Why Personal Core Values Are Important?

Values are a part of us. They highlight what we stand for. They can represent our unique, individual essence.

Values guide our behavior, providing us with a personal code of conduct. When we honor our personal core values consistently, we experience fulfillment. When we don’t, we are incongruent and are more likely to escape into bad habits and regress into childish behavior to uplift ourselves.

Knowing Your Personal Values Changes Your Behavior

I spent much of my childhood with various illnesses, and I saw how it affected my development and life experiences in deleterious ways. I committed to cultivating a strong foundation for my physical health and well-being in adulthood. Clarifying this value as a top priority shifted many things in my young life. It influenced what I ate and drank. I now consumed different media and installed different habits. When you value health, you don’t have to wrestle with managing impulse control as much.

If you know a particular food or activity isn’t good for your body, you don’t want it. I made a practice of paying attention to how different foods made me feel after I ate them. If something made me sleepy or drained my energy, I took note. I sought to create a way of being that supported a healthy, energizing lifestyle.

Many people value comfort. When people value comfort over growth, they are less likely to apply effort to grow. Breaking through resistance to growth isn’t uncomfortable.

Consider what happens when people value comfort over their health. Eating to “feel better” will cause poor eating habits that undermine their health.

Discover Your Personal Core Values

Most of us don’t know our values. We don’t understand what’s most important to us. Instead, we focus on what our society, culture, and media values.

Can you articulate your top 5 to 10 values that are most important to you?

Without undergoing a discovery process, it’s challenging to identify your personal core values.

It’s easy to speculate and idealize what you should value. But knowing and accepting what you value takes effort.

While the following process is best done with a qualified coach, you can do it on your own if you apply self-honesty, patience, and determination.

Here are 7 steps to creating distinct and meaningful core values that will serve you in every area of your life and work:

STEP 1: Start with a Beginner’s Mind

It’s too easy to presume that we know the answer at the start and to, therefore, never embark on a creative, personal discovery process.

Adopt the mind of a beginner – someone with no preconceived notions of what is—to give you access to inner truths to which your conscious mind is yet unaware.

Take a deep breath and empty your mind. Remember that your conscious mind doesn’t have all the answers. Create a space for new insights and revelations to emerge.

Getting in right mental and emotional state is an essential first step.

I also created a program called The Mastery Method: Activate Your Higher Potential to help individuals enter a state of heightened mental alertness, calm, and centeredness before doing processes like this.

STEP 2: Create Your List of Personal Values

Arriving at a concise and short list of personal values can be a daunting task. You can find lists online with almost core values to choose from.

Values aren’t selected; we discover and reveal them. If you start with a list, your conscious mind will test which values appear “better” than others.

That said, if you’re not familiar with working with values, you can scan a list of values to get a sense of your range of options.

To help you uncover your own personal core values, here are three processes you can try:

1) Peak Experiences

Consider a meaningful moment – a peak experience that stands out.

What was happening to you?

What was going on?

What values were you honoring at this time?

2) Suppressed Values

Now, go in the opposite direction; consider a time when you got angry, frustrated, or upset.

What was going on? What were you feeling? Now flip those feelings around.

What value is being suppressed?

3) Code of Conduct

What’s most important in your life? Beyond your basic human needs, what must you have in your life to experience fulfillment?

Creative self-expression? A strong level of health and vitality? A sense of excitement and adventure? Surrounded by beauty? Always learning?

What are the personal values you must honor or a part of you withers?

STEP 3: Chunk Your Personal Values into Related Groups

Combining all the answers from step 2, you now have a master list of personal values. Maybe there are between 20 and 40 values on your list.

That’s too many to be actionable.

Your next step is to group these values under related themes.

Values like accountability, responsibility, and timeliness are all related.

Values like learning, growth, and development relate to each other.

Connection, belonging, and intimacy are related too. Group them together.

STEP 4: Highlight the Central Theme of Each Value Group

If you have a group of values that include honesty, transparency, integrity, candor, directness, and truth, select a word that best represents the group.

For example, integrity might work as a central theme for the values I listed.

You can keep the other words in the group in parentheses to give your primary value more context. You’ll use them again in step 6.

STEP 5: Determine Your Top Personal Core Values

Now comes the hardest part. After completing step 4, you still may have a sizable list of values. Here are a few questions to help you whittle your list down:

What values are essential to your life?
What values represent your primary way of being?
What values are essential to supporting your inner self?
As a unique individual, you possess certain strengths and weaknesses. Your values matter most to you.

How many core values should you end up with? Too few and you won’t capture all the unique dimensions of your being. Too many and you’ll forget them or won’t take advantage of them.

While the number of core values differs for each person, the magic range seems to be between 5 and 10.

Rank them in the order of importance. This is often the most challenging part.

You may need to do this step in multiple sittings. After doing one round of ranking put it aside and “sleep on it.”

