How to Determine Your Values: Living a Life That Matters

Life is full of choices, unless you can figure out how to determine your values, you won't know which path to take.
Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

As I’ve previously said, people who are extremely analytical in their work can sometimes be completely adrift in their lives because they don’t know what they’re moving toward in their personal lives: they don’t know their values. This is what I call the work-life paradox: In business, the goals and values are spelled out for us, in life, it’s our responsibility to determine what matters to us.

So how to determine your values? There are a variety of strategies, I’ll start with the simplest methods that worked for me and then go from there:

  1. Make a List

    Take 5 minutes and write down every possible value you can think of. If you need inspiration, can use google and start with a list like this one. Once you have a list of 20-30, you can start crossing them out: get your list down to ten, down to five, down to three, two, one. Once you get to five, you can rank them as well – in each exercise, I recommend you keep track of no more than five values – you’re trying to get direction, after all.

  2. Write Your Own Obituary

    A little morbid, but a tactic I found effective, plus it forces you to change your perspective. Imagine that you have died after a long and fulfilled life. What do you want to be known for? When people talk at your funeral, what do you want them to say? I recommend whole paragraphs for this one.

    You might notice that some of the values you discover are very different than the values you think matter today: if so, why? Is there something you might be putting off? Get to it, tomorrow isn’t promised.

  3. Look to the People You Admire

    Whether it’s a friend, mentor, or a historical figure, we all have people in our lives that we admire and who we aspire to be more like. Choose 2-3 people and write down their values. Better yet, ask them in person if you can – even if it’s someone you don’t know well, you might be surprised how willing people are to talk about what they care about!

  4. Ask the People Close to You

    Often times our friends and family have a clearer picture of our values – or what we seem to value – than we do. Find a person that you trust and who knows you well, and ask them what they think your values are. I recommend you do this after trying to determine them yourself: you may be surprised at how different their perception of your values is! If there is a substantial difference, have a conversation on why: it may turn out that you have a blind spot in your awareness.

    If you’re worried about having the conversation, just remember that vulnerability builds intimacy. These are conversations worth having.

It’s also important to remember that your values will shift over time: it’s important to repeat these exercises about once a year, if not more and determine your values regularly.

That way, you’ll always have a relatively fresh list of the things that matter to you, and you’ll be able to better structure your goals and your life around what matters. You’ll be better equipped to analyse your problems and habits, because you’ll be able to reflect on whether they’re representative of your values (or not). In this way, it’ll be much easier for you to live a life that matters – to live an Analytical Life.

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