Core Values also know as your belief system are integral to how we see the world around us and influence many if not all our choices. They are the heart of who we are.
I’m not talking about ethics or morals here, nor am I talking about a specific religion or formalized belief system. I’m talking about the values we hold deep inside ourselves that define who we are as human beings.
I was told a while back about a teacher (maybe a professor) who brought a glass jar into class and in front of their students filled it with large rocks only a few could fit in. Then asked “Is the jar full?”, the students answered “yes”.
Then the teacher proceeded to add small pebbles again asking if the jar was full and receiving the answer “yes”.
The teacher then added sand lightly tapping the jar to help the sand move down farther. Again the question was asked & answered the same.
And finally the teacher poured water into the jar. Asking if it was now full. The students also said “yes” one final time.
The teacher proceeded to explain that the jar represented our lives and the contents the values and beliefs in it. If we put the big rocks (core values) in first everything works it’s way around them to fill up the little spaces between. But if we start by filling the jar with pebbles or sand there will never be room for the big rocks.
WHY we need to identify our Core Values in the first place
If we don’t define what is the most important to us in life it’s hard to make space for it.
For instance, my relationship with my son is extremely important in my life. Yet if I let it, my work would take over every single moment I have available thereby removing valuable time I could have with my son.
With out a clear idea of our values it is also easy to get lost or sucked into someone else’s value system.
A while back I joined a pretty popular home based company, they had trips, they had products, they had a ra-ra company culture. At the time I was rather ambiguous about who I wanted to be when I grew up. I was also in the early stages of my own healing journey and this group kinda sucked me and overwhelmed me with all the thoughts they had about who I could be.
On top of all that I was still working on my Self Trust regarding making decisions in my life. My (now) husband had suggested I give it a go, and thought I would learn a lot. Which I did, but ultimately it was not for me.
But in the process of figuring that out I kept trying to change to be who they thought I was, I kept trying to find my life’s joy by defining success they way that they saw it. And when I just couldn’t live up to the expectations I felt like I was a total and complete failure.
The problem wasn’t that their values were wrong, it was that they didn’t align with my own so I ended up fighting against myself every step of the way. And every little “win” that they wanted to celebrate made me feel a little more dead inside.
But by defining our own beliefs and core values we can hold strong to who we are as people and avoid situations like the above. We can hold on to the “Big Rocks” when other people try to dump pebbles or sand in our life.
Knowing your beliefs / core values improves your life!
Can you imagine if I had clearly defined core values BEFORE I started with the company above? I likely would have spent less time freaking out over things that were not important to me in the first place. Saving valuable time and energy for the things I really wanted (and am now doing).
I could have avoided the drama some of the people I met were prone to, and the wonky stuff that got thrown at me.
By knowing what you belive it’s easier to stay focused on working on THAT, instead of what other people say you should. Focusing on big rocks helps us to make room for all the stuff that is really important to us.
It’s also easier to figure out where you want to spend your time, if you know what your big rocks/core values are you can focus on those and let the pebbles and sand shift away or around it. It’s also easier to be firm in saying “no” to someone when you know your core values are not the same as theirs and what they are trying to get you to do.
When you know your own truth it is harder for someone else to manipulate or con you.
The big point I want to make here is that by knowing your core values your emotional, mental, and physical health is reinforced and supported. But ignore them or actively dishonor them and we have a harder time making choices, being reliable, and staying healthy and true to ourselves.
How to determine your core values right now.
First off I want you to know that this is NOT an instant here-is-the-question-to-answer-and-you-will-know-who-you-are type thing. There is no magic bullet that can help define all your core values in a short time frame.
For me I started this work in 2010, at the time I’m writing this it’s mid 2018, and I know there are still some of my values that I am trying to figure out. However the big core ones I’ve already located and in some cases had to change and others reinforce.
So how do we go about finding out what our core values are?
I personally suggest journaling about the following questions to figure it out, it’s what I’ve done and seeing it on paper was immensely helpful.
- Where are you spending your time?
Where you spend your time says a lot about your current priorities. Also are you happy with how your time is being spent? If not what would you rather be doing?
In 2015 I came to the realization that I was spending more time and effort in the financial realm then I wanted to. I wanted to be a Mom and I wanted to be creative, but 90% of my personal time was being spent in and around finances. Once I realized this it was easy to make the choice to leave the company that was requiring so much time and focus that I wanted to put elsewhere.