Revisit your ranking the next day and see how it sits with you. Then, go through the process again.

STEP 6: Give Your Personal Values Richer Context

Now, creativity comes into play.

Highlighting values into memorable phrases or sentences helps you articulate the meaning behind each value.

It gives you the opportunity to make the value more emotional and memorable.

Here are a few tips and guidelines for crafting your values statements:

Use inspiring words and vocabulary. Our brains are quick to delete or ignore the mundane and commonplace.
Mine for words that evoke and trigger emotional responses. They will be more meaningful and memorable.
Play to your strengths in crafting your values.
Make your value statements rich and meaningful to you so they inspire you to uphold them.
You could use other words from the groupings you made in step 3 in your description.

For example, let’s say you’ve identified a core value of health to represent other values, like energy and vitality.

Your values statement might be: “Health: to live with full vitality and energy every day.”

STEP 7: Test the Ecology of Each Value

Once you’ve completed your list of core values, walk away from them and revisit them the next day after a good night’s sleep. Review your list:

How do they make you feel?
Do you feel they are consistent with who you are?
Are they personal to you?
Do you see any values that feel inconsistent with your identity (as if they belong to someone else, like an authority figure or society) and not you?
Check your priority ranking. Do you feel like your values are in the proper order of importance?
Nothing is final. Make any tweaks and changes as necessary.

Are You Living Your Personal Values?

Now you have a prioritized list of your top 5 to 10 core values, let’s see how well you’re living them.

From a centered position, assess how well you’re honoring each value by scoring each one on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 represents optimally living the value.

What’s your level of satisfaction with each value?

Record your score for each. You can set up a table in Excel or an online survey.

Date the top of the column. Repeat this exercise once a month or quarter to assess your progress.

If you score below 7 in a particular value, what changes do you need to make? What has to happen for you to further honor this value?

Here’s where self-coaching comes into play. Define your goals. Create a plan. Actualize it.

Check in with your personal values again. Notice if you feel a difference in your level of fulfillment in life.

How to Use Your Core Values to Make Decisions

Knowing your personal core values and their order of priority is helpful in making difficult decisions.

Start by scoring your values as described above. Then, imagine your life several months or years from now having decided.

For example, what will your new business or a family change your life?

Step into this future picture as much as you can. Have it come alive in your mind.

Now, score your personal values while keeping the vision alive in your mind. Does deciding elevate your values score? Does it cause friction with one of your higher values?

This process will help bring a new level of clarity to your decision-making process.

Integrity Reports

I use my core values to create my annual Integrity Reports. Writing these reports is a yearly ritual that forces me to think about how I am living out my core values in real life.

Integrity Report

The day I am publishing my 2016 Integrity Report.

This is an exercise I do each year because these reports provide a reason for me to revisit my core values and consider if I have been living in a sincere way. Basically, my Integrity Reports help me answer the question, “Am I actually living like the type of person I claim to be?”

There are 3 main questions that I will answer in this Integrity Report.

What are the core values that drive my life and work?
How am I living and working with integrity right now?
How can I set a higher standard in the future?
As always, you are welcome to use this format to conduct your own Integrity Report (if you are into that kind of thing).

Integrity compass

1. What are the core values that drive my life and work?
Below are my core values and some questions that I use to think more deeply about each area. My core values have remained largely the same, but each year I tweak them a bit. My guess is that this will continue as self-discovery is a lifelong process.

I. Growth

Am I learning new things, exploring new places, and experimenting with new ideas?
Am I questioning my limiting beliefs and trying to overcome them?
Am I building habits that lead to continual improvement?

II. Self-Respect

Am I fulfilling my potential?
Am I giving myself permission to be happy with where I am right now?
Am I living like the type of person I claim to be?

III. Grit

Am I mentally and physically strong?
Am I preparing for unexpected challenges?
Am I taking steps to overcome the challenges in my life?

IV. Contribution

Am I contributing to the world or just consuming it?
Am I someone others can count on?
Am I helping to make things better for others?
Some readers like to use the above questions to think through their lives, but you are welcome to develop your own list of core values. If you want to create your own Integrity Report, feel free to browse this list of common core values.

2. How am I living and working with integrity right now?

Alright, time for the good news. Here are some improvements I made over the past year to live and work with more integrity.

Writing about ideas of practical significance. One of my key areas of focus as a writer is to cover ideas and stories that are actually useful in every day life. I can always improve in this area, but I do believe I did a solid job of deliver practical and useful ideas over the last 12 months. Some of the highlights include discussing the science of anxiety and what to do about it, how to stop procrastinating, how to stop buying things we don’t need, how to avoid common decision making errors, and how to analyze the failures in your life.

Apologizing for my mistakes and righting old wrongs. I make a lot of mistakes. Sometime last year, I realized that not only was I making mistakes, I was also responding to my mistakes incorrectly. I would push the situation into a dark corner of my mind, never bring up the mistake in conversation, and just hope that others would forget about it. Once I realized this, I decided to fix things and send apology letters.

