Creating and Living by Your Own List of Values


Everyone lives their life by some sort of internalized moral code, but many people don’t take the time to sort out what they really believe in. Because of this disparity, we often feel conflicted when deciding how to make regular choices about time, money, and personal decisions.

One definition of integrity is how closely your life aligns with your values. In other words, do you do what you say you do? Do you live your life according to what you believe in?

This definition is somewhat incomplete, because it allows for you to do pretty much anything you want to do (even harm other people, which most of us would not consider to be a good thing). But there is still some truth to the idea that integrity relates to how you live by the standards you have set. If you don’t do what you say you do, how can you say you practice integrity?

Therefore, it’s important to spend some time examining your life to determine your own personal, “most important” values. Choosing the ones that are most important will help you learn more about who you really are, because when it comes to values, you can’t have it all.

Instead, most people will have somewhere between 4-8 primary values that best reflect who they are and what means more to them than anything else. So, how to get started? Here’s a couple of ideas.

Decide What Matters to You

First, you may already have an idea of what your list of values should be. If so, you start by writing down your ideas in whatever way makes sense to you. You can use these ideas to make a finalized list of favorite personal values.

If you need some inspiration, take a look at these lists of values from other sites.

Important: find the ones that make the most sense to you, but don’t leave it at that. Instead, take those positive characteristics and use them to create a full statement that better reflects who you are.

A Few Impartial Suggestions

While it’s true that everyone should decide on their own values, I have a few suggestions. Adopting one or several of these will definitely set you apart from the prevailing norms of Western culture.

  • Valuing experiences more than stuff. In short, I appreciate things I do more than things I buy.
  • Adopting a flexible life vision. I want to know where my life is going and what the ultimate meaning is.
  • Setting truly dramatic life goals. I set big goals—for me, visiting every country in the world, among other things. Your goals will be your own, but make them meaningful.
  • Finding or creating meaningful work. Ask, where can I add value? How can I do work that I care about and helps others?
  • Getting out in the world. For me, the opportunity to travel to other countries and cultures is a huge priority, so much that I consider it a personal value.

Values in the Real World – Time and Money

How do you apply your values in practice? Once you have the right values, it’s actually not that difficult. Every day you make choices, some big and some small. When you have to make a choice, start by thinking about each possible outcome in light of what you’ve set your values to be.

I personally do this whenever I buy something. Others aren’t that strict, and set a limit where they will begin thinking about values. For example, some people I know have set their limit at $10. Using this scenario, whenever you spend more than $10, you think carefully about your choice.

If the expense lines up with your values, make the purchase guilt-free—it’s important that you reward yourself for making good choices. But if it doesn’t line up, you may need to rethink the choice or risk feeling some dissonance over violating your values.

You also make many decisions related to your time. Thinking about values when you make time choices can be even more important than your spending choices.

As a self-employed person, I often face large blocks of unscheduled time. (This is how I prefer to work on my own, although when I work with groups I like deadlines and more scheduled times.) By facing the day ahead of me, or any two-hour block of unscheduled time, I often think about what I value and then determine how I’ll spend the time.

What about values you would like to have but don’t?

When you create your own list of values, make sure that most of them are not aspirational. In other words, most items on your list should not relate to values you would like to have but can’t honestly claim you live out. Instead, they need to reflect who you really are.

On the other hand, having one or two of your values based on who you want to become can be motivational. A while back I decided I wanted to adopt this statement into my values list:

I treat every person I meet as the most important person in the world.”

When I first heard that sentence, I liked it… but I also knew that it did not reflect my life at all. I do try to treat all people with respect, and I’ve maintained the habit of encouraging at least one person a day for a long time, but I can’t honestly say that I treat every person I meet as if they were the most important person in the world—not by a long shot.

I decided that I liked the statement enough to add it to the list, in part to challenge myself to treat people better, but also because I thought it was a truly remarkable value.

Stick with a few things that reflect who you are and one or two things you’d like to become. Make it your own and base your decisions on it.

But what if you change?

You will. That’s part of it. However, some of the core will stay the same. That’s why values are sometimes called core values in business settings—because businesses are expected to change in order to survive and prosper, but most successful businesses have attributes that are truly core and won’t change.

The same is true with individuals. By defining a list of personal values that are truly your own, you’ll be better prepared to make decisions. You’ll focus more on what matters. For many of us, that focus is truly the greatest value of all.


Image: Bev

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    • Danielle says:

      I blog-jumped to your site and have been reading backwards. I’m already in love.

      I’m actually making my list of virtues (what you call values) right now. Not only am I making a list, but I’m backing it up with inspirational phrases and maxims from Irish sources like the Irish Triads, Roman sources like writings by Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, Greek sources like Delphic Maxims, and a host of modern sources as well. When I get them all together I’m going to make a book. I make books as art; so it would be a personal book – like a medieval prayer book – for personal use. I’m going to use it for daily meditations and reflections to start living the virtues I hold dear.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks, Danielle! That sounds great.

