How to live by your core values

Throughout my time as a coach, the question ‘how can I live by my core values?’ is often floated, and once realised, unearths clarity in thought, word and action.  What becomes an interesting exercise is to explore what you SAY you care about most versus what behaviours you exhibit that VALIDATE how much you care about that value.

For example, many people will SAY that family or love are near the top of the list of their core values, yet they spend 60 hours a week away from their families in a job they don’t love.  When behaviours conflict with what we say is important to us, it often causes internal conflict and stress that can only be relieved if we change our values or take a different action.

Why do personal core values matter?

Living your personal values allows for the authenticity of creating a future tailored to who you are. Embedded deep in our subconscious, our choices align with the values we hold. However, what if that path isn’t so clear? What if the fork in the road looks more like a 7-way intersection? 

Everyone has their own bespoke set of values. Whether business competition drives you or the value of family and adventure, you can make more precise choices when discovering your authentic values and living by them. You’re able to feel better in the decision-making process and live a life more fulfilled. 

Which of your values are conflicted at the moment?  Ask yourself the question about what is essential and why. Here are some example questions to get you started:

  1. What do I care about most in life right now?
  2. What do I care about most at work right now?
  3. How do the people I spend the most time with reflect these values?

Define your core values

Next, circle your most important 3 or 5 values. For each of these, write down three or more actions that define what it would mean for you to live these values. For example, if you value loyalty, activities might include forgiving a friend for a betrayal or negotiating fair treatment at work to ensure your commitment to your employer.

Prioritise your core values

Prioritising your values means choosing actions that best honour who you are. It may not be easy, but it is always worth it. Looking through the values you listed previously, ask yourself the following: 

  1. Which of my values am I living every day, right now (core value), and which are more aspirational for the future?
  2. What steps/actions am I willing to take to live one of my aspirational values more fully in the present?

My core values derived from the exercise above are:

  1. Family – which brings me love and belonging
  2. Health & Well-Being
  3. Life is fun and easy
  4. Honour the evolution
  5. Live life out loud
  6. Creative & financial freedom
  7. Thirst for knowledge
  8. Hunger for experience

Family drives nearly every decision I make, and the freedom of working for myself gives me the ultimate flexibility to be with my immediate family any time they need me.  Given the health crisis we currently find ourselves in, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  While the emotional energy of ‘family’ sits primarily with my wife and two boys here in New Zealand, my role as a son, son-in-law, brother, uncle, nephew, great-nephew plays a significant part in how connected I feel to broader whānau.

My definition of health & well-being used to be relatively narrow (physical health) but has expanded over time into mental, emotional, spiritual health and includes my sense of purpose, social, community, and financial aspects of well-being. (Derived from Well-Being by Tom Rath and Jim Harter).  It has led me to explore mindfulness, local volunteering for diving and mental health strategies far more thoroughly than had I not prioritised this value.

These values are framed in order of priority for me most of the time. 

As a result of the order, it becomes easy to make decisions (e.g. giving up an excellent job for a life with my wife), and my inner compass rarely conflicts.  During moments of indecision, my list of values is an easy reference point to help identify a way forward. 

If you are unhappy with parts of your life—your suffering, stress, unease, misalignment or worry—then it might be time to go inside yourself and honestly answer the questions “What is important to me?” and “How do I want to live my life?”.

As time passes, I often reflect on amending or improving on these values, informed mainly by those that I recognise are prominent in the people I care about most, where I am keen to develop shared values.

Practise values

Developing my core values was closely followed by the value set I designed for my coaching and mentoring practice.  Essentially, this brought a ‘workplace’ lens to my core and aspirational values, created in a highly harmonious way.

So what are my practice values?

  • Do what I love & love what I do (inspired by strengths philosophy)
  • Live my why & help others find theirs (inspired by Simon Sinek)
  • Every week is a 7-day weekend (inspired by Ricardo Semler)
  • Work when inspired. The rest of the time, play!
  • Transparency and confidentiality

My purpose and value themes of Make Dreams Come True, Life is Fun and Easy, Live Life Out Loud and Creative & Financial Freedom feel highly congruent with the list above. These ensure that I can live my personal and professional values simultaneously with ease.

How are your personal and workplace values congruent?  When might they conflict? What is one change today that you can make to better align with who you are?


About the author

Christopher Miller

Christopher Miller

I am passionate about helping and inspiring small business owners to create their purpose, live their values and experience success, happiness and fulfilment by owning a business they can be proud of.
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