- What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
I’d say list your top 3 to 5 here, and it can be anything. I know some people who list their kids, or relationship with their spouse. For me it came down to my relationship with myself & how it had grown, and the relationship I had with Mr. B. (seriously he is awesome), the fact that I had gotten out of a bad relationship, and the fact that I was a naturally creative person.
- What are your greatest failures?
Again list your top 3 to 5 here.
- What advice would you give yourself if a friend told you #2 & #3 about themselves?
- Where do you feel most comfortable? Around family and friends? On a stage? Behind a computer?
- What are you doing when you are happiest?
This can be anything… for me it’s singing & writing
- What is the best part of your life right now?
- What is the hardest part of your life right now?
- If you could change any area of your life, what would it be?
- What would you like to be doing more of?
- What would you like to be doing less of?
- What do you want life to look like when you retire? Are 75? 90?
- What is the ONE most important thing that you want to focus on changing, improving or growing in?
Once you’ve gone through these (and it may take a few rounds / tries as they can be rather challenging questions) look for commonalities in your answers.
Are there any words that keep popping up?
Defining your core words.
Pick 5 top words that define you as a person, James Clear has a great list of 50 core values to get you thinking & brainstorming about which ones they might be.
For example here are mine.
- Integrity / Truth
- Loyalty / Trustworthiness
- Kindness / Compassion
- Curiosity / Creativity
- Faith / Justice
Once you have your words how would you answer the following questions?
- How does this show up in your life?
- do your actions line up with your stated priorities?
- WHY is this value important to you?
- How do you want to live this value?
The point here is to see what if anything needs to be done to help re-align yourself with these values. If the world has bombarded you with all sorts of things that go against your core beliefs chances are you’ve tried to change something to help you fit in more and some of your actions have started focusing on the sand or pebbles.
Shortly after I got out of a bad relationship I had a rather disturbing conversation with a good friend of mine. He is one of those guys who just knows who he is. He knows his strengths and weaknesses and doesn’t apologize for having them.
At the time he was my Martial Arts Coach, and was working with me on learning to fall. He brought up the topic of trust (we don’t tend to talk about this enough in our current society), specifically he talked about self-trust and trust between a coach and student.
To this day I still replay pieces of that conversation in my head.
Part of the reason why it stuck so strongly was that it was about trust. Trust is a big thing for me, I’ve been in an abusive relationship, the thing I was repeatedly told while there was that I couldn’t trust myself EVER. And I couldn’t trust other people, not for help or to protect me. I lived that for years, and when someone called me on it (that I wasn’t trusting anyone) I hadn’t gotten to the point where I could recognize that was an issue let along how to fix it.
Essentially he had just reminded me that one of my core values was not something I was living true to.
And it’s taken a while to figure out exactly how this trust thing works since then. It may be a core value to have trust (specifically with those close to me), but that doesn’t mean that I value giving my trust to everyone and anyone blindly. There needs to be a balance. So I had to ask myself how I wanted this to show up in my own life?
And then work on getting it there.
Repeating the process – where do you want to be?
The above questions are more focused on where you are right now. If you’ve found some that you want but are not acting on then this is where you want to define them more as to what they should look like in the future.
I’ve actually run the above as a “right now” thing and then again as a “my ideal self” version. The “my ideal self” version is what I’m working on getting to (see the words above) and it’s where I focus my efforts and time. I use the “right now” version to compare and see how far I’ve come as it shows me my starting point.
How to Implement the Shift
How you implement this is going to look different for everyone, we won’t all have the same words or core values.
But I started with 1 word a month and focused on bringing 5 minutes a day into my life.
For example, my word trustworthiness. I did a few things,
- I wrote it at the top of my daily planned every day so I repeatedly saw it.
- Every time I saw it I reminded myself that I was building more trustworthiness into my life.
This ended up playing out in a number of ways, I started taking ownership of my own mistakes, and I stopped speaking negatively as much as I had been. I also started working on Trusting myself more without really meaning to. I learned to trust my body, and I found that my choices started aligning more with who I was instead of who I thought I should be.
No matter what your core values are, they are important. Knowing them and how they can guide your life and your thoughts about yourself can really change your world.
I’d love to hear from you what you have done to identify and live your core beliefs, send me an email or comment below.