Core Values Part II – Values Elicitation

The really important work in life is usually simple but not easy.

Oh Darn.

Values Elicitation is the most important exercise you can do as an adult. It will help to clarify your values and if necessary, completely overhaul them.


This exercise can take as little as a couple hours to complete or many days. It takes as long as necessary and there is no easy way around it. This is one of those “must do” exercises that you really cannot cheat. In this case, there is no advantage to taking short cuts. Here is a method that I have used plus a few tips that can help you through the process:

1)   Block off some time so you can immerse yourself in this process. You’ll need a minimum two hours to start it.

2)   Be sure to be in a comfortable, quiet place where you will be undisturbed.

3)   Be courageous and active in this exercise. Press forward until you have a basic list of core values. It may not be just right but use it to get the ball rolling. I’ve done this exercise five times and it does get easier over time.

4)  Be prepared to right down any thoughts or ideas as they come to you. Good virtuous thoughts and even ugly, vulgar ones. This is your time to get it all down. Man up and express your real feelings.

5)   Do this with paper and pencil to start with. Don’t let technology be a distraction or excuse to fiddle around. When tackling the important questions in life, there is a tendency to succumb to non-urgent distractions.

6)   It is best to write down your own words as they come to you. However, to speed it up, you can start from a prepared “sample” list of words that can help stimulate your own thoughts. A sample list is not intended to be complete so you should be prepared to add your own words if they are not on the list.

7)   Ask these questions to help get your thoughts oriented. Write down your thoughts on a piece of paper.

  • What were your happiest moments in your life? What was going on at the time? Who was involved? What was important about those events?
  • What were the proudest moments in your life? What was going on? Who was involved? What was significant about those events?
  • What were the most fulfilling or satisfying times in your life?

8)   Based on the answers to the above questions, write down the top twenty words that could represent your main values and list them out on paper.

9)   Rank them in order from most important to least important. Test the top one against the next one in priority by asking, “is this value more important than this value?” If yes, then move to the next value on the list and continue rearranging until you have your prioritized list.

10)  Combine words. Some values are very similar so let one value represent the others if possible.

11)  Drop the bottom ten values and concentrate on the remaining ten. Relook at this shorter list and see if your main ones are represented here. Add and subtract a few so you have your top ten represented.

12)  Now rearrange this list of ten so it is most balanced. What should be the highest priority?

13)  Expose any obvious conflicts. While all these values are now your core values, which ones are too close in proximity on your prioritized list? Move some up or down so the conflicting ones are spaced out a bit. Remember, these are all your important values. Just because some conflict doesn’t mean they are not worthy for the list. Simply space them out so they are not directly adjacent to one another. For instance, generosity may be too close to profits.

14)  Now reduce the list to just seven words and see if you can work with this set.

15)  Contemplate this list for the next few days and test them out against your behaviours. Confirm that this set of prioritized values are optimized.

16)  Now compare this list against your goals. Will these values help you accomplish your goals? If not, change the goals or change the values.

17)  Retest the values. Keep doing this until you have a working list.

18)  Here is a tip to help get oriented before you start generating your first list of twenty: select role models that represent the behaviours, personalities or philosophies that would support your goals, dream or life purpose. Select role models that exemplify success in businesses that you relate too. I admire Leonardo Di Vinci but his type of work is not at all something I’m interested in doing. Similarly, I do not relate to Bill Gates and software companies. I do admire Oprah, Branson, Disney. These business icons are models I could use to generate the values I think would best support my goals, dreams or life purpose. So then I imagine what are their values.

19)  Here’s another tip: Check your top seven Values and ensure they address your health, your worthiness, your connection to a greater community or being. These human needs are key for basic well-being and your values should speak to them in some way. Can you derive a set of beliefs based on these values that will fulfill your basic human needs: connection, uniqueness, certainty, variety?

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