Do You Know Your Core Values?

I’ve spent hours agonizing over my “true self,” and years yearning to find my “sense of purpose.” For so long, I documented my questions in my most trusted companions: simple college-lined spiral-bound notebooks; my journals. As I grew more inquisitive, I began to read through my old entries—and there, in the midst of my distractions and tangents, I found what I had been looking for. My personal values, the foundation for all my decisions and desires, were sitting just under the surface of my words all along.

Values are guiding principles that can inform how we move about our lives. They are a compass we can turn to when faced with difficult decisions.

The discovery process isn’t always straightforward—it’s easy to confuse our core values with our behavior, our job, our skills, or our interests. Instead, values are guiding principles that can inform how we move about our lives. They are a compass we can turn to when faced with difficult decisions.

Because when we know what’s most important to us, it becomes easier to decide where to live, where to work, how to spend our time, and who to spend it with.

But in a world full of fleeting trends, seeing what is most important to us and not someone else can be difficult. These personal values stem from our upbringing, beliefs, and personal experiences, so everyone’s will be different. So often, we see something that works for one person and want to emulate it for ourselves—and that doesn’t always work. That’s okay!

Below, you’ll find a few journal prompts I’ve used for myself and some prompts that have been inspired by realizations that helped me along the way. These are meant to help you put your thoughts to paper, not to carve your values in stone.

Know that your values can change—they might manifest themselves differently over time, or they might change entirely.

Most importantly? Know that your values can change—they might manifest themselves differently over time, or they might change entirely.  Give yourself grace when you realize you are no longer the same person you once were. When we’re examining ourselves, it’s important not to get caught up in trying to judge ourselves while writing. Just write. You can analyze and deconstruct later.

Here is a handy list of personal values from Brené Brown with a few suggestions to help you get started on the journal prompts below. Then, head here for more journal prompts for any emotion you might be feeling right now.

Start easy and small. Write out your ideal morning routine, down to the smallest detail. Are you sleeping until 11 a.m.? Or are you sneaking in a little quiet time before the kids wake up? Do you drink Folgers from a Mr. Coffee, or are you sipping artisanal coffee from a French press?

Core values to consider: Balance, Leisure, Self-Discipline, Routine, Independence

Write about your future self in the present tense, as in, “I am a teacher, I have two dogs, and I own a home full of thriving houseplants.” Paint a picture of your life that’s honest and optimistic. Don’t focus too much on perfection; let your creativity bring clarity like you’re watching a Polaroid develop. What do you see around you? Who is with you? What are you doing? 

Core values to consider: Competence, Travel/Adventure, Exploration, Personal Development, Environment, Career, Mastery, Family, Parenting, Risk-Taking, Wealth, Vision, Contribution, Home

Who are your heroes? Living or dead, fictional or real, who do you connect with? What exactly about these people do you resonate with—an adventurous spirit, a peaceful heart, a justice-oriented voice? Consider their values and the forces that drive their lives, and ask yourself if those same values feel like they fit for you.

Core values to consider: Advocacy, Equality, Compassion, Adventure, Altruism, Vision, Justice, Grace

Let’s talk about art and media! Write about your favorite movie, show, book, or album. Why does it stick in your heart and mind? Is your experience connected to an important memory of a person or place? Are you inspired or motivated by the words it contains? Do you feel soothed or validated by it?

Core values to consider: Art, Beauty, Creativity, Connection, Nostalgia, Comfort, Self-Expression

Spend a little time in a written meditation about your friends. Do you have a lot, or do you prefer to keep your circle small and close-knit? Does this include your family? Is there a common thread between the people you are closest with, or a particular way you like to connect with them?

Core values to consider: Community, Family, Reliability, Connection, Humor

This is the disaster prompt—and let’s hope it always remains hypothetical. What is the first thing you’d save in an emergency that required you to evacuate? Why do you think you’d reach for that particular object? Or did your mind instantly go to the people and pets in your household, ignoring physical belongings?

Core values to consider: Family, Parenting, Companionship (especially focused on pets), Responsibility, Wealth, Safety, Order, Home, Nostalgia/Storytelling

Consider your internet behavior. What do you click on most? Why? What does your email inbox look like? Your screentime? Look at your Pinterest boards and the images you’ve saved on Instagram. Perhaps there’s a pattern of beautiful spaces, information you want to remember, or quotes that inspire you.

Core values to consider: Order, Balance, Aesthetics, Connection, Personal Development, Making A Difference, Privacy, Discipline

What is your most common disagreement? When you’re with your friends, family, or strangers, what topic gets your blood boiling and launches a debate? It might be as simple as what kind of jelly is best on a PB&J or as big as climate change and activism. Examine the discord—I’ve often found that my values lie somewhere in the space between me and what I disagree with.

Core values to consider: Forgiveness, Activism, Cooperation, Diversity, Equality, Ethics, Freedom, Pride, Tradition

What do you consider are your biggest flaws, and why do you feel that way? What do you feel guilty about? What news stories make you feel sad? When we ask ourselves why something makes us feel bad, we can flip it over and see the value behind the feeling. Objectivity is important for this particular prompt; imagine you’re simply examining the two sides of an interesting coin.

Core values to consider: Wholeness, Well-Being, Success, Mental Health, Spirituality, Peace, Justice, Truth

Describe yourself as a plant. Are you lush and boisterous? Are you stolid and spiky? Do you need constant watering, or maybe you thrive in arid environments? Are you tender and blooming, or hardy and perennial? What colors are your flowers, and how do they make you feel? Don’t get too caught up in imagining the kind of plant you feel like you should be. Focus on the type of plant you believe you are, or that you want to grow into.

Core values to consider: Environment, Leadership, Strength, Joy, Resilience, Growth, Nature, Independence, Resourcefulness

Finally, an exercise that has helped me in both personal and professional capacities: Draw a line down the middle of your notebook page. Consider one aspect of your life: Relationships, home, self, work, etc. and write what you want more of in one column and less of in the other column. For example, in my home, I want more laughter, more mindfulness, and more routine. I want less clutter, less processed food, and less distraction. I particularly love this exercise because it’s straightforward and often tells you exactly what you need to know.

Core values to consider: Balance, Responsibility, Helpfulness, Openness, Fulfillment, Efficiency, Joy, Health

Did you find a value that resonates with you? Drop it in the comments below!


Emily Torres is the Editorial Director at The Good Trade. Born and raised in Indiana, she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits, or gaming.