Identify Your True Values

“Action expresses priorities.” – Mohandas K. Gandhi

Values are the principles, morals, standards, and ideals that give your life meaning, importance, and worth.  They act as the guiding compass that drives behaviors and determines goals.  When we are unclear or unsure of what our values are, then it is not uncommon to feel lost, adrift, or that you are “going through the motions” of life.  A rich and meaningful life is a purpose-driven life.

When you feel stressed, upset, or wondering why you are in whatever current predicament you find yourself in, it can feel difficult to muster up the motivation to press on.  When we lose sight of why we are working so hard or devoting so much energy to school, work, or a relationship, it is helpful to rediscover your values.  Once you increase awareness of what you truly value in life, you will be better equipped to motivate yourself and begin to live a purposeful and intentional life.

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook provides a simple exercise to help you identify how you value ten basic areas of your life using the “Valued Living Questionnaire” (Wilson, 2002; Wilson & Murrell, 2004).

Read through the following list and ask yourself how important each of these areas are in your life.  For now, ignore how much time you actually devote to these areas.  Instead, just focus on how important these areas are to you; this tells you how much you value each component of your life.

Valued Living Questionnaire

Rate the importance of each area of your life on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 = not at all important, 10 = extremely important).  It is unimportant to focus on what you believe you “should” rate highly.  Be honest with yourself; this exercise will not benefit you without honest self-reflection.

  • Family (other than romantic relationships or parenting)
  • Romantic Relationships (marriage, life partners, dating, etc.)
  • Parenting
  • Friends & Social Life
  • Work
  • Education & Training
  • Recreation & Fun
  • Spirituality & Religion
  • Citizenship & Community Life
  • Self-Care (exercise, diet, relaxation, etc.)

What themes did you notice as you did this exercise?  When you are completely honest with yourself about which areas of life are truly most important to you, how would you say your current behaviors are or are not in line with those values?  The first step is simply identifying what your true values really are.  Do not worry if your actions are not yet completely in line with living your values.  That will come with time and practice.

Begin to look at the top areas of life that you value.  How can you begin to identify specific actions that you can take to move toward your intention?  For example, if you highly value education, yet you dropped out of school or do not put your full energy into your schoolwork, the actions that you might list could include getting a catalog of classes at your local college, signing up for a class in the next month, doing all of your homework wholeheartedly, rather than with the minimum amount of effort.

Another example might be someone who highly values romantic relationships, yet they experience persistent strain or discord in their relationships.  Possible actions to list to move towards this value could be identifying ways in which they personally contribute to relationship problems, rather than blaming the other person or carving out special time from the weekly schedule to devote their full attention to their loved one.

The purpose of this exercise is not to identify “right” or “wrong” values.  Arguably, there is no such thing.  What is important is identifying what matters the most to you.  Once you clearly identify your values you can begin to shape your behaviors to actively move yourself towards your desired values and build a purposeful life.  “Having a fulfilling life can give you something to look forward to when you’re doing something you don’t like, and it can make you stronger during times of distress” (McKay, Wood, & Brantley, 2007, p. 37).

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McKay, M., Wood, J.C., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Featured image: Bring me to life by R’eyes / 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.

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