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5 Steps To Define & Change Your Values

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Become the best possible version of yourself!

Personal values are ethical principles that form your internal beliefs about what is good and what is important to you. They are what you stand for, your viewpoints, and your outlook on life. They define you as a person, guide you in your decision-making, and goal setting and help determine how to conduct yourself. You manifest them in your personality traits, the way you behave alone, and with others, and of course how you respond to life’s challenges.

Our values provide us with our understanding of what is right and what is wrong, our moral compass. It’s called our conscience. It speaks to us, whether it condemns or praises us. It acts as your judge to keep your behaviours aligned with your values.

Most of our values have developed unconsciously and automatically. They are a conglomerate of what was subconsciously impressed upon us in our formative years, modified by our own experiences as we progress through life.
Then there are the values that we have adopted from the ones we most admire in life or modified by an absolute rejection of what our early experiences were. Values of this nature are often far more consciously determined, often due to abusive or uncaring beginnings.

Is it possible then, to define & change our values? Of course, but few take the time for conscious reflection to do so. Even if the values they hold no longer serve them. This may prove to be too challenging a task for some, some may wonder why we would want to. Yet many, counsellors, coaches, and self-development advocates see this as the first step in our growth journey. That is because knowing ourselves and what we value in life is the 2nd step to making conscious and meaningful change.

Why change you might ask? Well, there is no need if you are truly content with your lot in life. However, I will go out on a limb here and guess since you are reading this article, things may not be as rosy as you would like them to be. And that is ok; the 1st step is recognizing there is a need for change. Not berating yourself for being inadequate or no good with shitty values, but rather taking stock of what you have, weeding through it, keeping what serves you, adjusting some slightly skew-whiff values, and releasing those that are just plain rubbish.

Change is a part of life; you are forever evolving, growing, and learning. To create a new life for ourselves, one where we are happier and more fulfilled is a totally acceptable need. To achieve this we need to change our mindset from which our actions will follow, but initially, we need to look at the values which become the stable rock foundation on which we build.

So What Are the Steps in Defining and Changing Your Core Values?


Step 1: Recognise the need for change, kindly and gently evaluate where things went/are going not to your liking. Take on the role of the observer or pretend you are reading a book of your life. What changes need to occur within the heroine’s mindset to bring about a happy ending? By looking through such a filter you eliminate the negative non-constructive criticism and look upon yourself with the compassion we usually reserve for a friend.


Step 2: Know yourself and what you value in life. Sit down and dream of a perfect life. What does that look like? Reflect on your past, consider your experiences. When you reflect on the mistakes of your youth, you learn life lessons. Identify the times you were happiest, most proud, satisfied, and fulfilled. Who are you, what do you look like, what do you say, and how do you behave? What values support the existence of such a being? When you understand the reason why you act the way you do, then your values become more structured and clearer to you.


Step 3: Identifying values that do not serve us, is just as important. Getting clear on what we don’t need anymore, what no longer resonates is vital to being able to release it. I note throughout my research therapists and well-meaning coaches say “just let go, decide you don’t need it and ditch it, flip the switch”, and for some, it might be as easy as that. However, others struggle to hold on to the devil they know, the warm poo (stinky but comfortable), as opposed to venturing out into the cold unknown.

Thus another way to release is to become aware of what we need gone and allow ourselves not to hang on to it. A subtle change of thinking but it does make a difference. You are not throwing or switching but rather loosening your grip and allowing the values you want to fill the space between. Eventually finding what no longer serves you is gone.

Step 4: Prioritise your top values. Let’s look at what are the top moral values that might influence your priorities in life. There are quite a few, here are some to get you started;

  • Respect for life
  • Self-control
  • Courage
  • Equality
  • Acceptance
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
  • Forgiveness
  • Freedom
  • Honesty
  • Resilience
  • Humility
  • Love
  • Integrity

Now start a list of your own, taking into consideration the life you dreamt up in step 2, as well as the people you most admire. What is it that you admire about them? What behaviours or habits do they exhibit and what values are these founded on? If it is a friend or family member, go ask them what they value. Write up a list of the beneficial behaviours and your top values that underpin them.

Step 5: Bring about change. As you encounter different situations every day momentarily, stand back and assess what’s best to do for a particular circumstance. Don’t just dive into them immediately with an unconscious response; rather tailor your response so that it aligns with your top values. Yes, it will feel awkward as anything at first, but with time and practice it will, by design become second nature.

Here too I dare to remind you to be kind, new habits, behaviours, and values will not be adopted and perfected in a day. You will stuff up, regress, and some days behave like the person you do not wish to be. That is OK, it will take time. Allow yourself to make mistakes and generally show yourself such compassion as you would wish to show others.

Finally, in the words of Mary Oliver; it is “Your one wild and precious life”, how you live it is up to you. There is no judgment here if you don’t reach for the stars if stars don’t interest you. I only urge that you are kind to yourself and wish you all the best on the journey of self-exploration and the establishing of values that resonate with your inner self, for I truly believe this to be a path to ultimate contentment in life.

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