I write a lot about values and how integral they are for me in my life (have you noticed?).  If I feel weak, am in a funk or annoyed, I know right away that a value is being trampled on. When I am feeling like I can fly, it’s because I’m honouring my values. Pretty beautiful in its simplicity. Making life-changing decisions without being armed with an awareness of your core values is about as much fun and constructive as going bra shopping with NO idea of your measurements. Uncomfortable, de-motivating and potentially debilitating (you just may throw your back out…or worse).

Values make us our unique selves. Like building blocks, they are fundamental to our essence. Take out a couple and the whole structure comes a-tumbling down. Without our values, we’d just be reasonably drawn facsimiles of ourselves. They define who we are at our core. Or at least, “core values” do.

Here’s what they are NOT. Values (noun) are not the thing that you might value (verb) like time to yourself, chateau-neuf-du-pape or accolades. Here’s the litmus test. Would you be yourself without those things? Most likely, yes.

I promised you in the last post that I’d share some values clarification tools from my coach’s toolbelt to help you go spelunking for your own. I didn’t create these…they were a gift from CTI (one of my core values happens to be acknowledgment…it means I can’t take credit that’s not mine).

One of the most important thing to remember as you start to compile your own handy dandy reference guide of values: they are neither right nor wrong. They just are.

Peak Experience

This one’s an exercise. Find a comfy spot, grab a pad and pen and find a way to get relaxed. Think back to a time when you were in flow. Your most "you". Alive. Vital. You thought to yourself: “Time could stand still…I have never felt more myself than I do in this precise moment. I am invincible in my own skin and I feel FINE”.

(Don’t judge what comes up…it’s all good.)

Go ahead and do it. We’ll wait for you.

Once you have that moment in your mind, start to write. Notice who’s there, what the sights and sounds are and what feelings come up for you. Jot down as much detail as you’re able to.

Can you cull the values that show up in that story? What identifiers help to lock in how you were feeling?

My peak experience surprised the hell out of me. As I started to do the exercise a while back, I went into the process assuming I’d relive my joyous wedding day, or the exhilarating birth of my daughter. Nope.

(Remember…no judge-y)

Deep breath. Here goes:

It was 1990 and I was 17, on-stage in my packed high school auditorium and doing a (poor) riff on Bill and Ted in a student council campaign speech (written by my dear friend Nicole). I can’t quite recall if I was impersonating Bill or Ted (like it matters) but I do recall an inordinate number of “Party On Dudes” peppering the promissory language of an aspiring politician (albeit Social Convener)*. I felt exhilarated, alive and on fire. I couldn’t see the audience (blinded by the spotlight…holy metaphor, Batman) but I do recall the impression that they were on their feet. I rocked that mother out and won the election.


So, it’s not a huge surprise that performance, risk-taking, play, creativity and community are pretty fundamental values for me.

You may decide to bring someone else in on this cool and illuminating parlor trick. Ask your partner or best friend about a time when they’ve seen you in your flow (we do this in my Board of Your Life sessions …what shows up never ceases to dazzle me). I’ve been told that leadership, helping/healing and generosity are evident to the observer when I’m in my element.

Must Haves

While it is possible, it’s not likely that one single moment in time will capture ALL of your values in one peak experience. Hence, the “must haves”.

If the aforementioned time to yourself, chateau-neuf-du-pape and accolades are indeed essential to your sense of self, they may well point to the following core values: freedom, quality and recognition come to mind. But heck, these are YOUR values to validate.

Beyond the values already expressed, I need the following to be present for me to feel fulfilled: appreciation, partnership/collaboration, intimacy, trust and authenticity.

Suppressed Values

When you’re pissed off, frustrated or even just unsettled, often times this gives us some insight into a value being squashed. If someone being late for a meeting makes you insane in the brain, respect may be a pretty big deal to you.

I cannot tolerate injustice. When I witness it, I am beside myself. As such, justice is a core value…and not one to be trifled with.

Invisible Values

This one is a bit harder to identify...and not just because they're invisible, smarty-pants. These are the values so very much ingrained in you that you're barely aware that they're there. They may show up in how you dress (are you super polished?) or in how you honour (or don't) your commitments.

Obsessive Expression

What are you always insisting upon? If everything must always be neat and tidy, tidy and neat, perfection may be your thing (me, not so much). I'm always harping on transparency...being it and expecting it in others. How about you?

Future Self Visualization

I'll not really touch on this here doozy of a values clarification tool. Not because I don't think it to be powerful. On the contrary. My personal bias is that this works best when done with a Sherpa like a coach to guide the process. You can google it (“future self visualization” search yields 800,000+ results) if you like.

Now you have some of your core values all written down in one compelling list. It will expand and contract over time.  Check in with it often. Stick it on your wall. Maybe even dedicate a vision board to it.

One final thing. Please do an honest assessment of how present and alive those values are in your life right now. Rate that “aliveness” on a scale of 0 to 10 (zero being flat-line dead and 10 being, well, a 10). Now consider what would be going on for you in your life for all of your values were being honoured at a 10? What would you be doing? How would that feel? What needs to/wants to shift?

Mind blowing stuff, huh?

And now the surprise bonus. Guess what? Remember that choice that you want to make that’s been on your mind and keeping you awake? You now know what the right decision is for you. Go on and be your glorious self. We love you for it…and so will you.

* BTW, I did deliver on MOST of my campaign promises: dance-a-thon, MuchMusic video dance party (I SAID it was 1990, ok?). Integrity…also a core value.