What You'll Learn
- What Personal Core Values Are
- How to Discover Your Values
- Ways to Prioritize Your Values
- How to Put Your Values Into Action
- Why Values are Important in Relationships
Your personal core values are an important part of who you are—as a person, as a parent, and as a partner. But discovering, prioritizing, and applying your personal core values is easier said than done—especially when we don’t even know how to define “values!” I sat down with Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Dr. Cassidy Freitas to talk about defining your personal core values, why they’re important, and how to live in alignment with them.
When Values Collide…
I will never forget a moment when I had to put my own personal core values to the test. I was preparing to speak at a very important mom event—I’d be speaking to thousands of parents and helping guide them.
But right as I was getting ready, I got the call no parent wants to hear. My son had to go for an x-ray—they suspected he’d broken his arm at school.
My heart dropped. Obviously, my son’s safety and security is the most important thing in the world to me. But I also had other people relying on me. My first instinct was to drop everything and rush to the school.
I had to take a big step back. My son was calm. My husband was home. He could go take our child to the doctor, and I could meet them after I spoke.
Two of my most important personal values were in conflict.
Once I reasoned my way through it, I was fine. But in those first few moments, I was in a big panic. Two of my most important personal values were in conflict. And it wasn’t easy to prioritize them in the moment without feeling like no matter what I chose, I was going to drop the ball.
Living true to our values isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we have to step back and figure out why our values are in conflict, how that causes us to react, and how we can make choices and fulfill our values.
What Personal Core Values Are
One of the biggest hurdles I face with my clients when I bring up the idea of values is that many people aren’t sure what “values” even mean. They fall back on religious beliefs, or values their family passed onto them.
But your personal core values are different. Dr. Cassidy pointed out that our values are like the foundation of a house. Your values are what you build your life on—your work, your family, even what you do for fun. They’re your compass for everything you do. Without them, you become lost—almost like a chameleon, trying to take on values from other people.
Dr. Cassidy says that your values are the things that would matter most to you if nobody else was watching.
Your most important values are unique to you. And sometimes, you have to dive deep to understand what they truly are.
How to Discover Your Values
Uncovering your values can be a strange sensation. If I just ask you what matters most to you, you might say “family” or “relationships.” But in reality, those are categories that your values fall under. To discover your values, you have to dig a bit deeper.
What matters most to you when it comes to your family? Being present? Honesty? Compassion? What about with your partner? Loyalty? Appreciation? Trustworthiness?
It isn’t always easy to define. Sometimes, the easiest way is to start with a list of values and pare them down.
Dr. Cassidy shared that you can also use your emotions as allies in the discovery of your values. First, think of a time when you were truly joyful. What was happening in that situation? Clearly visualize the events leading up to that moment. What was going on to make you feel joyful?
When we are joyful, it’s usually because we are living in alignment with our values.
When we are joyful, it’s usually because we are living in alignment with our values. Gaining clarity on why we feel joy can help lead us to those values.
Pain can also be an ally in the discovery of your values. Think of a time when you felt sad, angry, scared, or guilty. What was happening in those situations? We often feel these emotions when a value has been lost or isn’t being honored.
Dr. Cassidy was quick to point out, however, that sometimes we use a painful memory to try to create something firm and rigid. (How many of us have said, “Well I’ll never do what my parents did!”)
Values are not meant to be rigid. They’re meant to be flexible, to ebb and flow. Not only do our priorities shift over time, but sometimes we have to prioritize our strongest values against each other.
Ways to Prioritize Your Values
Just as I faced a difficult decision in rushing to see my son when he needed an x-ray or taking a step back and realizing that my husband could fulfill the safety and security value in that moment, we often have to make choices around our values.
As moms, we run into this often. Dr. Cassidy faced a period of time where she had to leave early in the morning to continue her education, and not see her daughter in the morning. Being present is one of her values. But so is learning.
It was easy for her to feel like she was failing to be present if she went to her classes. But she knew that she could hold onto her values flexibly by making a commitment to be fully present later in the day.
Many moms put their own career or education values on the backburner when their children are little. I took three consecutive maternity leaves, and while I am so glad that I was fortunate enough to be able to do that, I did have to shift my own priorities in my values. I had to accept that learning was going to be on hold for a while. Eventually, I was able to move that back in as a priority.
It’s okay to change priorities and make choices. That doesn’t have to mean you’re failing.
The season of life you are in now impacts your values. It’s okay to change priorities and make choices. That doesn’t have to mean you’re failing. It doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your values.
That’s why it’s important to reevaluate your values regularly. From there, you can make sure that you are living in alignment with them.
How to Put Your Values Into Action
Most of us aren’t used to actively using our values to make decisions. We might know when we stray, but it isn’t our first instinct to deliberately use our values as a compass.
But that’s exactly what Dr. Cassidy and I recommend for our clients. Living a life aligned with your values requires taking a step back and actively thinking about them, even in stressful moments.
Dr. Cassidy recommends the BOLD method—breath, observe what’s happening, listen to your values, then decide on an action. She points out that it will feel foreign at first. In a way, we have to reprogram our brains to think this way. But doing so lets us live a life aligned to our values.
When my three boys are all asking me for something at once and I am in the middle of working, it can feel very overwhelming. I want to snap, to yell, to send everyone away. But that isn't honoring my personal values as a mom.
Not only am I putting my values into action, but I’m also modeling mindfulness out loud for my sons.
I can shift that response by pausing and reacting more slowly, saying, “Wow, Mommy’s brain feels really overwhelmed right now. I need to take a deep breath. Can you take turns asking for what you need?” Not only am I putting my values into action, but I’m also modeling mindfulness out loud for my sons.
(Of course, we all mess up, and that’s okay! If you step away from your values and snap or yell, just commit to repairing.)
Why Values are Important in Relationships
When you live a life that is aligned to your values, you usually feel better—more joyful, more fulfilled, more connected to those around you.
It’s important to consider your values in all areas (your relationship, your family, your career, your pleasure) and use them as your compass in decision-making. It can lead to less resentment, less rage, less frustration, and less anger in your life.
This plays into how you interact with the people in your life. If you have a partner whose values differ from yours, understanding that can help you see situations from their perspective.
For example, if one of you values spontaneity and one of you values preparation, there might be some conflict that comes up. The partner who values preparation might spend thirty minutes putting together a diaper bag and making sure everybody is ready, and the partner who values spontaneity might feel frustrated and want to leave the house faster.
That could lead to an unnecessary argument. But if you understand each other’s values and respect them, you can avoid some of those conflicts by acknowledging that the other person is trying to live aligned to their values.
It helps you see eye to eye, communicate your own values, understand your own reactions, and navigate your life together more easily.
Most importantly, living a life aligned with your values gives you a true north star. The decisions you make in all areas of life become easier when you have a compass. Clear, defined personal values help you shut out the noise and make the choices that are right for you and your family.
Our Motherhood Roadmap is a guided journal that helps you uncover your values in motherhood, redefine your expectations, and create a life that is aligned with them! Start discovering and prioritizing your motherhood values today!