The clearer you are on your values, the more congruent you can be with your actions explains Marsha Egan

We hear a lot of talk about values, but what are they? How can you define such an intangible thing?

The old saying goes that ‘knowing what you stand for limits what you’ll fall for’, and it’s true that whatever a person’s background, culture, faith or otherwise and upbringing, we all have values that guide us, whether spoken or unspoken, acknowledged or in our subconscious. Many of us have common values, but some are as individual as the people who possess them. We may not even notice, but these values form the basis of every decision we make.

Some values we are brought up with from a very young age and some are adopted in adulthood. They can change as we mature and develop, based on our life experiences. The only way that we can be truly happy and achieve what we want in life is to maintain the positive values we truly believe in and use them achieve what we want in this life.

Our goals are not our values. They are targets, things we want to achieve.

Values define who we are, not what we do. They are our worldview, what we consider to be important, and the basis of our beliefs. The clearer we are on our values, the more congruent we can be with our actions.

Why is this important? Because values are the blueprint for your entire approach to life.

Written values

When I’m coaching a client, I challenge them to articulate what their values are, and to write them down.  The act of writing down your values is a simple way to keep them central in your life.

You may not be able to immediately articulate your values – they’re often deep within a person’s subconscious. Here are a few tips to get started:

When you write down your values, keep them in the present tense.  This helps you to visualize your core principles. For example, you might write one of your values as “I am financially stable” rather than “I will be financially stable.”

Discovering and stating your values is a ‘mission statement’ for your life. You can find your true values for any aspect of your life:

  • Family
  • Education
  • Morality
  • Community
  • Career
  • Friendships
  • Health
  • Finance
  • Hobbies

You can do this any way you like – brainstorm using a huge piece of paper, or on a blackboard, and then write up your own ‘manifesto’. A good way to create this is to use index cards or sticky notes, which can easily expand as you add more and more to your values list. You’ll almost certainly find that they will work their way into natural groupings.  Some people prefer to set a few overriding or ‘primary’ values, with supporting statements to quantify them.

Using our example above, if one of your primary values is ‘I am financially stable’; then your supporting statements might be ‘I pay all my bills before they are due’, ‘I review my insurance needs annually’, ‘I save x percent of my income’ and ‘I have an emergency fund put aside’.

While this may seem like making a lot of work for yourself, it’s interesting to see how the simple act of focusing on your core values can influence your day-to-day actions.

As an illustration from my own life, one of my values is “I explore when I travel.”  (It’s a sub-value of “I am continually learning”). On a recent business trip to Oklahoma City, I arrived at my hotel, tired from my journey, and it would have been easy just to stay in and relax. However, I asked how far the Oklahoma Memorial was.  When I found out it was only six blocks away, I walked there and was extremely glad that I did.  It was a great monument to experience first-hand.  I doubt that I would have taken the opportunity, if I had not ‘lived’ this value.

So, I challenge you to take a little time to clarify your values. They are already there, it’s just that most people never write them down or consider them deeply. It’s vital to live by them and honor the foundation that is you.

Marsha Egan, CPCU, PCC is CEO of The Egan Group, a Florida-based workplace productivity coaching firm. She is the author of Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-mail Excellence. She can be reached at, where you can also read her blog. To listen ... (Read More)

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