How to discover your personal core values


Every article on entrepreneurship will tell you that a good business stands on the foundation of good values. Core values are at the heart of business and guide entrepreneurs to shape their company in line with a solid philosophy. The values are the ‘why’ to their ‘what’.

But have you ever wondered what your own personal core values are? What the philosophy is that strings together the narrative of your life?

When you don’t stop to question your why you are never really in control of your what. Your life will run its course and at the end of the ride, you will be left wondering what it was all for. In the words of Lao Tzu:

“If you don’t change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

Figuring out where to head is not a simple task, but it becomes a lot easier when you have some core values guiding you along the way. They will shine light on difficult decisions and become a code of conduct for your day-to-day living.


How to choose your core values

Deciding on your core values is a valuable process and should not be rushed. The easiest way to choosing core values is by taking a look at other humans. Make a list of people you know – in real life or online – that you consider good, inspiring or praiseworthy people. What do these people stand for? How do they carry themselves? How do they face adversity? And how do they take up space in the world? These questions can begin to extract some of the things you value in others that can inspire your own values.

From there you can begin to brainstorm a list values that align with the qualities you admire in others. To help you with this process, I have created a list of 50 personal core values that can be accessed below:

Once you have a list of all the values that echo your heart’s calling, it is time to shave and trim the list until you end up with set of cohesive values to guide your life. There is no given amount of personal values you ‘should have’, but make sure they are concise and to the point. Also, be sure to not choose two values that say (more or less) the same thing. ‘Independence’ and ‘freedom’ for example are quite similar, as are ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’. Remember you can always choose to rewrite your core values. They should be the rudders with which to steer the course of your life, not anchors that keep you weighed down in a restrictive mindset.

Watch this Ted Talk on how it is natural for personal values to change over time.


My personal core values

When I embarked on my journey of mental minimalism, one of the first things I asked myself was ‘what is important to me in this life?’. This was and is no easy question and my personal core values did not appear overnight. Over the course of a few months, I started to familiarise myself with the work of many inspiring people and kept a little list of values these people exemplified. This process led me to a list of the three personal core values that I now try to live by.

1. Try a little tenderness

The first value I chose (or chose me) is tenderness. When I struggled with physical and mental health problems a few years ago, I noticed I became softer and gentler. No longer illusioned with the invincibility that so many of us from privileged backgrounds feel in our youth, I opened up to the grittier parts of existence. I loosened up the grip I held around life and I surrendered to the heightened sensitivity that washed over me. As I bathed in my momentary misery, I discovered a tenderness that moved me in a way that was at once profound and undemanding. I realised that in the end kindness is the only thing that truly matters. Tenderness is sometimes called the blossom of love. And after smelling the sweet scent of this metaphysical flower, I have made it a high priority to continuously water my little plant of love and kindness.   

Learn more about tenderness with the suggested reading and listening below:

Gordon Marino – Try a little tenderness (New York Times article)
Jean Vernier – The Wisdom of Tenderness (Podcast episode from On Being)

2. Courage is a heart word

We all know courage as the virtue of doing something despite feeling fear. But at its core, courage is a heart matter. Courage stems from the Latin word for heart. Brené Brown has written that in its earliest forms, courage meant "to speak one's mind by telling all one's heart.” In her work, Brown invites us to speak from the heart in an honest and open manner. Another researcher, Susan David, talks about rejecting the tyranny of positivity in her work on emotional courage. “Tough emotions are part of our contract with life.”, she puts so eloquently when she urges us to stop hiding away from our emotions. Our heart sends us quiet whispers that contain the wisdom we need for intentional action. When we find the courage to find stop avoiding these whispers and honour what they have to say to us, the magic of life begins to unfurl. It is this courage to live a heart-centred life that is my second personal core value.

Learn more about courage with the suggested reading and listening below:

Brené Brown – The Gifts of Imperfection (Book)
On Being Brave in Your Work (Kayte’s vulnerable admittance on the hardships of bravery)
Susan David – The Courage and Power of Emotional Courage (TED Talk)

3. Depth over distance

‘A well-lived life is not about the length, but about the width and depth’, so goes the saying. I would argue that often it isn’t about the width either. We live in a society that loves to skim the surface. We travel ‘the world’, adding visited countries under our belts like proud achievements. We share a highlight reel version of life with our social following but have lost the art of deep conversations. And we have access to a wealth of information, making us jacks of all trades, masters of none. When I say we, I very much include myself in this description. But when I look at the people I truly admire, they are the ones the do not shy away from deep work, deep learning, deep conversations and deep exploration. Jumping off the board of shallow living and choosing a life of depth and meaning is the last personal value I have chosen to honour.  

Learn more about adding depth to your life with the suggested reading and listening below:

Cal Newport – The power of digital detox (Podcast episode from Lewis Howes) (Great place for discovering people who have done deep work)

I would love to know what one of your personal values is and why?