Here’s one example: On July 31, 2015 I wrote apology letters to 40 customers who purchased a high-priced course from me that, in my opinion, failed to deliver the value it promised. I took the course down, refunded all of the money, and sent a personal apology to each person. The most important line in the apology was this, “I won’t be perfect in this journey, but when I do screw up I will make things right.”

Here’s what people sent in response to my apology:

“My loyalty to you and your work has just doubled.”
“Actions speak so much louder than words and your actions speak volumes of your true commitment to your mission and your community of readers. When treated right, a broken bone will heal stronger at the point of failure. I think it’s fair to say that you have treated the situation (I won’t call it a failure because it wasn’t to me) perfectly and you will have a stronger reader community for it.”
“You’re a beauty James. Thanks again for your honesty.”
I cannot tell you how relieved I was after this experience. I had procrastinated on sending these apologies for a year. That’s right, an entire year. Twelve months of awkwardness and anguish evaporated in 24 hours. It was one of the best uses of time I can think of. Furthermore, not only was my apology the right thing to do, it also completely turned the situation around.

Here are the two biggest lessons I learned while writing my apology letters:

Don’t justify your actions. When I started writing I had a very strong urge to generate reasons for my behavior or explain away my mistakes. Just say you’re sorry and admit that you screwed up. You don’t need to berate yourself, but don’t water it down either. Just state the facts: “I did X and it was a mistake.”
Give specific examples of how you are getting better. Don’t just tell them that you messed up. What steps have you taken to improve? Show that you care about the mistake so much that you took real action to correct it.
Today I actually feel stronger because I owned up to my flaws.

Sharing the work rather than hoarding the work. I have said this basically every year, but let me say it again: nearly everything I write about, I have learned from someone else. I am building upon the work of others, synthesizing ideas and stories, and sharing what I learn with you. I don’t own these ideas and I’m not worried about “getting credit” for my work. What I want more than anything is for my work to help people. I just want to contribute something useful to the conversations we have about why and how we live our lives. This is why I list footnotes at the end of each article and why I maintain my Thank You page.

Focusing on contribution over compensation. Charlie Munger has a fantastic quote about money, privilege and impact: “People should take way less than they’re worth when they are favored by life… I would argue that when you rise high enough in American business, you’ve got a moral duty to be underpaid—not to get all that you can, but to actually be underpaid.”

I love the idea that once your needs are cared for, it is actually your duty to make the world a better place. This is a philosophy that has guided my actions as an entrepreneur so far and I intend for that to continue.

3. How can I set a higher standard in the future?

Now for the hard part. Where am I currently struggling and what can I do to improve over the next 12 months?

Thank people for their help. While I have done a good job of writing apology letters, I have done a terrible job of writing Thank You notes. A few months ago I wrote the article titled, “Make Your Life Better by Saying Thank You in These 7 Situations” as a reminder to myself. There are some Thank You notes that I should have written six months ago that – as I sit here typing away about integrity and responsibility – I still haven’t written.

Return to writing consistently. My business was built on reliability. I wrote an article every Monday and Thursday for three years without missing a beat. When I say I’m going to show up, I show up. And then, my friend Scott passed away, I signed a book deal, I started hiring employees, and suddenly I lost the momentum of writing weekly articles. There was a six month period from late 2015 to early 2016 when I only wrote 14 articles and I should have written at least double that. This is a trend that I would consider out of character and not in alignment with the values I listed at the beginning of this report.

The good news? I’m back on track with a new streak. It took me awhile to adjust to writing books as well as articles and to being the leader of a team. Now I’m publishing every Monday and we’re going to keep that pattern going.

Create a personalized reader experience. JamesClear.com currently receives almost 1 million visitors each month. While that number is almost 1 million people more than I expected to read my work when I began writing, it has created some problems. The biggest problem is that different readers have different needs. I write about a broad range of topics: productivity, creativity, behavioral psychology, strength training, self-improvement, and more. Some readers want exercise tips. Others want scientific research. Still others want time management strategies.

Right now, I just send out ideas as I get them and hope that it hits the mark with most people. I can do better than that. One of my goals for the next 12 months is to create a personalized experience that makes newsletter subscribers feel loved. Yes, you should get new articles when I publish them. But you should also get the most relevant content to your needs and interests. I have a lot of ideas about how to do that and I am excited to raise the bar.

The Bottom Line

My hope is that my annual Integrity Reports help me hold myself to a higher standard and build a business that makes life a little bit better for others. I have made so many mistakes in the past and I am sure I will make many more in the future, but I still find it remarkable how often I can screw up and still make progress as long as I am willing to take steps to improve.

As always, thank you for being part of this worldwide community. I’ll do my best to continue delivering ideas and stories that make your life better.