When life gets hectic we occasionally lose sight of what is actually important to us. We may have jobs, children, friends, hobbies, a community, and many other areas in our lives that are important to us in which we either over-commit or accidentally neglect. If you were to write down how much time and energy you give to each of these facets of your life on a daily basis, would it accurately reflect how much you care about each?

Value Domains

 It can be helpful to clarify those areas of meaning by identifying your values. Values are those driving forces that guide us toward what we truly care about the most. We apply these values uniquely to our life domains, which may include:

  • Family

  • Romantic Intimacy

  • Friendships/Social Life

  • Parenting/Role-Modeling

  • Career/Employment

  • Education/Personal Growth

  • Leisure/Hobbies/Fun

  • Spirituality/Religion

  • Self-Care/Health

  • Community/Environment/Citizenship

These driving forces may look differently in different areas of your life. One way to think of values, when thinking of a particular domain, is to ask yourself, “How do I want to show up in this area of my life?” “What do I want my role to be in this domain?” An example of how values may vary between domains may be: “At my job, I aspire to be quiet and contemplative, however, in my social life, I aspire to be outgoing and care-free.” Distinguishing individual values within each domain can help to set boundaries and intention.

Values vs Goals

An important distinction to make is that values and goals are different. A goal can be achieved and crossed off a list. A value is something that may be met in a given moment, but is something we continually aspire to. Reaching a goal may be a step toward a given value. For example, if your value is to show up in your marriage as a caring partner, you may set a goal to make dinner for your partner three times per week. However, reaching that goal may not be the only thing you feel you need to do to be caring, nor does cooking dinner three times in one week give you a permanent status as “caring partner.” For now, leave goals out of the equation and simply focus on those values that are most meaningful to you in a given domain.

Prioritizing Values

Of the ten life domains listed above, some may be less important to you, or have no importance in your life at all. It is helpful to identify which of these domains are of significance to you before identifying your values within each domain. Keep in mind that your priorities may change over time and the values within each domain may evolve as well. For example, perhaps when you were younger, friends and education were higher priorities, but, now your romantic partnership and career have become more important (relationship counseling can help with these new priorities). Alternatively, let’s say that a few years ago, in your family domain your most important value was to be a fun and competitive sibling but that now you value responsibility and compassion in your sibling relationship. Accepting the possibility that your values and priorities may change will keep you in the present moment, allowing you to mindfully identify your true current values.

Identifying Values

With these considerations in mind, I challenge you to construct your values compass.

  • Start by examining all ten domains, perhaps leaving out those that hold no importance to you or creating your own domains in order to include all areas of your individual life.

  • Give each domain a number from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest priority), not ranking them in order but rather rating their importance individually.

  • Next, write down the values in adjective-form that identify how you want to show up in each of these domains (Example: Family domain- Compassionate, loving, supportive)

  • Perhaps write down the people involved and, if applicable, identify specific values for specific relationships (Example: Family domain- Sister: Trusting, honest, fun-loving Mom: Understanding, caring, confiding).

  • Focus on the essence of what gives each domain meaning, what is at the core of why this area of your life is important to you?

This process may take some time and revision. There is no right or wrong way to make this values compass. It can be as structured or unstructured as you like. If you need help brainstorming this worksheet by Russ Harris asks some powerful questions and offers a list of values and their definitions. In Part Two of Exploring Values and Creating Daily Meaning, we will discuss specific actions that originate from the values work you did here.

One way to enrich this values exploration experience it to have a co-pilot to help you navigate. It is easy to get stuck or lost within the stories we tell ourselves. Bypass this struggle and consider talking this out with a trained professional.