Values: How Our Beliefs & Principles Shape Our Lives

Do you know that our values are so powerful? Our values may help us multiply our assets a thousandfold, and our values may also limit us, make us poor and wretched. Our values may let us live a miserable or meaningful life. Our values, not the alignment of our stars, shape the life we live.

Unfortunately, many of us are not aware or mindful of the values that shape our lives.

To reach our fullest potentials and become the best person we can be, we ought to examine our values.

What are values?

Values are strongly held beliefs and principles about what is right and wrong, good and bad, important and unimportant, what should be and shouldn’t be.1 I got this clear definition from Kris Cole’s book Crystal Clear Communication. Our values influence our actions. Our actions determine our results. To change our results, we need to understand our values – and when necessary, change them.

Some people want to feel very important that they want themselves to be in the spotlight all the time.

Some people help the weak and forgotten – they spend their days with the poorest of the poor and find ways to uplift their lives.

Others put their time and money on health and beauty — they spend hours and pesos on activities that make them look good and beautiful.

Most of us don’t bother to know the impact of our beliefs on our lives. They don’t have a name for what they do — other than doing it right and not doing it is wrong.

Many of our principles are buried so deeply in our subconscious we don’t even realize we hold them.

Our values are like lighthouses. They tell us what to avoid and where to go. Our values are what we believe can make us live the life we want or at least how life must be lived. If we stick to our values, we consider our behaviors correct and our decisions good.

What are your values?

I have been asking this question to thousands of professionals who joined my personal effectiveness seminars. Most people are ineffective because they don’t understand their behaviors and “wrong” decisions.

During these seminars, I distributed to them this list of 100 values. They will pick 20. Then, I would call a few participants to read the top 20. No two persons have the same 20 values.

After that, I would ask them to cut ten from their chosen twenty. They found this challenging. They don’t know which ones to take out. They say everyone is important. But after five minutes, they managed to find their Top 10 Values.

People shared aloud their ten values. Some were mentioned more often. But no two persons had the same ten.

Then, I asked them to cut five more. Most participants found this difficult. They don’t know what to let go of since every personal value is important to them. I told them to consider situations when two values collide and they have to pick one.

Finally, they share their values with other participants. During this session, they discover that even their understanding of the value, like excellence, is not the same.

This exercise is just the first step of helping my seminar participants rediscover what’s important to them and what influences what say, feel, and do.

In our discussion about life purpose, they’ll understand that their deep and most important beliefs are not even on the list of 100 values. You too must keep this in mind.

Values Are Personal

Although we have so-called corporate values, we must accept that we differ from each other. 2 Core values are the shared beliefs or principles of members of an organization. If you want to learn how to come up with organizational core values, go to Core Values for Business. This is why we need to constantly educate people. Core values are agreements on how people are expected to behave at work.

We can say the same about culture. For example, though we believe in bayanihan3 Bayanihan as a Filipino value encourages us to be living heroes to each other. and malasakit, we will still find that people do the opposite of what bayanihan and malasakit are all about.

Defining values helps us understand our behaviors, choices, and decisions. We tend to be confused when we don’t know what matters to us most.

Knowing which values are important to us and to others, recognizing that people hold beliefs that are different from ours, and agreeing to disagree can save us a lot of headaches, irritation, and wasteful conflict.

Our values impact our lives. We grow to our best or worst with values. If we understand how our beliefs and principles work in our lives, we can decide what kind of values we must keep or change.

Values are personal, they define us, AND we can change them.

We Live Our Beliefs Differently

Man is made by his beliefs. As he believes, so he is.

Bhagavad Gita

Though I use lighthouses as a metaphor, I do not want you to think that all our beliefs are good, neutral, or equal.

Our actions and choices demonstrate our personal values. Racism is a deeply held belief – and I will never call it neutral. Unfortunately, most racists don’t think they are racists. They believe that the color of their skin makes them superior to others.

Remember that our values are shaped by our beliefs and world views. Some of our beliefs limit us, and others empower us.

