Core Values: List, Examples, and Exercises
What are your core values? Explore our values list, examples, and exercises to get a better understanding of which values matter most to you.
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Are you struggling to find your core values? A good place to start is to better understand what values are. Then you can begin to explore which ones resonate most with you. So, in this article, we'll help you explore your values and do some exercises to better understand how these values operate in your life.
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What Are Core Values? (A Definition)
A core value can be defined as "an enduring belief upon which a person acts". Values have a cognitive component in that they involve thoughts about preferable ways to be, live, or act. Values also have an emotional component because we feel positively or negatively about them (they resonate with us or they don't). And, values have a behavioral component in that values often (but not always) drive our behavior (Limthanakom, Lauffer, Mujtaba, & Murphy Jr, 2008).
Core values vs. beliefs
Values are similar to attitudes and beliefs in that they have these cognitive, emotional, and behavioral parts. But, researchers suggest that values are more enduring and long-lasting than either beliefs or attitudes (Limthanakom, Lauffer, Mujtaba, & Murphy Jr, 2008). We may change our beliefs about a particular topic (like a political party), but it's unlikely that the values driving that shift changed. For example, let's say we value kindness. We might believe one politician lives that value at one time and another politician lives that value at another time. We shift our belief (that one political party is better than the other), but we don't shift our values.
Different types of core values
There are thought to be two different types of core values: instrumental values and terminal values. Instrumental values are about desirable ways to act or behave (e.g., honest, responsible, loving). Terminal values are about desirable end states (e.g., health, freedom, family security; Gibson, Greenwood, & Murphy Jr, 2009). It seems that each of us varies somewhat in the extent to which we have instrumental and terminal values. That is, some of us may prefer one type of value over the other (Allen, Ng, & Wilson, 2002). But we all have both of these types of values that guide our lives to some extent.
Why Core Values Are Important
Values and actions are tightly linked—whatever we value and believe influences how we act. Perhaps this is because we humans really don't like inconsistency. So we strive not to act in ways that go against our values.
In one series of studies, researchers showed how subtly shifting our values shifts our behavior. For example, one study showed that when people were primed with security values, their curiosity decreased. On the flip side, another study showed that priming people with self-direction values increased curiosity (Maio, Pakizeh, Cheung, & Rees, 2009).
Another set of studies showed that priming people with achievement values increased their success at completing a puzzle but made them less helpful to the experimenter. On the flip side, priming people with a benevolence value decreased their success at the puzzle and increased their helpfulness (Maio, Pakizeh, Cheung, & Rees, 2009).
All this is to say that the core values we hold influence our behavior and therefore our lives. That's why it's so important to be clear about our values. If we are clear about our values and keep them top of mind then they can guide us in ways that are likely to get us to where we want to go and make us a bit happier.
Video: Why We Need Core Values
How to Find Your Core Values
There are tons of values to choose from. So how do you find your core values? Well, we all hold many, many values. Your core values are probably your top 3-5 values. You get these by rank-ordering your values. This can sometimes be tough because all your core values may be important to you. But, by rank-ordering them, you'll better understand which values are the most important to you and which values most influence your life (or which values you would most like to influence your life).
Core Values Quiz
One of the easiest ways to assess your core values is with a simple quiz. Just ask yourself how important a bunch of different values are to you. There are many more values than the ones that are included on this quiz, but this can be a good place to start.
Rate the following values on a scale from 1 (Not important) to 10 (Very important).
Once you are done with the quiz, go through your answers and make a list of your top 5 highest scoring values. Now, rank order these in order of importance—so your most important core value would be number 1, your second most important core value would be number 2, etc... Then you'll have your top core values.
Video: Who Are You? Unleashing your Core Values
Examples of Core Values
For those of you who just completed the core values quiz, you should now have your top 5 core values. Here is an example from when I did this activity. My highest-ranked values were: Creativity, Kindness, Freedom, Achievement, and Equality. Ranking these was hard, but I settled on this order for my core values list:
For some people who do this activity, you may notice that your values are similar. It's okay to group values that seem similar. In fact, it can be helpful to do so. That way you get a better sense of your core values across different domains of life. For example, I might group Kindness and Equality together in my values list because they represent a similar thing to me. More specifically, I value being good to others, and this includes things like kindness, empathy, and fair treatment.
I suggest an end goal of having 3-4 values that are clearly distinct and represent different parts of yourself.
Personal core values vs. company core values
So far we've been talking about personal core values. But it's helpful to keep in mind we may also have a different set of values in different contexts in our lives. For example, our company may have a set of values that we live by at work—for example, maybe our company's values are Customer Service, Honesty, and Ingenuity.
We might even have slightly different values in the context of different relationships. For example, perhaps love and honesty are core values in the context of our marriage while fun and liveliness are core values in the context of our friendships. Just keep in mind that it's okay to have these variations in different parts of your life.
List of Core Values
If you feel like the core values quiz above missed some of your important values, here is a list of even more values. Feel free to add these to your core values list if they are highly important to you.
More Core Values Lists
Here are a few more core values lists for a more complete collection.
Core Values Exercises
Values Exercise #1: Making values actionable
For each of your top five values, add a verb to it. That is, describe for yourself how you can live each of your core values.
Values Exercise #2: How do you live your values?
Once you know your core values, how can you use this information to boost your well-being? Well, in general, it feels better to live our values than not live our values. So here's an exercise to better understand how you currently live your values and how you might engage in additional behaviors that are aligned with your values.
Hopefully, these exercises can help you make the best use of knowing your values. That way, your values can help you boost your well-being.
More Articles Related to Values
Want to keep getting to know yourself and your values better? Here are some other articles to read: