What Are Core Values?

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Our core values are who we are; they are those things that really matter to us, the things we hold special. They create how we feel about the events in our life and they form the framework of our belief system. They are not necessarily right or wrong, but they are important to us. Our core values are as unique to us as our fingerprints — subtly different from any other person’s values.

We create a sense of wholeness and fulfillment in our life when they are honored. We often lose sight of who we are, for example when asked to describe ourselves we will often say we are a mother/father, a secretary, a home maker, a nurse or a daughter/son etc. But in fact we are none of these. Those descriptions form an important part of our life and help us to define what we do, but they are not who we are.

Core values are why we do what we do; they act as permissions and prohibitions on how we act. Values are not logical and don’t have to be justified with reason. They are largely unconscious; indeed the values that have the most impact on us are the ones we are not consciously aware of. These values direct our behavior and purpose, they motivate our actions and provide a frame of reference from which we evaluate and judge the results of our actions from our own point of view. The core values that are deep within our subconscious are the values that have the most influence in defining who we think we are.

core values chart

How Are Core Values Formed?

It has been shown that there are three major periods in our lives when our values are formed. The first period is the Imprint Period which occurs from birth to the age of seven, this is the period when we get our “basic programming”. By the age of four most of our “major programming” has take place — most of our fears and phobias are created between the ages of three to seven. The second period is the Modelling Period which is when we begin to consciously or unconsciously form our basic behaviors by copying the behavior of others.

It is thought this is the period when we develop most of our values, and that depending upon what was happening to you at this point in your life, your values were formed around those events. The third period is the Socialization Period, between the ages of 14 and 21. At this point in our lives we learn our relationship and social values, by the age of 21 our core values are mostly formed.

core values at work

Our beliefs are connected to our values, each belief being linked to a value. Sometimes our values can conflict with each other. Some of these conflicts could be as simple as ordering a meal at a restaurant — we want something that tastes wonderful but is full of cream and we worry about the calories. If one of your values is your family and another career and your career keeps you so busy you’re late home and often work weekends, then you might feel guilty and uncomfortable because you aren’t spending enough time with your family.

Many of our values (as well as our beliefs) are copied from other people, usually those we are closest to such as family, carers and teachers. In recent years many young people have been heavily influenced by television, films and magazines.

So our attitudes about our lives are created by clusters of beliefs and values that are formed by our experience of life.

Why Is It Important to Discover Your Core Values?

Living in agreement with your values is fulfilling. Living in conflict with your values is stressful and dissatisfying. It can be difficult to know what our personal values really are, so often we are influenced by the expectations of other people.

When we cannot make a decision or choose between various courses of action it may be that there is a conflict in our minds. Sometimes we do what we think we must do or what others think we should do, and sometimes we do what our own personal values guide us to do. Either way we can end up feeling guilty!

Just because we have identified our values and aligned them to our goals we might expect life to become easier for us, after all we have become a “genuine” person and theoretically we know what is important to us because we have discovered our values. But we might be in conflict; this could be in any are of our lives, either at work, during leisure time or with the family.

If we choose to align ourselves with our values which might lead us away from our old and familiar behavior, then we have to decide whether we wish to remain true to ourselves, living a life that is true to our values, or do we decide to keep other people happy by accepting their values. When we accept and own our core values we can at least make informed choices. Sometimes there is a compromise to be made that will keep everyone happy, but at least by knowing and acknowledging our values it helps us to make informed choices and decisions.

In Conclusion

Our values usually change with our lives, what we value as a child may well change when we become an adolescent and then an adult. As we grow into the later part of our lives, we may change again, especially in the face of illness, death or loss of loved friends or relatives. Do we then value the position we may have held in our career or the fast car and large house that may once have been what we lived and strived for?

Our values are those that fit in with the life and the time we are living in — our present reality. As we travel through our life’s journey our values may need to be reviewed from time to time, especially when we find that we are no longer satisfied with the life that once seemed fulfilling to us. Thus, when it comes to values, those values that were so exciting and relevant when we were twenty are probably very different from those that excite us at forty. As we go through life we shift to new sources of energy and our core values may adapt to reflect that change.

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