Most of us operate in our daily lives based on our to-do lists or things that need to get done. But deeper, we have a set of core values that drive what we do.
What are core values?
Core values are an individual or organization’s fundamental beliefs and highest priorities that drive their behavior.
You can think of core values as an internal compass of principles that drive a person’s or organization’s decisions.
It’s wonderful to identify the core values driving you and try to unlock the core values driving the important people in your life.
Defining your personal values can help shape who you are and what you do. When faced with certain decisions, you can refer back to core values to ensure that you act according to what truly matters to you.
From the outside, people often perceive core values as your character or morality. These beliefs dig down to the very root of our identity and steer us in the direction that feels aligned with who we truly are.
If you feel stuck trying to figure out what is best for you, honing in on your core values could help you:
- Feel more confident in your decisions
- Listen to your intuition or “gut feeling.”
- Have more conviction in your daily life
- Define your version of success
- Make choices that match your overall vision
Your values are ultimately what drive your identity and your decisions. Use this master list of personal values and a step-by-step guide to recalibrate your compass.
What is An Example of A Core Value?
Integrity, kindness, honesty, and financial security are typical examples of personal core values. Others often see these values as your character traits. For example, someone is known for always doing the right thing likely values integrity.
Suppose you have a core value of freedom. In that case, you might avoid traditional work and instead work as an entrepreneur–even if this means working longer hours and having more financial uncertainty.
Another common example relates to money. Pretend like your close friend has a fancy car. When you ride in the car with them, you think, “Wow, someday I am going to buy myself one of these.”
But when you get home, remember that you genuinely value financial security for your family more than flashy material items. Even if you had the money to buy that car, you wouldn’t do it because it doesn’t align with your deeper principles about life.
Master List of Personal Values
As proven, personal values affect nearly every decision you make: from your relationships to your profession to the things you buy. While your childhood may have engrained some values in you, your thoughts and actions can also consciously form others. Scientists have found that unconscious beliefs impact our actions.
Use this master list of personal values to narrow down what matters most to you. We’ve included fundamental values, personal values in relationships, values in work, and values for life as a whole.
Basic List of Beliefs and Values
Biologists have found that the capacity for morality separates humans from animals. Animals cannot differentiate between right and wrong, but humans have the power to use their core values to make moral judgments. To do so, each individual must decide what they value most in life. Here are the most fundamental ethics that people identify with:
Personal Values in Relationships
Relationships are scientifically proven to improve our happiness, health, and longevity. However, a happy relationship must be founded on similar values for two people to thrive together. Use these values to define what is most important to you in a friend or significant other.
- Deep Connections
- Clear Communication
- Quality Time
- Emotional Intelligence
- Showing Appreciation
- Mutual Support
- Equal Relationship
- Traditional Gender Roles
Personal Values in Work
Certain principles guide the type of work you pursue, whether you’re an entrepreneur, employee, or freelancer. Defining your company’s core values can shape your core mission behind selling products or services. They define why and how they conduct business. On a personal level, these values help you determine the broader vision of your career and your daily performance in the workplace.
- Dedication to the Excellence
- Growth Mindset
- Work-Life Balance
- Work Smarter, Not Harder
- Hard Work Ethic
- Dynamic Responses
- Service to Others
- Constructive Criticism
- Fast Pace
- Trial and Error
- Positive Impact
- Learning From Mistakes
Personal Values for Life
Whether you’re setting financial goals or taking a big step in your family life, knowing your values will ensure that each decision fits your overall mission. These values are specific to your personal life:
- Family First
- Positive Attitude
- This Too Shall Pass
- Health and Fitness
- Personal Development
- Extraordinary Experiences
- Financial Security
- Saving Money
- Social Justice
- Environmental Protection
- Animal Rights
- Protecting Others
- Chasing Your Dreams
- Change the World
- Inspire Others
- Personal Expression
- Natural Living
- Pride in Your Work
- Trust Your Gut
- Free Time
- Peace of Mind
- Alone Time
- Going with the Flow
- Inner Truth
Personal Values Examples
Many values may be engrained in you from your upbringing, while others may have established on your own. Values become especially evident when you meet someone raised entirely different from you.
For example, someone raised to value family traditions may always eat dinner around the table. On the other hand, a family who values sports and entertainment may spend their evenings and holidays eating dinner on the couch.
Similarly, a person raised to value charity may donate their extra money to a charitable cause. In contrast, someone who values frugality and financial independence may think putting their extra money in a savings account is best.
Someone who values beauty will spend their money on clothing or makeup, while someone who values health will budget more for fresh food and supplements. You get the idea.
To understand someone’s core values, you can also look at how they make big life decisions.
