achieveyourgoalssmallMost people have had the experience of setting New Year’s Resolutions and not sticking to them. One of the biggest reasons for failure is setting resolutions which you’re not 100% aligned with. If your resolutions are not aligned with your values, your motivation won’t last. You may even find yourself doing things that sabotage the goals you thought you wanted.

So, unless you are already absolutely, no-doubt-whatsoever, 100% clear about what’s important to you, it’s worth taking a little time to get clear about your values.

This is an edited extract from my book “Achieve Your Goals” (Dorling Kindersley 2006) which gives you step-by-step instructions on how to do this (NB the book has a lot more illustrations, diagrams, and general beautiful design):


What are values?

Your values provide the motivating force behind your actions. They get you out of bed in the morning, and determine how you spend your time. If something is not important to you, you are not going to spend any time in pursuit of it.

Your values are also the criteria that you use to decide whether a particular action is right or wrong. They guide your decisions and provide meaning in your life. This guidance usually happens at a more or less unconscious level – you usually know if something is right or wrong without having to think about it too much. If you follow the guidance in this section to become explicitly aware of your values, you can use them as a checklist to evaluate any choices you are offered.

We acquire our values in the course of our upbringing, from our parents, peer groups, education, and the information we take in from the media. We also modify our values in the light of the conclusions we draw for ourselves from the events of our lives.

Values are abstract concepts (like fun, integrity, learning, or security) rather than particular things or actions. This means that they can be fulfilled in many different ways – you’re not tied to one particular career choice, for example, because there may be many different careers that fulfil your values.
The values that are important to you in your life as a whole may play out with some variations in different contexts of your life. What’s important to you in your career, for example, may be different from your priorities for relationships, or health and fitness.

Step 1: Finding your values for a particular area

Choose an area of your life (like, for example, Career, Relationships, or Finances) that you want to work on first and ask yourself:

“What is important to me about <area>?”

Write down the immediate answer that comes to mind. Then continue to ask:

“What else is important to me about <area>?”

You will end up with a list of around seven to ten values – maybe less, maybe more.

Tips for getting the best from this process

    • The values you end up with should be abstract concepts. If the area you are looking at is “Work and Career” and once of your answers is something concrete like “a good company car”, you need to find out what abstract value this is representing. This is easily done – just ask: “What is important about having a good company car?” Continue to ask the “What is important?” question until you get up to an abstract value rather than a thing or an activity. In this case, for some people, it might be “recognition”; for others it might be “reward”.
    • You may find that you come out with four or five values in rapid succession and then your mind goes blank. These are all the values that were at the forefront of your mind, but there are probably others that you are less consciously aware of but are equally strongly held. To unearth these, continue to ask: “What is important about <area>?” and listen for the answer.
    • If your list of values includes a word like “satisfaction”, “fulfilment” or “contentment”, check what that word means to you. If it is what you would get if all the other values on the list were present, you can safely take it out. If it means something else to you, leave it in.    
    • This list should be about your values, rather than what anyone else thinks should be on the list. The more honest with yourself you are, the more valuable the list will be to you. If keeping other people happy is important to you in this context, then it deserves to be on the list as a value in its own right.


Try this out, and why not share how you get on by leaving a comment below?

Next up: How to prioritise your values (but do this exercise first!)

What you absolutely must do before making any New Year’s resolutions: Clarify your values (1)

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