Updated: May 5, 2022
Explore a list of values and do some exercises to better understand which values matter most to you.
A value can be defined as "an enduring belief upon which a person acts". Values are similar to attitudes and beliefs in that they have cognitive, emotional, and behavioral parts. But, researchers suggest that values are more enduring and long-lasting than either beliefs or attitudes (Limthanakom, Lauffer, Mujtaba, & Murphy Jr, 2008).
The two types of values
There are thought to be two different types of values: instrumental values and terminal values.
Instrumental values are about desirable ways to act or behave (e.g., honest, responsible, loving).
Terminal values are about desirable end states (e.g., health, freedom, family security; Gibson, Greenwood, & Murphy Jr, 2009).
Some of us prefer one type of value over the other (Allen, Ng, & Wilson, 2002). But we all have both of these types of values that guide our lives to some extent.
Why Values Matter
Our values have a big influence on how we act. Acting in ways that go against our values doesn’t make us feel great. So, we generally try to be consistent with our values. In fact, shifting our values in small ways can shift our actions.
For example, one study showed that priming people with achievement values increased their success at completing a puzzle but made them less helpful to the experimenter. The value of achievement led them to act in ways that seemed likely to support achievement. But another study showed that priming people with a benevolence value decreased their success at the puzzle and increased their helpfulness (Maio, Pakizeh, Cheung, & Rees, 2009).
This suggests it can be really helpful to get clear on our values. If we know what’s driving us then we’ll better understand why we do the things we do.
What Are Your Values?
There are tons of values to choose from. So how do you know which ones yours are? One way to find out is by ranking them from most important to least important. Start by asking yourself if you hold any of the following values. Then for the values that you do have, rank them from most important to least important. (Feel free to add any values you have that are missing from the list).
List of Values
Try to get your list down to your top 3 to 4 values. Also, try to make sure that these values represent different parts of yourself.
Act On Your Values
To make each of your values actionable, add a verb to it. In other words, describe how you will live each of your values.
For example, if your value is “love”, what will your action be? It could be to 'act with love', 'show love', or even 'receive love with acceptance'.
If your value is “growth”, your actions might be to 'try new things' or 'take online courses'.
If your value is “fun”, your actions might be to 'spend time with friends', or 'fill your day with activities’.
Not all values are easy to add a verb to, so just do your best. This can help you feel like you’re in alignment with your values, live your values, and boost your well-being.
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Allen, M. W., Ng, S. H., & Wilson, M. (2002). A functional approach to instrumental and terminal values and the value‐attitude‐behaviour system of consumer choice. European journal of Marketing.
Gibson, J. W., Greenwood, R. A., & Murphy Jr, E. F. (2009). Generational differences in the workplace: Personal values, behaviors, and popular beliefs. Journal of Diversity Management (JDM), 4(3), 1-8.
Limthanakom, N., Lauffer, W., Mujtaba, B. G., & Murphy Jr, E. F. (2008). The Ranking Of Terminal And Instrumental Values By Working Professionals In Thailand, Singapore And The United States: What Is Important And How Do They Impact Decision-Making? International Business & Economics Research Journal (IBER), 7(4).
Maio, G. R., Pakizeh, A., Cheung, W. Y., & Rees, K. J. (2009). Changing, priming, and acting on values: effects via motivational relations in a circular model. Journal of personality and social psychology, 97(4), 699.