Values: how to discover yours


In the previous two posts in this values series, I have discussed what values are and what they are not, as well as the benefits to be had by determining and reflecting upon your values. In this post, the final one of the values series (for now anyway), I will outline how you can determine your own personal values, how to reflect upon them and start doing more things in your life that align with them.

This is not an exercise in determining the values that you feel are the right set of values to have as a person. This is about discovering what matters to you. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to values. Don’t just choose a value because you think you should; choose what really matters to you in life.

Sometimes we can pick up values from our parents, partners, friends, and society as a whole yet they may not actually be that important to you. Be thorough with this exercise so that you can identify how important the values you hold are and whether some of the ones low down on the list are only there because you feel they should be because that’s what other people in your life or society’s value.

The method of determining and reflecting upon your values that I outline here is that which is used within research studies on self-affirmation as opposed to those used within NLP.

  1. Below is a list of values that people often come up with when doing this exercise. This is not an exhaustive list so if you wish to include a value that you feel is missing, you can do so by writing it on the bottom of the list. Read through each value and mark them as follows: Very important to me (V), Quite important to me (Q), or Not important to me (N).
    Acceptance, Adventure, Assertiveness, Authenticity, Beauty, Caring, Challenge, Compassion, Connection, Contribution, Conformity, Cooperation, Courage, Creativity, Curiosity, Encouragement, Equality, Excitement, Fairness, Fitness, Flexibility, Freedom, Friendliness, Forgiveness, Fun, Generosity, Gratitude, Health, Honesty, Humour, Humility, Industrious, Independence, Intimacy, Justice, Kindness, Love, Mindfulness, Order, Open-mindedness, Patience, Persistence, Pleasure, Power, Reciprocity, Respect, Responsibility, Romance, Safety, Self-awareness, Self-care, Self-development, Self-control, Skillfulness, Supportiveness, Trust

  2. Write down on a piece of paper all the values which you have marked as “very important”.

  3. Read through the list of “very important” values and decide which of these values is the most important to you. Spend some time on this step as it can be difficult to single one out as being your most important value. To assist you with this, you might find it helpful to compare the first value in your list to all the others and with each comparison, award a point to the one which you value most. Then move on to the second value in your list and compare it with the others, scoring the most important value of the pairs. And do that for each of the values in your list. Then you can add up the scores for each value and put them into a hierarchy. You’ll then be able to see which comes out as your most important value.

  4. Now think about a time in your life that this value was particularly important to you and made you feel good about yourself. Write down what you remember about the situation and the feelings you had. How did it link to your value?

  5. Now write down why this value is important and meaningful to you.

  6. Values can provide us with direction and motivation that helps us to pursue our goals in life. Set yourself a short term goal to focus on over the next two weeks to help live your life more in accordance with your most important value. Ideally, you want to set a ‘SMART’ goal. That is, a goal that is Specific (what exactly will you accomplish?), Meaningful (is the goal in line with your most important value?), Adaptive: (is this goal likely to improve your life?), Realistic (can this goal be achieved in your life right now?) and Time-framed (can this goal be achieved within the next two weeks?)

In the research studies, participants took approximately 10 minutes to do steps 4 and 5 combined. You can write as little or as much for them but be sure to be thorough. There is no right or wrong answer either.

Above you have focused on the most important value to you but you can repeat steps 3-6 again for the other values which are also very important" to you.

Moving forward, you might like to reflect back on your day and how the events of the day relate and connect to your values. Did what happened and/or how you acted match up with your values or go against them? Doing more of what fits your values helps to boost self-esteem and lift your mood, among other things.

According to McGonigal (2012), research has shown that “in the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.”

In the long term, McGonigal explains how it has been shown to boost student grades as well as “reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing drinking.” Impressive isn’t it? How something so simple can have such an impact!


  • Carpenter, R. (2017). Values-Based Self-Affirmation as an Intervention for Reducing Nonclinical Rumination

  • Cohen, G.L & Sherman, D.K. (2014) The Psychology of Change: Self-Affirmation and Social Psychological Intervention. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 65:333–71

  • Harris, R. (2011). The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt.

  • McGonigal, K. (2012) The Upside of Stress: Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it)