    • lastminuteacademic says:

      I just found your website this evening, and I’m so glad I did.

      I was trying to think about my values, which is quite hard, actually! What did occur to me, having read this article, was that I never wanted to have a disagreement with people I cared about.

      I recently fell out with a friend of mine, who said some very cutting things to me. However, having read this article I had a think back to it, and realized that there were reasons for our disagreement but that life is too short to hate others or to be upset, especially if it comes down to huge misunderstandings (which it was in this case).

      I have just made a phone call to my friend, who replied positively, and we are meeting tomorrow to have a chat. So thanks for the inspirational article, even if it inspired me in a way which wasn’t really intended.

    • Jennifer says:

      Great article! I have many values that are important to me and that I believe I stick fairly closely to on a daily basis. There are values, however, that I could definitely add to my life and/or improve on. Setting goals for oneself in this department was a new way of looking at this for me, so thank you!

      One thing I did want to comment on though was the “treating every person that you meet as if they are the most important person in the world” idea. This idea may be effective for people who have poor self esteem but for most people I think, it will be a transparent approach. I have met people who speak to me this way and their attitude usually comes off as very phony. A person that doesn’t even know me can’t possible think that I am the “most important person in the world” so why would they be treating me as such? Or they give the impression that they want something from you. Treating people the way you would want to be treated is respectful enough in my opinion, anything more is going too far and circumspect! Of course this only applies to random people you may meet on any given day and not friends, family or close co-workers. They, after all, know the real you!

    • Cheryl Cook says:

      I am doing a final exam for a management / leadership course at Utah Valley University and this article helped me to complete a solid and convincing set of Core Values for an imaginary company. Thanks a million especially if I get an “A”

    • Marc Wyzykowski says:

      I personally went through my own value discovery session a few months ago after readering through the Steve Pavlina article. I found it to be really hard at first, particularly when faced with a gigantic list of possible values (which can be found in a bunch of different places on the net). Dwindling them down to my personal core values was daunting and I really had to put aside the Pollyanna values that I didn’t fully believe in, but sounded great. As well, I had to be courageous enough to allow myself to embrace those values that defined where I wanted to be in life, but would be hard to explain.

      As an example, “elegance” is one of my top core values however it does not necessarily serve a greater good and often is misrepresented as luxurious, materialistic, or showy. However to me it represents minimalism, simplicity and a beautiful expression of the essential.

    • Lisa Elaine Scott says:

      I am enjoying your posts very much.

      For me integrity is a simple matter, and my interpretation and the way I incorporate it into my life comes straight from the definition of the word.

      Integrity is the ability to integrate information and experiences, to see many pieces to the whole, to recognize the interaction of the pieces and then to accept that there are unknown pieces as well.

      One way I practice integrity is to remind myself often that there are close to 7 billion other human beings on this earth, each with their own hopes, dreams and aspirations.

      Thanks for this website, and I hope you continue to enjoy the journey.

    • Joze says:

      I am 38 years of age and at crossroads. I spent a good portion of the year 2013 questioning my beliefs and values. I have discovered they are not really mine, just inherited from people and environments as I was growing up. I am beginning to rewrite my life, but just do not know where to begin. I want to start by defining values but I do not know who I am really. Feels like I have been brainwashed all my life, especially from a religion point of view. My Religion has been at the core of my life, determining how I see the world, decisions I make and so forth. I feel so lost now as if I have no leg to stand on because at present I have absolutely no idea what I believe in. What im going through right now is so intense and overwhelming. Im relooking every aspect of my life and it feels like I have been living a false life. Do people in general go through similar experiences when they approach the age of 40 perhaps?

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      It is only nature in this life that values me. Snow, winter is my favorite season. Thanks for the article

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    • Harold says:

      Wow. So profound. Joez in 2013 said he felt lost, needed to realign his core values. I too have the same issues at 38. I’m finding many problems existing in my life as I have snowboarded through most of it.

      I’m happy I stumbled upon this site. I hope to now embark on my next chapter of life with a new found sense of purpose..

    • Rhona L Page says:

      Hi Chris!!!
      Are you still up and running?? These posts are 10 years old! I’m just discovering values and excited to rewrite my life… Would love to know that you are still on a journey and leading others!??

    • Jacob Morris says:

      Hey Chris, this is a great article. When folks are looking at a values list, I would suggest looking at the Schwartz values.

      Social psychologist, Shalom H. Schwartz, theorized that the broad underlying motivation of the many words we use to describe values can be distilled into a framework of 10 value categories and 57 individual values.


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