Why it’s important to identify, know, and reflect on your values.

Why is it important to identify, know, and reflect your values?

The simplest answer is time.

Our time is the most precious resource we have, so it is important to think critically about how we spend it. And, unfortunately, because our time is limited we have a finite number of things we can do within our lifetime. So to make life meaningful, which research suggests is important for health and longevity, it is important to narrow down what you believe you should be spending your time doing.

Once you identify what you value most, you can more easily reflect on how you spend time.

For example, if you record an entire week’s activities, hour-by-hour, labeling each activity with a “yes it aligns with my values,” or “no this doesn’t align with my values,” do you feel like you’re spending your time wisely? Are there obvious activities you could eliminate to make more room for more meaningful time spent? Most likely you have opportunities to improve. We all do. No one is perfect. That being said, what’s most important is that you regularly reflect on your time so you can improve how you spend it. The more often and routinely you reflect, the more likely you are to spend your time wisely.

Since reflecting upon whether or not we spend our time in a meaningful way is so powerful, the first step to developing the process into a habitual routine is to know what you value most. In fact, taking just 5 minutes to write down your top 3-5 people, places, things, and/or ideas will increase your awareness throughout your day, which will empower you to make better choices. Once recalling your values becomes second nature, your focus will sharpen, your confidence in spending time will improve, and your life will become more meaningful.

To get started all you need to do is carve out 5-minutes (time constraint is good because it forces you to be more authentic) to write down your top 10 most valuable people, places, things, and/or ideas. After the 5-minutes is up, take roughly 30-seconds to circle your top 3-5 values. If you circle 5, see if you can identify which of those might be more important than the others.

If you’re drawing a blank on what you value, check out the example list below or use this Core Values List by James Clear who is my defacto inspiration for developing better habits and maximizing my human potential.
  • God
  • Family
  • School
  • Sports
  • Guitar

The above example has fairly concrete or clearly imaginable list items. Knowing what you value most has a positive effect on your social-emotional health because clearly knowing who you are and what you stand for can provide you with confidence in your actions and interactions with others. So having core values that are easy for you to visualize will make them more recognizable and thus more actionable. While having less tangible core values can be more defensible against time and circumstance. Meaning, the more idea-like your core values are the more timeless they become while trading off for clarity and concreteness.

Using the list above, it’s easy to see how school, sports, and guitar may not be the most sustainable core values. The last time you attend school might be college, most people stop playing sports after high-school, and a very small percentage of people play guitar and make a livable wage. And even if you were to reach the highest levels of success for each of those things, they have expiration dates that rarely last a lifetime. God and Family are more timely. Depending on your beliefs, God might be eternal for you, so that is a sustainable value. Family is sustainable because human beings cannot survive for very long alone so it will always be important. Family can be taken away from you, but the ideal of family can be found in non-blood related relationships too.

If explicit and concrete core values help you act on them in a consistently meaningful way, that’s what matters most. And if you find that over time you want to identify more permanent core values, you can always change them. My core values are ideals that I strive to live by. You can check them out below if you need an example of abstract but more permanent core values. There is no wrong or right way to do it. You should choose what works for you at that point in time.

My Core Values

The core values I chose are all ideas. You can also call them ideals because, in their truest sense, we strive for them but can never attain them perfectly. I chose these over more concrete options for a few reasons. I believe that compassion, first on my list, will always win no matter what my circumstances are. You can take everything away from me and I know that spending my time in a state of compassion will still be the most important way for me to live. My other four values, although not as important to hold on to, are at the core of my identity. The world can change. I can lose people. My abilities can be taken away by sickness, injury, and old age. Material items are impermanent. So these core values are at the core of my identity. Choosing them is one of the few things I have control over; therefore, nothing can take that from me.

  • Compassion: com·pas·sion | /kəmˈpaSHən/ noun : sympathetic consciousness of others
  • Perseverance: per·​se·​ver·​ance | \ ˌpər-sə-ˈvir-ən(t)s\ noun: continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition
  • Wellness: well·​ness | \ ˈwel-nəs\ noun: the quality or state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal
  • Curiosity: cu·​ri·​os·​i·​ty | \ ˌkyu̇r-ē-ˈä-s(ə-)tē\ noun: interest leading to inquiry
  • Creativity: cre·​a·​tiv·​i·​ty | \ ˌkrē-(ˌ)ā-ˈti-və-tē\ noun: the ability to create

That being said, I feel comfortable adapting my bottom four core values for times I might need to embody other characteristics. To name a few that I occasionally focus my attention toward are discipline, humility, and honesty. The more I draw upon these values, the more I might consider them in my top 5. For now, I’m keeping the ones I have because I believe discipline, humility, and honest are byproducts of compassion and perseverance. What do I mean by that? To persevere through tough times you must have the discipline to not give up and stick to what you set out to do. If you’re truly being compassionate towards someone, you are most likely approaching them with humility and honesty. So in my mind, compassion and perseverance trump discipline, humility, and honesty; however, in certain situations or seasons of life I hone in on the latter three to address more specific circumstances I’m going through.

If you’ve followed my lead, you now have a list of what you believe are your core values, you can begin to reflect on how much of your time you spend embodying them. Many things can happen while becoming more aware of your actions and values. You might find that you’re already well-aligned and that codifying your values provides you with increased confidence. You might find that you’re not spending as much time as you thought and can now clearly see a path towards aligning your behavior with what you believe to be most important. Or, you might realize that the values you initially thought were important are not, so you change your list. Regardless, understanding your values and working towards living them out in your daily life will result in a more meaningful life. You’ll find yourself spending more time feeling like you’re focused on the right things and less time worrying about all the possibilities.