10 min read

On Values

Getting clear and intentional about my values was one of the best things I've ever done for myself.
On Values
Photo by Alexander Grey / Unsplash

Psychologically speaking, we all have a system of values, whether we know it or not.

And they're a hell of a lot more important than we give them credit for.

These values show up in our behavior and our beliefs.

And our core values are the most enduring of them all.

If we go by Berkeley Wellbeing Institute's definition of core values, it's this:

"A core value can be defined as "an enduring belief upon which a person acts". Values have a cognitive component in that they involve thoughts about preferable ways to be, live, or act. Values also have an emotional component because we feel positively or negatively about them (they resonate with us or they don't). And, values have a behavioral component in that values often (but not always) drive our behavior (Limthanakom, Lauffer, Mujtaba, & Murphy Jr, 2008)"

Simply put, values are the things we value in life, relationships, work, etc.

Values are the things that are meaningful and important to us. We feel out of character and oppressed sacrificing our values.

If we were to make a list of our values, we're making a list of things that make a good life, and make us feel like we're being our version of a "good person".

Used well, values become standards we strive for and uphold in our lives. They become constructive guideposts for the kinds of lives we want to build for ourselves, the kind of work we want to do, the kind of people we want to surround ourselves with, and the kind of person we want to be.

Values represent how we want to see ourselves and the world.

Getting clear and intentional about my values was one of the best things I've ever done for myself.

I imagine I'm not alone, so I'm inviting you to join the party.

This will be a light and constructive one. Let's get started.

Values Are Massively Underrated in Mental Health

Personally, I don't think we talk enough about values. And I don't think we spend enough time getting clear about what our values are as individuals.

Values aren't just an expression of our ideals, they're an expression of our core sense of self. Who we are.

If you find yourself questioning what kind of person you are, what kind of people would be healthy for you, and what kind of life you want to live, your values hold a lot of those answers and clues.


In my experience, the more clear I become on my values, the more intentional (and effective) I get at creating a life that aligns with them.

And, the more aligned my life is with my values, the more fulfilled I feel in that life.

Like, when I understood how big the value of "compassion" truly is to my core, it became clear to me that I need to prioritize compassion in how I treat myself, how I treat others, and how I choose my people.

Getting clear on this helped me tremendously.

The same goes for all of my values. The big and the small. My value of liberation and healing is huge for me.

And, my value of nature is also important, even if it doesn't seem as "big".

It's become pretty critical to my mental health to surround myself with the beauty and sound of nature. It's healing, and the deepest unplugging experience for me.

I wasn't prioritizing it before because I wasn't clear on how meaningful it was to me. I treated it like a luxury or treat. Turns out, it's a value. Prioritizing it now has had a huge positive impact on my mental health.

Accepting that I also have a big value for art and creative beauty without calling myself "superficial" has also helped me to create a more creative & beautiful life for myself.

Sometimes accepting our values means unpacking the conflicts around them. Doing so has added to my life.

On the contrary, when I walk through life unaware of my values, and not doing much to intentionally strive toward them, I notice I end up living a pretty undernourishing life, at minimum.

At maximum, I find myself in chaotic and conflicting relationships with myself, my people, my day-to-day, and my path.

I say all of this to say, values are a pretty big deal. And knowing what yours are is an important part of understanding yourself and what your needs are as an individual.

Knowings yours are what helps you create a vision for your life that feels fulfilling to your spirit, instead of just looking good on paper.

Finding Your Values

Values are inherent.

What I mean is, we don't have to make them up. They already exist in our beliefs, our feelings, and what drives our behavior.

This is a practice of looking inside of your current day self and learning about what's already true for you.

Your inner voice might be shouting a few values out to you as you read this. Listen to it. Write those down. Those values are literally here, in this conversation, asking for your attention. I imagine that's for a reason.

As far as intentionally sitting down to develop a list, like I said, values show up in our beliefs and our behaviors.

Discovering and accepting your values is a big part of observing how you naturally function and then practicing self acceptance for what comes up. This is the critical first step.

Coming up with healthy (non-harmful) ways to then strive for and express those values ends up feeling like top tier self love.

Here are some steps to help you discover your values:

Start With a Category

We have a lot of values, and it can feel overwhelming to tackle them all at once. It may help to break down what your big values are for one specific area of life you're focused on right now.

Work? Relationships? Family? Self-Love & Care?

Pick a category.

What's Meaningful to You

According to your beliefs and behavior patterns, what's proving to be meaningful to you in the category you chose?

It's important to be honest with yourself here and distinguish what's meaningful to you versus what you feel you "should" find meaningful based on societal scripts and standards.

Let this be about you and how you truly feel for a second. You don't have to act on anything yet. You're just learning about yourself. Be open to learning your truth.

For example:

Do you really value (feel good and right) working as hard as you do, or is a value of balancing in rest & play screaming at you everyday? And you feel pressure to let the value of hard work reign, causing you to ignore the rest & play?

