The Importance of Core Values

By Jimmy Warden

What are core values?

Core values are a set of meaningful principles that guide an individual’s behavior and decision-making. They are often rooted in personality or character traits such as kindness, empathy, grit, determination, etcetera. My personal core values are honesty, awareness, joy, and service.

I came to the recognize these ideas as my core values because I reflected on what influences my daily decisions and how have I gotten to the point to where I am today. For example, I felt honesty was a major core value of mine because it is something that I find tremendously important to live your live by. Therefore, I try to be honest with myself and my decisions; I try to be honest with what I say to other people and how I say those things; and I try to be honest with my thinking by trying to figure out the root of where my thoughts come from. Another example was my core value of service. A lot of the decisions that I’ve made in my short “adult life” thus far have been based around providing service to others in the forms of teaching, coaching, and mentoring (essentially all similar types of service, just with different names).

Why should we have core values?

Core values essentially give us a code of ethics to live by to guide our behavior and decision-making. They help us make more “right” decisions because we’ll be thinking with our rational mind, and trying to act in a way that supports our values and higher self. They also help “bad” decisions jump out at us a bit more because we’ll have a greater awareness of how we should be behaving each day and recognizing that our impulsive decisions are rooted in our lower self.

Inside each of us is a higher and lower self. The lower self often acts impulsively, says whatever comes to our mind without thinking it through, and makes decisions to achieve short-term pleasure. The higher self on the other hand acts in alignment with our core values by being a rational thinker, acting in accordance to what is most valuable to us, and makes decisions that align with the version of ourselves we are constantly trying to become.

Core values also serve as a moral compass for us when making decisions. There are a lot of things in today’s world that constantly compete for our attention, which is a big reason why decision-making tends to be very challenging. Core values can guide us to making better decisions to support a better version of ourselves, specifically our higher self.

Having core values and acting in alignment with them allows us more opportunities to experience our higher self and achieve personal growth. This leads to a richer, more fulfilling life because we’ll know what we stand for; we’ll have more direction and meaning in our lives; and we’ll know what decisions we need to make to experience significant contributions to our lives and the world around us. It also gives us more chances to have peak experiences that can help us transcend a previous version of ourselves. With that, ultimately comes a certain level of satisfaction and acceptance that the work we are doing is often more than enough.

How core values have helped me?

Core values have helped me make very challenging decisions in my life. This year, I made a very challenging decision not to coach basketball, even though coaching basketball would be a way of living my core values of joy and service. Basketball has always been a big source of joy and what better way to give back than coach? Despite this, I made the tough decision to temporarily hang up my whistle, and I leaned on my core values to help me make that decision.

First, I had to be honest with myself about this decision. I had to be honest about whether or not I could truly provide my higher self to those I would be coaching with and the players I would be coaching, despite the fact I am now enrolled in a masters program in addition to being a full-time school teacher. I had to be brutally honest about the amount of time the different parts of my life would consume each week. Being the best companion I can (everlasting), being a full-time teacher (~50 hours of work each week between actual teaching, lesson planning, meetings, and other contractual requirements), being a graduate student (~15-20 hours each week), sleeping (~50 hours a week), and self-care/maintenance (~14-21 hours a week) quickly ate up most of my time.

Once this was factored into play, I had to think to myself if I would truly be able to perform at my peak in all of these areas, simultaneously. I quickly became aware that it would be a large challenge to do this. This reflection made me aware that my abilities in all of these areas of my life would become compromised because I was stretching myself too thin, and not giving myself enough time to take care of me. It would hinder my ability to do those things with joy and righteousness.

I also became aware of the fact that the times when I’ve had the least amount of joy in my life is often during the winter. Not necessarily because of coaching, but I have suffered from seasonal depression in the past. Part of the remedy for seasonal depression requires that self-care is a top priority. In the past when I’ve coached, my self-care habits quickly became less consistent. Specifically, exercise and proper nutrition. Not taking care of myself in those areas often made my depression sink even lower, and remove a lot of joy I experience while teaching, coaching, and living. Not only that, but always taking care of others didn’t leave much time for me to take care of myself.

This thought process helped me stay honest with myself, become aware of my personal needs to succeed, figure out how to cultivate more joy in my life, and still be of my best service to others. Sometimes, something just have to give.

How can I develop core values?

In order to develop core values, it’s important to think about the traits you value in people. Do you value kindness? Empathy? Compassion? Determination? Whatever those traits are, bring them to the forefront of your mind. It’s also important to think about the person you’d like to become. Not in an outcome way, but a transformative way. How do you want to act each day to eventually achieve your transformation to a better version of you? What will your daily habits look like? This thought process will help you brainstorm specific actions that align with the principles you’d like to live by in order to slowly evolve into your best self.

If you’re having trouble thinking about who you’d like to become, it would be helpful to think about the people that you admire most. Surely they have characteristics that you’d like to emulate. Disregard achieving a status as an outcome for who’d you like to become because status is often not as fulfilling as society makes it out to be. Once you have identified your values, be cognizant of, and execute specific behaviors that align with them.

For example, one behavior that aligns with the core value of honesty is telling the truth. The best part is, telling the truth can come in several different forms. It can be the words you say, the actions you take, the thoughts you think, and the decisions you make. When you act in alignment with your core values, you’re often having richer experiences in life. When you don’t act in alignment with your core values, you often experience disarray, or even shame and regret because you’ve lied to yourself or other people. Core values will help anchor you in the process of “becoming” each day. It is vital not to feel sorry for yourself after experiencing disarray; instead, you should get back to living by your values. That will put you back on the path of growth.

How do I know if these values are right for me?

The only way to know if your core values are right for you is to trust your intuition. That same and regret that I spoke of are the disarray that we feel when we know we made a “bad” decision. Therefore, after you establish your core values, you have to try to live them out. If you find yourself feeling like your thoughts, actions, and decisions are supporting your growth, there is a high likelihood that you’re living in alignment with your values. If not, then it may be time to re-evaluate your decisions or your values.

Often times, our values are in the right place, so it is crucial to be critical of your own decisions when figuring out how much those decisions are in alignment with your values. Another important piece of information is to forgive yourself often because once your core values are established, you will be much more aware to feeling misaligned when making decisions. Just do your best to move forward, learn from those mistakes, and try to get back on the path.

It is one worth traveling.

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