How to Get Clear About What You Want: Clarify your values (1)

Values elicitation

Most people have had the experience of setting New Year’s Resolutions and not sticking to them. One of the biggest reasons for failure is setting resolutions which you’re not 100% aligned with. If your resolutions are not aligned with your values, your motivation won’t last. You may even find yourself doing things that sabotage the goals you thought you wanted.

So, unless you are already absolutely, no-doubt-whatsoever, 100% clear about what’s important to you, it’s worth taking a little time to get clear about your values.

This is an edited extract from my book Achieve Your Goals (Dorling Kindersley 2006) which gives you step-by-step instructions on how to do this (NB the book has a lot more illustrations, diagrams, and general beautiful design):

What are values?

Your values provide the motivating force behind your actions. They get you out of bed in the morning, and determine how you spend your time. If something is not important to you, you are not going to spend any time in pursuit of it.

Your values are also the criteria that you use to decide whether a particular action is right or wrong. They guide your decisions and provide meaning in your life. This guidance usually happens at a more or less unconscious level – you usually know if something is right or wrong without having to think about it too much. If you follow the guidance in this section to become explicitly aware of your values, you can use them as a checklist to evaluate any choices you are offered.

We acquire our values in the course of our upbringing, from our parents, peer groups, education, and the information we take in from the media. We also modify our values in the light of the conclusions we draw for ourselves from the events of our lives.Values are abstract concepts (like fun, integrity, learning, or security) rather than particular things or actions. This means that they can be fulfilled in many different ways – you’re not tied to one particular career choice, for example, because there may be many different careers that fulfil your values.The values that are important to you in your life as a whole may play out with some variations in different contexts of your life. What’s important to you in your career, for example, may be different from your priorities for relationships, or health and fitness.

Step 1: Finding your values for a particular area

Choose an area of your life (like, for example, Career, Relationships, or Finances) that you want to work on first and ask yourself:

“What is important to me about <area>?”

Write down the immediate answer that comes to mind. Then continue to ask:

“What else is important to me about <area>?”

You will end up with a list of around seven to ten values – maybe less, maybe more.

Tips for getting the best from this process

  • The values you end up with should be abstract concepts. If the area you are looking at is “Work and Career” and once of your answers is something concrete like “a good company car”, you need to find out what abstract value this is representing. This is easily done – just ask: “What is important about having a good company car?” Continue to ask the “What is important?” question until you get up to an abstract value rather than a thing or an activity. In this case, for some people, it might be “recognition”; for others it might be “reward”.
  • You may find that you come out with four or five values in rapid succession and then your mind goes blank. These are all the values that were at the forefront of your mind, but there are probably others that you are less consciously aware of but are equally strongly held. To unearth these, continue to ask: “What is important about <area>?” and listen for the answer.
  • If your list of values includes a word like “satisfaction”, “fulfilment” or “contentment”, check what that word means to you. If it is what you would get if all the other values on the list were present, you can safely take it out. If it means something else to you, leave it in.  
  • This list should be about your values, rather than what anyone else thinks should be on the list. The more honest with yourself you are, the more valuable the list will be to you. If keeping other people happy is important to you in this context, then it deserves to be on the list as a value in its own right.

Try this exercise out, and why not share how you get on by leaving a comment below?

What would you say to getting an unfair advantage in achieving your goals?

This ‘dual ­induction’ hypnotic audio by the author of the acclaimed book Achieve Your Goals: Strategies To Transform Your Life (Dorling Kindersley 2006) is designed to help you decide what you want, install your goals into your future, and stay focused on your goals once you have set them.

Over a background of unobtrusive ambient music, my voice delivers separate positive suggestions to reach both hemispheres of your brain. You can consciously listen to one or the other, but not both at the same time!

So while your conscious mind just gives up and relaxes, your unconscious mind takes on board the empowering suggestions.

Listen to a sample, or download the audio straight away here

Next in this series: How to prioritise your values (but do the exercise on this page first!)

© 2020 – 2022, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.


  1. Marga

    Once I know my values, what is the next step?

    1. Andy Smith

      Hi Marga,

      Thanks for this great question! Once you’ve discovered your values, put them in order, and checked for clashes, your next step might be to think about what you want.

      You probably want to examine your values in a particular context – e.g. work and career, or relationships, or finances, or health and fitness. Looking at what you want for your life overall might feel too overwhelming to start with!

      If you were choosing to look at work and career, for example, take each value in turn and think about what job or role would satisfy that value. You’re looking for 100% satisfaction, without any reservations, because why limit yourself?

      You can make it easier (and maybe get even clearer about what your values really are) by remembering the very best experiences of your career so far (or of any kind of work if you’re just starting). What was important to you about those experiences? What conditions were in place that made those great experiences possible? This can give you an idea about what you want more of in the future, then you can use that as a foundation for your goals.

      Your question has highlighted that I need to write a few more articles about goal-setting, maybe even a book! Or you could look at my old book ‘Achieve Your Goals’ (Dorling Kindersley 2006) – there are still some old copies available on Amazon UK and maybe some of their other stores

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.