If so, this is true for a lot of people. But this shows up in a lot of other ways too.

And this doesn't have to mean you don't value hard work at all, but it does mean that it's time to reflect on how this value shows up.

Reflect on how you're using it to define who you are and your self worth when, in actuality, you may be someone who values hard work, rest, and play.

And there's nothing wrong with that. You're still totally worthy of love, and it's okay to expand.

Maybe you can build a life to accommodate and balance all of these values more equally. Maybe you can love yourself as someone who values that balance. Maybe you'll even love yourself more, this way. (Highly likely).

Use a List

If you're coming up short, Berkeley also provides us with a nice long list of values here. Feel free to peruse it to help you brainstorm.

Start With 3-5

Figure out the 3 to 5 values that stand out the most to you right now.

Try to trust what comes up.

Remember, values are what's meaningful to us. Your body already knows. And it's likely that your brain and body are naturally pointing out what's meaningful to you right now.

Roll with it & see what happens.

Vision Boarding

This is the fun part. For those values you chose, I want you to sit down and journal or vision board out what a life for you looks like if all of these values are honored.

Consider how you can make choices to strive to meet those values in balanced and healthy ways.

Conflicting Values

As you do this, it's natural for seemingly conflicting values to pop up, just like the classic work life balance scenario above.

If any conflict pops up for you as you consider striving for a certain value, it'll be because another value is conflicting against it.

For example:

"I can't take more time off work. I have to pay these bills!"

You value financial stability. This is conflicting with your value of rest & play. Not your value of work ethic.

It's important to be clear on this and - most importantly - don't give up on yourself. All of these values can exist in the same space. It may take a little time and effort to make it work.

Most of us walk through life feeling lost and helpless trying to juggle these conflicting values. We can feel defeated because of societal pressure and what's been normalized to us. It feels like an internal fight between parts of ourselves.

I can damn near promise you this:

It is not impossible to make space for these conflicting values. It's more likely that we just haven't had any good examples of how these values balance out just yet.

But we can learn. And that's what this exercise is calling you to do. Be open to learning how these values can all be expressed and honored in your life, in healthy ways.

The value of financial stability is important. And, values of rest & play are also important. Don't put them off. Develop an intentional plan for how you'll make space for more rest and play in your life without sacrificing financial stability.

This will drive you toward meaningful goals that you'll have some solid motivation and discipline to pursue, honestly.

When we get intentional and mediate the internal conflict with some awareness, we can create a vision for a life that holds space for all of our most important values.

And then we can strive for that life.

Striving for that life feels purposeful, fulfilling, and good.

Values Can, and Often Do, Evolve

We have core values and values that are more seasonal and fluid in nature.

Core values are the stickiest values we have. They're central to our sense of self and can have a huge impact on our sense of self worth. How we define those values can evolve over time, though, still.

I used to have a core value of honesty. Meaning, if anyone was being dishonest they were a "shitty person".

It's evolved into one of integrity which is more holistic to me. I see integrity as what's happening inside of me is reflected in my actions, words, and whatever I'm expressing outside of me.

This feels healthier. What's happening inside of us, sometimes, are things like denial. Fear. And other emotions and experiences that can cause us to be less honest.

Integrity feels like a more honest and compassionate value to me than the baseline "honesty" value I had before.

It evolved with wisdom, and with my capacity to handle the truth about human beings.

(We're all in denial about something. And we can only be as honest with others as we can be with ourselves).

I just try to be honest about the shit I'm capable of being honest about. And I try to be honest about the things I struggle to be honest about, and allow people to make their choices on how to respond to that. I won't be for everyone and that's okay.

This, to me, is integrity.

Many people start out with a value of empathy, and we grow into a value of compassion.

Some of us go through seasons of valuing money for the sake of making money, to not valuing money at all, to valuing money in healthier ways (as an expression of our other values and needs).

These are just a few examples, but just know it's normal for values to change, come, go, and evolve with the seasons of life.

This means it's important to not just do this practice once, but to be aware of your values as you learn and evolve over time.

Don't Overlook It

Anyway, sometimes life's biggest answers are staring us in the face. The concept of "values" is often undermined and overlooked in mental health and self care circles.

But it's actually one of the most critical things to understand about who you are, what you need, and what kind of life you actually need to be striving for.

We don't need to make this shit up or read self-help books to define ourselves and our visions.

The answers are already in us.


P.S. If you want support with this, his the bookmark below.

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P.P.S. Learning our values is a huge part of healing our sense of self. I'm going to have values exercises in the Community I'm building once it launches. If you're not on the waitlist yet, make sure you sign up below.

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If the road to healing is feeling scary, chaotic, confusing, or isolating for you right now, please read this in full then make the decision that feels right & true for you. Healing our wounds isn’t just about trauma or the past. It’s about discovering how to feel more