Values: what they are and what they are not


Values act like an internal compass, guiding and motivating you as you move through your life. Values are what matter to you in the grand scheme of things, they are the personal qualities you want to have, they are what you want to stand for and be known for.

I first became aware of the process of value elicitation when I was on an NLP Practitioner Diploma course. For many years I dismissed the process as I didn’t see how it could help someone move forward with their mental health issues. Last year I read a couple of books which briefly mentioned values and how affirming them could help with anxiety disorders and increasing self-esteem among other things and that there was a substantial evidence base for reflecting upon your own values in a number of different areas. So I was intrigued and embarked on further reading and research to find out how I could use it effectively with my clients and of course in a way which is supported by evidence.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be sharing with you what values are and what they are not, the benefits to be had from discovering and affirming them, as well as how to go about doing so.

In this first post of this three-part series, I am going to talk about what values are and what they are not.

I’ve briefly mentioned above what values are so let me expand upon that by providing you with a few examples of what someone might hold as a value. For me, curiosity is an important value. It drives much of what I do day to day. When I sit by the canal of a Summer evening (which feels a long way off right now) I’m constantly looking around at my surroundings, watching the wildlife and wondering what the name of a plant is or whether ducks can smell. I have always been someone who questions things and wants to know more about a subject. Of course, I have areas that I am particularly interested in such as hypnosis and mental health and read and research a lot about these subjects, but I also often look up other stuff off the back of what I do in my life. Whether ducks have a sense of smell was one of them from what I recall, although I would probably not be able to tell you what the outcome of my search was. When I binge-watched the TV series Vikings, I spent a lot of time researching Vikings, their history and customs, which then led me on to find out more about the Anglo Saxons and how they arrived here in Britain. I’m sure my research went off on a few other tangents along the way too. Proper old school surfing the net! New knowledge excites me and because I participate in activities that align with my values, I feel happy, I feel like my time was well spent doing the activity, and of course feel good about myself.

Someone might value honesty, and strive to be honest, truthful and sincere with themselves as well as others. Or they might value courage and aim to be courageous and brave, persisting in the face of fear, threat, and hard times. Or perhaps they might value kindness and aspire to be kind, compassionate, considerate, and caring toward themselves and others.

We are all different and as such, we all have different values and what matters to us. We often have multiple values although some will be more important and drive us more than others do.

Values are not the same as goals. Goals are tasks, objects, and situations that can be completed, possessed, and finished. As I’ve already mentioned, values guide you in how you want to live your life. They direct you forward and keep you moving through life. They are ongoing because you can always be working towards having the values that you hold dear. Whereas goals are what you want to achieve along the way of living your valued life. As mentioned above, someone who values kindness would be kind and compassionate towards themselves and other people. A goal relating to their value might be to do voluntary work at a homeless shelter or follow a career in nursing, for example.

Values are not feelings. They most definitely produce feelings, both positive and negative. We experience positive feelings when we carry out activities which align with our values and experience negative feelings when we go against our values or do not do regular activities that align with our values. Values and feelings are separate. I mentioned above that I feel happy when I am curious, one of the values I view as important to my life, but my value isn’t happiness (although that is a lovely value to have of course).

On occasions, ensuring that we stick to our values can be uncomfortable, maybe being curious means embarking on a higher level of study that takes me out of my comfort zone for example. Whilst feeling a negative feeling in the short term, in the long term I will feel that sense of happiness in having done something to further knowledge and understanding which satisfies my curiosity.

In the next blog post in the values series, I will discuss the benefits of determining and reflecting upon your own personal values.


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

  • Hayes, S.C., Smith, S. (2005) Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life: The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy.

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