Using personal values to find a way out of feeling lost


What are your personal values?


This is a question I ask a lot. Most of the time, it is met with confusion. It’s no surprise when the pressures of society leave us so little time for self-reflection. As we approach the new year, I’m considering reevaluating my own core values. For those who like traditions, consider this a different version of new year’s resolutions, but a bit better!


What are values?


Your personal values are the things that are important to you. They are your own personal principles that you live by. The ideals that determine whether an action is permissible in your life. Your own personal law, or rules if you like. Although this wording is a bit too strict, because you oversee this law, you hold the final decision, and you have the choice to adapt and change your rules. However, if your values are true to you, you’re unlikely to want to fiddle them.




Why values are important


People spend a lot of time in therapy, exploring who they are. Trying to understand their behaviours and work out solutions to a current problem. Personal values do not necessarily fix a problem, but give a structure to the solution. It is often the case that people choose therapy to change or manage a situation with no idea of how to do it. It’s fair to say there are many people who feel a little lost.


When you feel lost, you have no idea who you are or where you’re going. You probably know where you want to end up, but the journey between here and there is invisible. Working out your core values will lay the foundations for you to walk along, so the journey to your desired destination is a clear path rather than a muddy bog. Holding or recognising your personal values will give you a feeling of control over your life. Knowing your values will help you set boundaries, make important decisions, choose relationships, and find your purpose.




How to find your personal values


If you currently feel content with life, it’s likely you either know your core values or subscribe to some without realising. If you’ve lost your way, it doesn’t mean you don’t have values. The best way to check for any core values is to think about your lifestyle and the reasons for it. Everything in your life is a choice, there is always an alternative. The alternative might not feel achievable or desirable, but it is there. Sometimes the alternative will require tough work, put you outside your comfort zone, or take you away from something that is a greater priority. When you ask yourself “why do I do that?” to everything in your life, you’ll start to find priorities, which will translate to your core values.  


If you’re someone who wants to change something specific about yourself or your life, your personal values will help you. The first question to ask yourself is why you want to change. The answer will form the basis of a personal value. It is rare to think about your own moral standards, but it seems reasonable that if you want to change something, it is because you do not meet your own expectations. If you get to the nitty gritty of your expectations, you will find more foundations for your core values.


Five Personal Values


Holding around five personal values is the recommendation. When you have too many, it becomes harder to live in full alignment with your values. Values are a little like priorities, recognising them and committing to them helps you live authentically and passionately. Some values are self-transcendence values, for example, a vegetarian might value the welfare of animals above their desire for meat. Someone with a passion for the ocean might make conscious decisions about buying plastic. Other values hold more personal relevance. For example, if you consider career progression one of your core values, working on this will take a bigger portion of your resources than other parts of your life.


It might take some time to fully adapt and change habits once you have cemented your values, but conscious consideration makes it habitual and therefore easier. For example, if you decide your health is a core value, you might still catch yourself eating the highly processed, low fat, high sugar, snack bar that you’ve eaten every day forever, without consideration. By writing your values down and checking your everyday actions and habits alongside your values, you’ll start to make different choices that will help you live in alignment with your chosen values and well on the way to your desired destination.