Getting to Your Personal Why: The Importance of Naming Your Core Values

Shifting Our Mindset 

In my work with Restorative Approaches, I’ve often heard coaches and trainers remind people that Restorative Approaches isn’t just something you do, it’s a mindset shift. And when people have the chance to explore what that means, some common themes emerge. I’ve heard people use phrases such as it means to “slow down,” “to center ourselves,” “to remember why we are doing this work,” “to take time to connect,” and “to be fully human with one another.”

Wordle- Relationship

To me, all of these phrases tie back to the concept of creating authentic relationships. To be authentic with others, we must understand ourselves. Taking the time to uncover, name, and reflect upon our core values is a powerful way to do that, which opens the door to sharing our true self with others.

What is a Core Value?

Core values are deeply held beliefs and desired ways of being. Core values can be powerful motivational forces in our lives. Our core values are often at the heart of our priority setting, even if we don’t consciously recognize them. And taking the time to understand your core values can help you harness that motivational force in a dynamic new way.

First VTRAC Lunch and Learn

As a member of the Vermont Restorative Approaches Collaborative, I was happy to share a core values reflection exercise with our VTRAC community. Ten members of our VTRAC community came together to share in the first VTRAC Lunch and Learn, held virtually on September 20, 2022.

 As we came together, we started with an opening circle with a prompt that connects to autumn. The prompt was: What are your harvesting now based on seeds you planted in the spring or summer? Too often we get caught up in the cycle of quick results or immediate outcomes. As a practitioner of restorative approaches, I wanted to encourage our community to take the time to reflect on how where they have been. And how their previous investment of their time and energy has contributed to where they are today. This opening prompt is also a reminder that:

  • We live in harmony with the seasons.
  • Some cultures consider time to be circular, rather than linear.
  • And it helped create a reflective mindset.
Table with Harvest

 After the opening prompt, we worked through the core values activity. If you would like to try this activity yourself, you can find my guide to it here: Values Reflection Exercise.

Tips on the Core Values Reflection Exercise

For the core values reflection exercise, I used concepts from universal design for learning. In the guide, you are presented with two different options for identifying your core values. The first option is to read through a list of words (nouns and adjectives) that are often considered values. The second option is to free write your answer to prompts that are provided.

  • Tip: If you read through the list, start by just reading through it. Let each word flow over you to see if you have an emotional reaction. Then read through it a second time, eliminating words that have little or no emotional impact for you. Circle or highlight the words that “jump” out at you emotionally.
  • Tip: If you try the free writing option, set a timer for yourself. Start with 10 minutes and see what you generate in response to the questions. With free writing, it’s important not to censor yourself.

Now comes the part that I find the most difficult! Narrow down your list of words to 3 to 7 core values. For each value, there is a second set of prompts that helps you link your values to actions. Lastly, try drafting action statements that will help you know when you are living in accordance with your personal values.

Values + Action = Integrity

How can this activity help you? When our values align with our actions, that is personal integrity (SoulSalt, 2022). When we are asked to take actions that are contrary to our values, it creates a sense of inner conflict or division. When we take actions that align with our values, it creates a sense of unity of purpose. By exploring, uncovering, naming, and reflecting on our core values, we can use that information about ourselves to guide our interactions and relationship-building with others and to guide our decision-making. Understanding our core values can also give us insight into why we have a strong emotional reaction to a situation or experience conflict with others. Because values are a hidden motivator driving behavior, we often find that a difference in values is a root cause of conflict.

 If you take the time to complete the Values Reflection Exercise, make an appointment to check in with yourself in 6 – 12 months. Come back to the inventory. See if your answers still resonate with yourself. How have you been living your values? How do you want to continue to grow as a person of integrity?

For More Information:

  • On the RISE-VT project, click here.
  • On the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion, click here.

Author: Valerie F. Wood, Ph.D

Dr. Valerie F. Wood (she/her) is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Vermont’s Center on Disability and Community Inclusion. Her broad research interest is in systems improvement. She uses scientific methods to identify and remove barriers in service systems. This makes these systems easier to navigate for all people, including people with disabilities and their families. Removing unnecessary barriers creates more equity and inclusion in opportunities. This empowers people with disabilities and their families, helping them to choose how they want to live, work, and play.

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