Values Clarification

Everything you need to know about values clarification in 5 minutes or less

🎯 What Is Values Clarification?

  • Values are principles or ideals that guide your behavior, especially in difficult situations or circumstances.
  • Values clarification is a process of reflecting on and deepening your understanding of your personal values so that your actions and behavior are more aligned with what you really want and believe in rather than the whims or impulses of the moment.
  • The clearer you are about your values, the more motivation you will have to make good decisions in every area of life.

👀 Examples of Values Clarification

  • If you have clarity about honesty as a value in your relationships, you’ll be more motivated to communicate assertively with your spouse or partner and ask for what you want despite feeling afraid or awkward.
  • If you’re clear on creativity as a value, you’ll have more motivation to share novel ideas with your colleagues at work despite struggling with imposter syndrome or self-doubt.
  • If you’ve done a lot of values clarification work and understand that freedom is an important value for you, you will feel more motivated (and be more likely to persevere with) your dream of starting your own business.

😬 Problems That Come from a Lack of Values Clarity

  • Self-Doubt and Imposter Syndrome. Very often the root cause of self-doubt and imposter syndrome is not too much anxiety so much as too little clarity about what really matters to you and why. Clarity creates confidence.
  • Procrastination and Avoidance. While many things can lead to procrastination, a powerful but under-appreciate cause is lack of clarity around the purpose of the work you’re procrastinating on. Values clarity leads to intrinsic motivation.
  • Approval-Seeking. When you don’t know what you want—because you’ve never made time to explore and clarify your values—it’s natural to look to other people and unconsciously imitate their values. This is the core dynamic of the theory of mimetic desire.
  • Low Emotional Resilience. The ability to tolerate and stay resilient in the face of difficult emotions depends greatly on having a strong sense of purpose behind your behaviors. What do you care so much about that you would willingly do it despite feeling bad?
  • Toxic Relationships. Without a clear sense of what type of relationship you really want and would be healthy for you, you’re likely to fall into relationships that seem superficially appealing but are substantively toxic.

💡 Key Insights About Values Clarification

  • Universal Values vs Personal Values. It’s important to distinguish between universal values which are ostensibly true and valuable for everyone vs personal values which have meaning and utility for you but not necessarily others.
  • Personal values are often inherited, but not always. You may hold a personal value primarily because it was something you grew up believing was important in your family, culture, peer group, etc. That value may or may not continue to be relevant for you. On the other hand, you may claim or discover a personal value that was not present at all in your upbringing.
  • Personal values can change over time. Often personal values are relatively context-specific meaning they’re more or less relevant to you in a certain context or stage of life.
  • Clear values boost motivation. Not only do values help us know how to act or make good decisions, but they also give us energy and motivation to actually do what we know is right. And the clearer your values are the more strongly they will motivate you toward right action.

🛠️ Tips and Tools for Values Clarification

  • Values Discovery. The first step in clarifying your values is to identify and discover them in the first place. While there are many ways to do this, a simple and straightforward approach is to read and reflect on a personal values list and reflect on any that seem especially interesting or resonant.
  • Values Prioritization. Do you value generosity? Of course! Do you value self-care? Of course! But what if those values come into conflict? What if being generous means sacrificing your self-care? What if prioritizing self-care means you will have to make sacrifices in your ability to be generous? Values will inevitably come into conflict. The question is, are you prepared for that? Have you reflected on how you will navigate conflicting values? Prioritizing your values is just as important as identifying them.
  • Frustration Flipping. One powerful way to identify and clarify your personal values is to flip your frustrations. Whenever you find yourself frustrated, ask yourself: What object am I being blocked from achieving and why does that object matter to me? The answers to those questions will clue you into many of your most important personal values.
  • The Peter Thiel Question. What important truth do very few people agree with you on? This question is especially good at helping to clarify personal values which—for one reason or another—we tend to avoid or hide from. Personal values that feel shameful, counter-cultural, embarrassing, or just plain weird are often the ones we should dedicate the most time to exploring.

💬 Quotes About Values Clarification and Personal Values

  • People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. — Thomas Merton
  • Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer. — Epictetus
  • Let no one think it is an easy way because it is concerned with moments of happiness rather than with stern duty or high moral endeavour. For what is really easy, as I found, is to blind one’s eyes to what one really likes, to drift into accepting one's wants ready-made from other people, and to evade the continual day to day sifting of values. — Marion Milner
  • Do not confuse things that are hard with things that are valuable. Many things in life are hard. Just because you are giving a great effort does not mean you are working toward a great result. Make sure that mountain is worth climbing. — James Clear

🔬 Selected Research on Values Clarification

  • Values Clarification for Chronic Pain and Depression. This 2008 study showed that individuals who clarified their values and began living in alignment with them showed significant improvements for both chronic pain and depression.
  • Self-Determination Theory and Values Clarification. Self-Determination Theory suggests that acting in accordance with your values leads to improved wellbeing and mental health—perhaps because of a strong correlation between values-aligned behavior and intrinsic motivation. This 2012 meta-analysis found strong support for SDT's principles which suggests that values clarification is beneficial for mental health.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Values Clarification. ACT is a well-supported approach to treating mental health struggles whose core focus is values identification and clarification. This 2015 meta-analysis showed that across 39 randomized controlled trials, ACT was more effective than placebo or treatment as usual and at least as effective as other traditional mental health interventions for anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, and health problems.