We hear a lot about core values—content creators, our entrepreneurial friends and even the companies we work for all seem to have a proud set of core values they champion everywhere.

But why are core values important and crucially, how do we discover our own ones and infuse our lives with them?

I briefly touched on mapping out core values before on this site but this guide will cover everything you need to know about discovering and living your core values in day-to-day life.

Discovering your core values

Our core values are our personal belief systems—they’re the key ideas, principles, characteristics, states and ethics that orient our actions and ways of behaving. As such, it’s vital we become cognizant of them. Like with our goals they are inexorable, so we might as well make them explicit in order to get the best out of them.

Discovering your core values (also known as personal values) is a soul-searching exercise involving self-reflection and visualisation. Get a pen and paper ready (you can do this on a computer or tablet but the more tactile the process the better in this instance) and prepare to journal.

Reflect on these fundamental questions to discover your core values and journal your answers:

– What do you stand for?

– How do you want to behave as a person?

– How do you want others to consider you?

– How do you want to be treated?

– How do you want to treat other people?

Your journalling will likely yield whole statements. This is significant as they reveal specific assertions behind what’s important to you in your life and how you want to go about following them.

But it’s also vital to encapsulate the essence of your statements in a word or two. For example, the statement “I stand for being tough in the face of struggle and adversity” could be captured with the word ‘Resilience’.

This will make your values easier to remember—it’s much simpler to recall a word or two in your mind than to memorise entire phrases. You’ll also be able to store your value words more accessibly so that you have them on hand as a reminder and inspiration such as on your phone, note on your wall or elsewhere. Find words that summarise your value statements in a nutshell so that you have a list of core value words.

In line with the notion of accessibility, you’ll also want to keep your list of core values to a manageable size. The journalling exercise may bring forth a deluge of assertions about who you are and how you want to live, or it may yield only a handful of responses. In either case, your final list of core values should be a reasonable size, somewhere between 5-12 values is good. This will reinforce your focus towards the most important values you hold plus make them easier to remember.

Why Are Core Values Important Discovering

Why are core values important?

One answer to the question “Why are core values important?” is that core values won’t disappoint you. As Luke Burgis, veteran entrepreneur writes in a guide on freeing oneself from mimetic desire:

It’s possible to develop anti-mimetic machinery in your guts – things that have traditionally been called virtues, or habits of being, such as prudence, fortitude, courage and honesty – that keep you grounded in something deeper even while the mimetic waters swirl around you. In other words, there are certain perennial human values and desires that are worth pursuing no matter what because they have been proven to never disappoint. 

Someone with strong underlying values – whether they be religious or philosophical or have another basis – is usually less susceptible to the winds of unhealthy or temporary mimetic desires that lack substance.

Notice how some of these “perennial human values” are indicative of many core values that will arise following the value journalling exercise, things like courage and fortitude or related terms. These principles will orient you towards a flourishing life no matter your starting position. Think of it this way: how can you go wrong with resilience or fortitude? How can creativity be unaspiring? How can being mindful of your health lead you astray?

This doesn’t mean you should put those exact values into your list, they’re just examples. But chances are a good chunk of your list will be comprised of similar perennial values because they are powerful from a psychological, sociological and ethical perspective.

Burgis adds:

It’s likely that if you can’t be happy right where you’re at, right now, then you probably won’t be happy anywhere. Your happiness will always be something ‘out there’, beyond the horizon, and mimetic desire will continue to exert an unhealthy control over you.

On the other hand, there are some enduring values – such as health, creativity or the opportunity to share meals with other people – that never go out of style, and there are as many ways to pursue them as there are people on this planet. Lifestyle is something that emerges from one’s values and discipline, not something you find at a particular zip code or via the keys to a different house or van.

This ties in with what I’ve said many times before—going abroad shouldn’t be treated as a form of escapism.

Sure, going abroad can bring about a change of scene, a fresh start and new perspective if you relocate.

But the truth is if you don’t think about why are core values important and align your lifestyle with them, you’re never going to be happy no matter where you are in the world. If you don’t work on conquering your mind and developing an internal locus of control, you won’t experience enduring contentment and stability wherever you live.

It’s a shame that the modern travel industry is predicated on packaging tourism overseas as escapism. Highlight whatever it can that’s lacklustre, banal and jaded about wherever you are and oversell whatever is compelling, novel and intriguing about somewhere else (usually a place that gives it the most commission). One man’s familiar trash is another man’s exotic treasure after all.

But this site has never been about hyping travel and relocation abroad as an easy fix to life’s problems, it’s about synthesising the impact of sound personal development with overseas lifestyle design to make the most out of the finite time we have on this planet. Understanding and embodying your core values in day-to-day life is a huge part of doing this well.

Why Are Core Values Important Perennial

Living your core values

After reflecting on why are core values important and creating your list, you’re all set to embody them right?

It’s not quite as simple as that. Human nature is a peculiar thing and simply knowing what’s important to you doesn’t entail automatic alignment with it. Without conscious effort, we risk incongruency with our values.

As a starting point, actively seek where you can incorporate your core values into your daily life. If you have a routine or schedule, reflect on how your values can steer the direction of how you approach each task. Of course not every value can be embodied in every task but you’re going to find much more satisfaction in the process if you adhere to the ones that can.

Let your core values imbue your life even outside of your standard daily affairs. Be comfortable, even glad in foregoing activities that aren’t aligned with them. As a guiding beacon, your values steer you towards what is meaningful and fulfilling. That which is unaligned is trivial and siphons your precious time and effort away from that which you know is truly enriching. Don’t let peripheral matters pull you away from them for too long, that will eventually bring existential unease, the precursor to turmoils such as mid-life crises.

As mentioned before, it’s useful to store your values in external form somewhere such as a memo on your smartphone or sticky note on a wall so that you have all of them on hand as a reminder. At important decision points or when you’re feeling misguided, you can whip them out to ensure you’re cohering with them in times of doubt.

At their purest, core values are the sweet spot between our gut, heart and mind—they combine the emotional intelligence of the instinctual brain with the considered direction of the rational brain. This is why they’re the ultimate go-to heuristic in the face of uncertainty. Whether personal, corporate or societal, values guide us and the groups we belong to since we know whatever the outcome, we’re aligned with that which is purposeful.

At the end of a day, no matter how challenging, we get a sense of satisfaction from sticking to our values—the internal harmony from knowing we’re aligned with that which is existentially significant to us.

Why Are Core Values Important Living

Summary – Why are core values important?

Core values are at the heart of our thought processes—they shape how we view the world and behave in it. When we understand our core values, we can navigate through life better. Discovering our core values is the first step to externalising our personal belief system. Using introspection and journalling, you can identify a handful of values that best represent who you are.

Many core values are perennial, they never go ‘out of fashion’ and provide lasting meaning and fulfillment. There’s a beauty in knowing that your core values will provide you with lifelong orientation as long as you stay true to them.

Discovering your values is only half the battle, you must lead a life congruent with them if they’re to be of any use. See how you can embody your core values in day-to-day tasks and use them as a guiding beacon when faced with tough decisions.

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