For example, a teacher once told me that her students won’t get far in life because they are dullards. This is an example of a fixed mindset 4 Explore the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Thank you Carol Dweck! that defines the way she teaches.

She won’t bother to find better ways to teach because she believes her students are hopeless. 

This mindset is no different from the thinking of our neighbors who told me they would be poor forever because that’s the will of God.

To think that all values are good is to ignore this: murderers, dictators, criminals, corrupt politicians, and scammers behave according to their beliefs.

Notice the excuse of most pickpockets: they are forced to steal because someone in the family is sick. The pickpocket and his victim can be both family-oriented persons.

We ought to examine our values because there are values that prevent us from achieving what we want most in life.

Where did we get our values?

Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. What your actions, they become habits. What your habits, they become character. What your character, it becomes your destiny.

Frank Outlaw

Values are caught.

Our experiences shape our beliefs and world views. That means that as long as you live, your values will take shape and will guide your behaviors, even if you don’t have a name for them.

The stories we tell each other show how our experiences built our values.

Values are taught.

I learned what’s most important in life from my parents, teachers, and those people who have impacted my life.

I learned to have faith in God because my grandfather taught me to trust in God.

My mother taught me about hard work and forgiveness.

Some of these principles we learned from schools. Most of them, we learned from people we admire.

Values are thought.

When we evaluate our experiences, we try to understand how the world works. Our thoughts become our beliefs. Our beliefs shape our values.

What is the point of knowing all these?

You can change your life. You can pick those values that will bring you happiness.

We can choose to change our environment. We can choose the people we interact with every day.

I mean, if you spend your days with gossip mongers, you will eventually behave like gossip mongers. You hang out with entrepreneurs, and you’ll likely get their enthusiasm and more.

You learn from good mentors, coaches, and teachers. You can join seminars. You can read books. You can watch videos. Learning new values is like picking the right seeds to plant.

Observe how the world works. Evaluate the way you live your life. It has been said that experience is the best teacher. That is not totally correct. It is the evaluated experience that is the best teacher.

Why Values Are Important?

Values Inform Our Choices

Our values inform our choices. And we make our choices every day. We are happy when we live our values.

Here’s an example that will illustrate this point. 

I often accompany my wife to SaveMore every Sunday. All I do is push the cart.

 She has a list of items to buy. Some are brand names of products. Others are just numbers and kinds.

Buying is quicker when everything on the list is brand names. She has her favorite shampoo, soap, and fabric softener. She has already chosen these products.

But some items take longer to buy. She has to check first the price of each, compare them, and pick the one with the lower price. She always chooses the cheaper or the heavier one.

Our palengke (market) trip has a different set of criteria.

Vegetables, meat, and fish have no brand names. Price tags and item sizes influence her choices. When two stalls sell fish, she goes first to one with a lower price tag. Or one with fresher-looking fish. 

The market offers us a lot of choices. Some stalls sell cheaper goods than most. But my wife won’t go to these stalls because she has suki.

I doubt if she knows the names of these market vendors. But she considered them suki and she is their suki. They know how to cut her milkfish, chicken, and pork. They know how many kilos of rice she’ll buy. She goes from one store to another in the same pattern every week.

Sure, she buys new things every week, but her mga suki are always part of the market tour.

In grocery stores, brand, price, and promo influence her choices. In the wet market, she buys from because of her relationship with the vendors. Though the suki system is not formal, Filipinos tend to buy based on relationships.

My wife buys goods based on quality, price, promo, brand name, and relationships.  

We make choices based on values. This is true everywhere. And the way we prioritize them depends on where we are.

Values Brings You Happiness ( Or Unhappiness)

Most people think that success makes us happy. Others believe that happiness makes us successful. Maybe, all of them are correct.

But if there is anything I learned about our pursuit of happiness, it is that happiness happens when we live according to our empowering values.

This is too obvious and many of us failed to see this.

Let me tell you about Henry. He advocates human rights and the rule of law. He believes that we live in a democracy and we ought to have good leaders.

