Values are the things that matter most to you, describe the person you want to be and what you want your life to be about. They are not just what you want, but how you want to behave, the things you are passionate about, and the way you want to treat yourself and others. They are important because they help you to understand the “why” behind what you do and the choices you make, like a compass that guides you in the direction you want your lives to go.

This is particularly important when energy is a limited and precious resource. This means that thinking about how and where you spend your energy can become a difficult, frustrating and sometimes anxiety provoking choice. Understanding our values can help us to think about what is truly important to us, and which direction it is worth spending energy going towards.

It is important to remember that values are different to your ‘goals’ in life. Many people will want to get back into work, socialise more or do more exercise, and these are goals which be achieved and have an endpoint. Values tell us why you want to do these things, and are often life-long and describe how you want to behave not just in this moment, but on an on-going basis. The benefit of this is that your values are always available to you, in every moment of your life, and there are many ways each and every day that you can move towards them. The video below by Russ Harris explains the differences between living life by your goals and what it might be like to live our life in line with our values, even when things don’t go to plan.

Remember, values are individual and personal to you. Everyone is likely to have different things in their lives that are more important, it does not mean that any value is “right” or “wrong”. Values are also not about what you should do or must do, they are about how you want to be, and what you desire.

Try and take some time to discover your own values, so that you can start to move towards them a little more each day.

  • How can I discover my values?

    There are many ways to find out what values you have, and you probably know some of them already! There is no right or wrong way to do this. Below, you will find some helpful exercises and tools that can help you discover your values.

    One way to think about your values is by doing a values card sort. 

    Another way of exploring your values it asks yourself the following question.

    Imagine that it’s ten years from now, and you have gathered all your closest friends and relatives to celebrate the last ten years of your relationship with them. It could be a small event, with only a few of your most intimate family, or maybe it’s a big party with everybody you care about. It’s your imagination, so you can make it look however you want.

    Now imagine the person you are most close to. Imagine that they stand up to make a speech about you and your life together with them, what you mean to them, what you stand for, and the role you have played. Imagine them saying what it is, deep in your heart, you would most want to hear (not what they might realistically say).

    Imagine them describing you, your strengths, and how you have contributed to your relationship with them. Close your eyes and take a couple of minutes.

    Ask yourself, what did this exercise tell you about your values? What does it tell you about the sort of person you want to be?

  • What’s next?

    Once you know what your values are, the next step is to begin to look for ways to move towards these values. Think about things you can do, or say, in different areas of your life. You don’t have to follow your values in every moment of the day, and it can be about something small that helps you move towards that value over time. You might find that you discover entirely new ways to move towards your values. It can be a little like making a cake with the same ‘flavour’, even if the recipe has to be different. For example, if you value nature, this may not mean going for a hike, or a long walk in the park. It could mean sitting in the park and savouring the sounds, smells and sights around you. Or, it could mean bringing nature to you, with flowers and house plants.