Personal core values are a special kind of values. They are the ones closest to who we really are, and they have a bigger effect on your life than you might expect.

Values are basically a judgment of the things that matter in life, and that's a judgment that can only be made by you. These values are an important factor in generating your behavior, just like your cultural setting playes a role and your various beliefs do too. Values give you a grasp on knowing what is good, what is important or what is beneficial and what not. They are the answer to why we do what we do (well … they do most of the time anyway).

Over time you acquire a set of values, often referred to as a value system. At the basis of this value system are a handful of values that are the most important ones, your personal core values. It is amazing how few people can sum up their core values, or even name them after giving it some thought. If these core values are an important factor that generates your behavior, it might be a good idea to know what your personal core values are, don't you think?

Especially if you're not all that satisfied with some parts of your current behavior patterns.

Discovering your core values

Discovering your personal core values can be done in several ways. But before we go into the alternative ways of discovering them, I have to warn you that these are not easy exercises to do in your lunch break or while brushing your teeth. Discovering your core values requires that you do some serious soul searching, or give some difficult questions serious thought. The exercises may be on your mind for a couple of days (or even longer), but the insight they will give you, will be very valuable.

1. Take a trip down memory lane

Think back at your early childhood, what did you want to be and why? Who were your idols, and what was their attraction to you? What did you like to do in your free time, your play time? What were your favorite fantasy figures? Or even what superhero did you admire and why? You can even take out a photo album or a scrapbook to get back into the childhood feel. Or really drive back to the neighbourhood you grew up in.

List all the values you find in this exercise. You will probably rediscover some you have lost on the way to adulthood. We all lose part of our childhood, you know.

2. Write your own eulogy

How often do you hear people talk about "knowing what really matters" whenever someone dies suddenly? There's a lot of power to visualizing your own funeral. Death somehow has the power to put everything in perspective. Imagine that you have to prepare a speech for your own funeral. What do you put in it? Look back on your life, and write a speech about how you will be remembered, how you WANT to be remembered.

Your core values will appear in your story. You will know what they are.

3. Empty your brain

Take a piece of paper and a pen, and simply start writing and keep on writing. List all the things that are important to you, and don't hold back. Write down everything, don't worry about duplicates. You can always eliminate the duplicate items later (and they might even be an indication of something that's really important to you). After you've finished the list, let it rest for a couple of days.

After that break, come back to the list and devote some time to it. Now select your top 5.

4. Select from a list

Look at a list of values on the internet and simply select from that list. Start by crossing off all the values that definitely are NOT your core values. That's the easy part. Now take a look at the remaining values and mark the potential candidates for your personal core values. Try to get the list down to about 5 values.

Redo this exercise every now and then

Like I said, this exercise is not an easy lunch time exercise you can do as a diversion. The more effort you put in the process, the better the results will be. It's wise to do this exercise every now and then, as iterations in a larger process of tuning in to what matters most to you. The more often you discover your values, the closer they'll be to your core values.

If you know your personal core values you know one of the important factors that influence your decisions. Even if you use that as passive knowledge, you can come up with better explanations for past decisions, but the real power is in using it as active knowledge, for instance by making a personal mission statement.