Find your values – they’ll keep you focused and make you feel alive

Snakes and ladders board game

In a time of change, new issues arise all the time. Think of what has happened during only the past month.

If we are not careful, our life can become a game of snakes and ladders: climbing up a ‘ladder’ one minute and sliding down a ‘snake’ the next.

When this happens it is because:

When everything is a priority then nothing is.

So to prevent this from happening we need to set priorities.

Defining our values is a way to know our priorities at the deepest level. Once we define our values then we know which issues to pay attention to and which issues to ignore. This frees up time, energy, and resources to focus on what matters most. And for the issues that do matter, our values also provide a guide for how to respond: in line with our values!

Knowing our values brings stability, efficiency, effectiveness, and more.


Finding Your Values

To find a first draft of your values, follow these three simple steps:

  1. Think back to a time when you felt completely absorbed in your work. You lost track of time, felt fully alive, in flow, operating at your fullest potential, doing what you are here to do.
    Identify between one and three occasions.
  2. For each occasion, ask yourself what values you were upholding in that moment. What values were you standing up for, taking action in support of? There might be more than one.
    (If you find this difficult, try thinking of times when you stood up against something. What did you stand against? Your values are the opposite of that.)
  3. You now probably have a list of more than three values. Group, merge, and combine them until you have identified your three core values.

The book Inner Leadership contains other questions that help you connect more deeply with your values but this simple exercise is enough to create a first draft.

The first two steps can be completed in under 15 minutes (especially if you discuss them with a trusted friend). The third might take longer.

The more effort you put into understanding your core values now, the more certain you will be of the results you gain and the more benefit you will get from applying them later.

Then, when an issue arises:

  • Ask yourself whether it is against one of your values — if not, ignore it: it is someone else’s fight. (This gets rid of the ‘snakes’.)
  • If the issue is relevant to you then your values show you a shortcut to the outcome you want to create instead: something in line with your values. This frees up time and resources. (This shows you where to place the top of the ‘ladder’.)
  • And if you choose to live and act in line with your values then you will feel more alive, because that is how we found your values, by looking for what “makes you feel fully alive, in flow, doing what you are here to do.” (This speeds you up the ‘ladders’.)

How clearly do you know your three core values? How often do you take action in line with them? When you do, do you feel alive, in flow, doing what you are here to do?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Leonard J Matthews via

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