Chances are, if you think about them in depth, past experiences where you found the most pleasure emanated directly from enjoying your core values that you never thought about before.

Finding a new purpose for yourself can energize, inspire and encourage you like no one or nothing else can. What do you like to think about just before you go to sleep? What do you like to daydream about? And do daydream. It is not a waste of time, no matter what others may say. Remember: you do have a goal and a purpose for doing so.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t be a willy-nilly drifter with no goals. People like that are what we call the “masses,” the “herd.” Avoid that at all cost. Get yourself one goal about which you are extremely passionate, and go for it!

Take a Break …

Let your thoughts, your words, your actions, and your life reflect your innate passion every day of your life. If you get bogged down and feel stymied, stop—but only to take a break. Go to bed, or better yet, go out into nature and get alone with God and ask for wisdom and insight. You may be surprised at what this will do for you. And take along a notepad, because you never know what will spring up. Go slowly, however, because this sort of thing can also get you off track. Keep your core values in mind, and if what you come up with doesn’t line up, chalk it off and go on to something else. It will come.

… But not a Vacation!

Personally, I have written since I was a child, and I have many notes and files crammed full of different observations, little stories, vignettes, inspirational notes, etc., and nearly always I can find something in my “arsenal” that reveals another aspect of my core values.

At various times, life may steer you away from what you know as your values so that you violate those values for a time, until the day comes that (hopefully) you have a personal reckoning where you realize why you are unhappy, unfulfilled and discontented. That is when you conclude that your departure from your basic core values is the cause.

When you try to “fit in” to a particular scenario, whether it’s a lifestyle, a career position, a religious organization, or whatever, and you feel uncomfortable, then that is just “not you.” Get out as soon as you can and follow your heart. Don’t ever live to fulfill the values of others while neglecting your own. Don’t be too quick to be “self sacrificing,” or you soon may find that your entire life is being sacrificed on the altar of others’ dreams, wishes … and values.


Develop some drive, enthusiasm, and ambition. When you find your passion, these attributes will follow most naturally. You cannot omit this most important area of development and growth.

And whatever you do, do not try to live up to the expectations of others. You most probably have only this one life to live, and you owe it to yourself to live it the way you see fit and not according to the whims and wishes of others.

When you have direction in your life and know where you are headed, you have something to really live for, and you will be enthusiastic and eager to get where you’re going. Your whole life will be meaningful and rich beyond measure.

Get the thought clear in your mind. Get it entrenched deeply within your heart. Speak to yourself and to God about it. It’s may not be wise to speak to other people about your purpose at this point. But express gratitude for the new discoveries you are making and for your new direction, and then institute regular, habitual action toward your goal.

It is much easier to direct your life with firm goals and maybe even writing a declaration or statement of exactly what your main focus is and keeping it where you will see it every day.

For instance, if your aim is to improve your health regimen, such as adding certain items to your daily meals or snacks, make a list of what you’re going to remember to take in at each meal (such as supplements, lemon juice, liquid minerals, etc.), and post your list on your cabinet door or refrigerator until your new habits are automatic.

Thinking in depth about what you value should reveal to you how you came to hold these values, i.e., where or from whom did they come … parents, teachers, preachers, friends, et al. Know that, during adolescence, when our world starts to expand dramatically, we’re going to be exposed to values that will differ—and probably conflict with—those we’ve been taught to hold.

Experiences you have throughout life will either confirm or eventually discard some of these values. Ideally, it’s like a refining process where the dross is ditched and the pure stuff is saved and cherished.

Lastly, do not feel guilty about anything you choose as being important to you and that you ultimately identify to be one of your core values. For example, many people will list money as one of the things that is most important to them. And then they start feeling as if they’re overly materialistic, and they sometimes even take it off their lists.

The thing to do then is to really think about why money is that important to you. Ask yourself if money is important because of all the things you could indulge in that you cannot right now. Ask yourself if money is important because it will empower you over other people. Ask yourself if money is important as a means to accomplish a not-so-honorable goal.

Conversely, ask yourself if money is important to you to enable you to provide well for your family. Ask yourself if money is important to you to allow you to help other people in the way of charitable contributions. Ask yourself if money is important to you for the freedom of time it provides to pursue your heart’s desire.

You get the picture. It is not the importance of money in and of itself, for money is only an enabler, a tool. It’s what you do when you are enabled that makes the difference and that gives honorable credence to your adding it to your list of core values.

After the weeding out process, it all distills to “following your heart.”

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