Having established and well-defined core values matters for everyone, at every level: from college students to stay-at-home moms, executive officers, retirees, city officials, regional managers, international business owners, and leaders of nations.

They represent our most deeply held beliefs, determine how we develop our culture, and give us a code of conduct for every situation.

So have you taken the time to determine your own values? If not, here are a few simple steps to get you started.

Consider What’s Important

Set aside an hour and start jotting down your highest priorities and most deeply held convictions. Are you religious? Are you a “family first” sort of person? Do you put everything on hold to focus on your health? Is there something you’re always saying — like “you’re only as good as your word” or “laughter is the best medicine”? Do you view certain attributes as an instant turnoff, like closed-mindedness or unreliability?

If you need some help, browse a few lists of core values (like this or this). Read what our team has chosen for their personal values. Consider the Weaving Influence values.

Refine Your Foundations

Feel free to let that list simmer for a few days, if you want. Some of us take longer to process ideas, and you might have a few lightbulb moments in the shower or the middle of the night (just keep paper and pen handy so you don’t disrupt your sleep trying to remember it all night!). When you’re ready to move on, print out the list and a few different colored pens. Read over each entry:

  • Does it duplicate or overlap with any other entries?
  • Is there a more succinct way to say it (i.e., simplify “being honest, open, and trustworthy” to “integrity”)?
  • Is it something you want to be known by for the rest of your life?

Using one color, make revisions beside each entry. Now grab a second color, and start underlining the top dozen things that matter most to you. Once you’re finished, grab a third color and circle the top five from that list.

Clarify Each Value

Open a new document and list those top five values. Under each one, write a short (1-2 lines) statement of how you define that value. For instance, under integrity you could write: “Not just refraining from verbal lies, but being trustworthy, authentic, and honest in every area of my life.” Under people first you could write: “Value others more than stuff or status. Prioritize time together. Support each others’ endeavors. Work life around family, rather than the other way around.”

This step may take some time, dictionary work, and soul searching to complete — but don’t rush the process. Mull it over as you go through your days, making decisions and interacting with others. How are those five values motivating you and guiding your actions? How can you better define and describe their significance in a timeless yet personally applicable way?

Add Specific Applications

For each value, what are some specific ways or scenarios that it will be acted upon? List up to five for each one. For example, where does integrity matter most to you? Some things you could list include: doing what you promise, conducting business in a trustworthy manner, interacting with others respectfully and openly, giving your best effort in every area, etc.

You want these examples to be timeless, not just “being honest when I have lunch with my sister on Friday” — but also specific, not vague generalizations such as “always being honest.” Think of it like a spectrum: your examples need to land somewhere in the middle. Again, take a few days or a week to consider where each value has the most impact in your everyday life. And remember, this list is for you alone. Include whatever makes the most sense for your life, where you need the reminders most, or where you want each value to have the most impact.

Review and Remember

Once your top five values have been clarified and defined, and you’ve listed some specific ways you will live them out — don’t just close the document and forget about it! Now is the time to celebrate a fresh sense of purpose and priority! Post your values where you’ll see them on a regular basis. Here are some ideas:

  • Print out individual values and definitions in an eye-catching font and color, then frame each and hang on your office or bedroom wall.
  • Create a simple but professional looking document with the entire list (sans applications) and frame to put on your desk.
  • Dedicate a space in your yearly planner for your values list, and include the list of applications for each.
  • Include your complete values and applications list with your monthly, quarterly, or yearly goals worksheets.

Again, there’s no wrong way to do this — figure out what works best for you. The point is to keep them front of mind and review them on a regular basis, to ensure that you’re living according to the values you’ve chosen. They may change a bit down the road, and that’s okay. They’re your values: feel free to revise and rearrange them through the years to fit your changing priorities and beliefs.

Have you ever set personal core values? What are your top five?