3 Practices to Discover Your Values


Two young tourists with backpacks relaxing on rocks and enjoying sunset

“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” — Roy E. Disney

Your values can help you live with more clarity, more meaning, and more satisfaction.

The challenge is finding the vital few values that represent the inner core of who we are and who we want to be.

In the book, Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead, Rob-Jan De Jong shares three techniques you can use to help you find your values.

Practice #1: Obituary Exercise

You can use the Obituary technique for discovering your values.   How do you want to be remembered or how do you want people to look back on their experience with you?

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“The first practice is often called the obituary exercise or the funeral exercise (although you could alternatively picture less morbid circumstances, such as  a farewell to a group of people you worked with for  a long time and whom you truly care about).  It’s frequently attributed to the late Stephen Covey, who popularized it in his landmark work 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but notwithstanding Covey’s great work, it had been around long before.”

Rob-Jan De Jong suggests the following prompts to help you gain clarity over what really matters most to you:

  • What have been your main accomplishments in life?  Once you’ve listed them, examine what connects them.
  • What has been your greatest achievement of all? Why did you pick this one?
  • Who are you leaving behind, and who will miss you the most? What will they miss you for?
  • List the people you’ve helped in your life.  How did you help them?
  • What has been the main question that life has asked you? How did you respond?

Practice #2: Stories

You can use stories as a technique to discover your values.  If you think of the heart of a story as a challenge and a change, you can use stories as a lens to see what you really value.  When you are tested,  your stories help reveal what really matters to you in a deep and profound way..

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“A second way of exploring your values is through storytelling, since your stories say a lot about you.  We’ve all experience monumental moments in our life that taught us something profound.  Warren Bennis calls these stories crucibles: intense and unplanned experiences that transform us and become sources of distinctive leadership.”

Rob-Jan De Jong suggests describing three situations that meet the following criteria:

  1. Were truly at your best.  Think of moments or occasions when you were in a state of flow (as athletes call it), when things seemed to go effortlessly and your actions were spot on; that is exactly what was needed.
  2. Learned something profound that has stayed with you ever since.
  3. Were caught in a conflicting dilemma between something that was expected from you and something you really believe(d) in.

Rob-Jan De Jong suggests asking your friend to help you dive deeper by asking:

  1. Why did you feel that way?
  2. What made this situation so important to you?
  3. What were you experiencing?

Practice #3: So That What?

You can find your values by using the “So what?” technique.   What are you trying to accomplish, or what do you really want to achieve?  What’s really behind all those things you do every day?  What’s the meaning behind all the motion?

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“Now, let’s try Pearl’s exercise.  His approach to bringing out a person’s core values, that hidden layer that goes deeper than the day job, is to engage in a conversation that starts by completing this sentence: ‘The deep intent of my working life is

Once you have formulated your sentence, a partner asks just one question: ‘So that what?’

And you respond by formulating the ‘deep intent’ sentence that you came up with before. 

Then you repeat the sequence multiple times.”

Example of “So What?”

When you peel away the layers of activity and get to the intent, you will find the real reasons behind why you do what you do.  The answer might be surprising simple.  Or the answer might really surprise you.

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“For example, let’s say that your first response is as follows: ‘The deep intent of my working life is to provide innovative services to our clients and to ensure the continuity of our company’. 

Not bad, but your partner should not let you get away with it. 

She asks: ‘So that what?’ 

You respond, ‘So that I can drive our business forward into new directions.’ 

So that what? ‘So that I can grow and explore new opportunities.’ 

So that what? ‘So that I can satisfy my curiosity.’  So that what? And so on.”

Your values can help you lead a more meaningful life.

Once you know your values, you can start living your values.

Your values can help you simplify some of the tougher choices in life.

What do you want your life to be about?

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