For example, a person who values freedom and adventure probably spends much of their time and money on travel. Maybe they decide not to have children or buy a house because they prefer to live as a digital nomad traveling the world.
However, someone who deeply values stability, security, and routine will craft their life differently. They may want to settle down, get married, and raise children in a nice neighborhood while working a corporate job. While they may vacation, they are less likely to make radical or spontaneous travel decisions like the example above.
This all comes down to what people want most out of life. None of these examples are right or wrong. Instead, they illuminate how different values play out in people’s daily decisions. Each person will follow their unique path based on their core values.
How Do I Identify My Core Values?
Making a list of your core values can help you determine who and what you want in your life. When your path becomes unclear or you face a challenging situation, you can refer back to your core values and ask, “Is this truly aligned with who I am?”
Your list of core values ultimately answers the question: What do I value most in this world?
To figure out your “true north,” try the CORE value exercise:
- Contemplation: Go somewhere quiet such as a meditative space or a natural area where you can reflect in silence. Turn off your phone and bring a notebook so you can focus. Begin by jotting down random things that come to mind when you ask yourself, “What do I value most in life?”
- Openness: On the next page, journal or reflect for a moment on the topic of authenticity. Ask yourself, “When do I feel most like myself?” Is it when you’re with certain people or doing certain things? You should also reflect on when you feel unaligned with yourself. What feelings are triggered in certain situations that make you betray or act differently to fit in? Be honest with yourself and dig into the underlying motivations behind that self-betrayal. Embracing your authentic self is a strong representation of your core values.
- Respect: Think about who you admire and respect most in this world. Perhaps it’s a parent, an author, or a celebrity public figure. Write down the names of 3 people you highly respect. Then, jot down words next to their names that describe why you look up to them. For example, if you highly respect Denzel Washington, it may be because he gives back to his community and stays humble despite his fame. These are key clues that you value generosity and humility.
- Excitement: Think about what most inspires you to take action. Are you motivated by the excitement of earning enough money to help your parents buy a house to retire in? Or do you feel more inspired by the idea of having your work affect the lives of as many people as possible? Expressing your inner drive can help you tap into what pushes you forward. Is it money, fame, security, impact, charity, or above?
Once you complete the exercise, grab a highlighter and circle the top 5 core values that feel most aligned with who you are. Reflect on what these values mean to you. Make a wallet card, phone wallpaper, or other reminder that you can regularly see to guide you in tough decisions.
Core Values FAQs
Core values are the guiding principles that define your identity and your choices. They help you determine which people, things, goals, and decisions align with your true self. At the deepest level, knowing your core values prevents you from betraying yourself in pursuit of temporary or futile distractions. Values give you a firm footing in your beliefs and a solid internal compass to gauge your decision-making.
Core values are at the root of who you are, but that doesn’t mean they are entirely unchangeable. Drastic personal transformation or unsettling changes in one’s life can warrant reevaluating your established values. However, changing those values may require deep self-reflection, personal growth, and daily practice to rewire old habits.
Some people have negative core beliefs about themselves and others. For example, they may fundamentally believe, “I am not good enough,” “the world is dangerous,” or “all men/women are bad.” They may also have negative values that make them believe lying, cheating, or stealing are OK. When these values become engrained in someone’s psyche, it can lead to all sorts of problems in their life. However, personal development and shifting your priorities in life can help you change your values to be more aligned with the best version of yourself.
Key Takeaways: Core Values are Your North Star in Life
Sometimes the broad vision for your life can be clouded by temptations or distractions. Without clear values, it can feel like navigating through a dark, stormy sea. You have no moral grounds where you can firmly root your feet as you make decisions regarding your relationships, career, and life goals.
Defining your core values is essential for guiding you through uncertain times. Deep down, you probably already know what you value, but putting it into words can help give you even more clarity as you move forward.
Use the CORE value exercise to find your “true north”:
- Contemplation: Go somewhere quiet to reflect on what you value most in life. Take mental notes or jot down your thoughts in a notebook.
- Openness: Ask yourself— When do you feel the most open to being your authentic self? What people or situations make you feel alive? Alternatively, when do you feel drained?
- Respect: Think about who you admire the most and why. This can clue you into particular values you may share with people you look up to.
- Excitement: Reflect on what makes you feel the most inspired. What pushes you to move forward? Is it impact, fame, fortune, charity, family, or all of the above?
At the end of the exercise, narrow down your 3-5 most important core values and keep them in mind as you move through life. Notice when you are in alignment with your values versus when you are betraying your core.
Ultimately, understanding what people value is the secret to mastering people skills and succeeding in business or life. Find your “value language” in this guide to the 10 Value Languages That Will Help You Understand People Better.