Choose to Live According to Your True Values

“‘Cheshire Puss,’ asked Alice. ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to go,’ said the Cat. ‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice. ‘Then it doesn’t matter where you go,’ said the Cat.” – Lewis Carroll

Values provide us with an inner “compass” guiding our direction in life.  Without a clear sense of one’s values, it is easy to feel lost, adrift, or unsure of one’s path.  Many people get so stuck on the idea of what they “should” value, that they become paralyzed.  Others have an idealized view of their values in life and may have difficulty putting those values into action.  Still others may feel as though they lost sight of their values many years ago and feel a current lack of direction in life.  Whatever the case is, it is always possible in this present moment to clarify your values and begin to live a mindful values-based life.

Harris (2009) explains that values are “statements about what we want to be doing with our life: about what we want to stand for, and how we want to behave on an ongoing basis.  They are leading principles that can guide us and motivate us as we move through life.”  As you begin to identify and clarify your own values, it is important to focus simply on what matters most to you in life.  The idea is not what you “should” value, but what you actually do value.  Begin to look towards what areas of your life make you feel the most fulfilled.

Values provide a sense of direction that guides us toward greater meaning and purpose.  Begin to think of values as an “ongoing guide for your actions” (Hayes, 2009).  In this sense, values are something we can use to keep our lives moving in the direction that leads towards the greatest possibility of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. When we live according to our true values, there is an accompanying sense of fulfilling one’s deepest purpose in life.  Values provide the direction and meaning that we all need to lead optimally fulfilling and rewarding lives.

Values vs. Goals

There is an important distinction to be made between values and goals.  Values provide a deep sense of ongoing direction for our lives – they are not ends in themselves.  Goals are things that we wish to complete or achieve – they are often ends in themselves. For example, someone engaged in clarifying her values may begin to think that she values “success.”  The value of success acts as an ongoing inner compass that guides behaviors in such a way that they will likely lead her towards her definition of success.  An example of a goal would be getting a specific job, promotion, or award.  Goals are like the stepping stones on the larger path that makes up a value. In other words, each goal is like a rung on a larger ladder which symbolizes the value.

5 Key Points About Values

  • Values exist in the present moment … goals are in the future.
  • Values do not need to be explained or justified … make emotional space to truly accept your real values without judgment.
  • Values often need to be prioritized.  Consider what matters most and direct your behavior in order of importance to you.
  • Values are best held lightly.  Allow your values to take new forms and develop over time… values need not be rigid or static.
  • Values are freely chosen.  Your true values are not imposed on you from external sources… they come from a deep place within… from your deepest heartfelt intuition of what matters the most to you.

How would your life begin to feel different if you began to consciously direct your behaviors to be oriented in the pursuit of your most deeply held values?  In order to begin to effectively build a life directed by your true values, you must be willing to be completely honest with yourself about what really matters the most to you in life. Consider the times when you feel the happiest and most fulfilled… what values are you living at those times? How can you begin to build effective patterns of action guided by those values?

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Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Featured image: I think… by Vince Alongi / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. C Diane Jetmund on August 15, 2016 at 9:55 am

    After being distracted by life events, I am finally getting back to what I love… finding ways to help people feel happy with their lives. a couple of months ago I decided I wanted to do a workshop on values, Kuber-Ross’s work on death & dying…. the bottom line, as the majority of people approach older age and the possibility of death it seemed perfect opportunity to provide some values clarification work, so we (yes I’ll be 71 in Sept.) can accomplish the most important things to us before it’s too late.

    I am a social worker and love doing this kind of work… any questions or suggestions I’d love to discuss .

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