Imagine a man like Henry reading news about dozens of people who were killed because they were suspected drug addicts.

Imagine this happening daily for more than a year. These suspected addicts were not given due process. Many of them were not entered into mass graves because no relative came forward. Their dead bodies remained unclaimed.

Henry’s updates on Facebook often educate people about our right to life. He debates with trolls who claimed that killing drug addicts today would prevent them from committing crimes in the future.

Henry isn’t connected to any political party. He does not support politicians. But these things that he read troubled him so much.

I know of people who think that Henry is wasting his time. Killings and human rights abuses are happening all over the world.

But there is more to Henry that most people do not know.

When the Taal Volcano erupted, he was one of those who first volunteered to feed the bakwit (evacuees). He was actively encouraging friends to do the same.

In April 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, he offered his car to be used by volunteers who were bringing food aids to poor communities in Metro Manila. He thought the government was too slow to act, and he needed to do something.

And he initiated a community pantry. 5 The mushrooming of community pantries during the pandemic showed what we Filipinos can do as a people. He was able to sustain it for months. People believe in the cause. They trust and respect him.

Henry values malasakit and bayanihan. And he attracts those whose advocacies are the same as his. They may not be as vocal on issues like human rights and democracy, but they care for people and volunteerism.

What am I trying to tell you?

A person’s core values define his degree of happiness. An event that allows him to do what he is passionate about energizes and excites him. He feels that he is fully alive and his life meaningful.

He gets unhappy, frustrated, or even angry when his standards are trampled upon by others.

And he feels conflicted when he has to choose between his values.

Keep this in mind. I encourage you to write them on a piece of paper so you won’t forget.

If you want to know a person, start with his values. If you want to know what kind of person you are start with your values.

Define Your Values

Naming our values isn’t as simple as asking a person for his or her favorite color or dish. My favorite color is green and I love sinigang. But I don’t have to wear green or eat sinigang all the time.

I have to live my values.

If you searched the interwebs for ways to identify your values, you will get this advice.

  1. Download a list of values.
  2. Pick 10 words or phrase that resonate with you.
  3. From the 10, pick take out five. What remains is your values.
  4. Now, identify the behaviors for each value.

This is usually done for corporate values. This method helps you understand yourself. I used this method more than twenty years ago. But this is just the start.

List of 100 Values

Obviously, 100 is a shortlist. I can create a list with over 1000.

But the purpose of this list is to help you get started, not to overwhelm you. As I have mentioned above, participants in my workshop also realized that some of their deeply held beliefs are not on the list.

Sometimes, they don’t even have words for them. And that’s okay.

Abundance
Advancement
Adventure
Affection
Appreciation
Authenticity
Balance
Beauty
Career
Career
Caring
Change
Charisma
Clarity
Commonality
Communication
Compassion
Connection
Contentment
Contributing
Cooperation
Courage
Creativity
Diversity
Effectiveness
Encouragement
Endurance
Enjoyment
Entertainment
Excitement
Extraordinary
Faith
Fame
Family
Fitness
Forgiveness
Forgiveness
Freedom
Friendship
Fun
Generosity
Giving
Giving People a Chance
Goodness
Grace
Gratitude
Happiness
Harmony
Health
Honesty

Humanity
Humor
Initiative
Innovation
Integrity
Intelligence
Involvement
Joy
Justice
Kindness
Knowledge
Leadership
Learning
Love
Loyalty
Making a Difference
Malasakit
Openness
Order
Patience
Patience
Patriotism
Paying Forward
Peace
Personal Excellence
Power
Pride
Professionalism
Prosperity
Quality
Reciprocity
Recognition
Relationship
Respect
Responsibility
Security
Self-Respect
Service
Speed
Spirituality
Strength
Success
Teamwork
Trusting Your Gut
Volunteerism
Wealth
Wellness
Willingness
Wisdom
Work Smarter, Not Harder

When I did this exercise, I came up with responsibility, integrity, service, and excellence (RISE). I felt these words speak to me.

And most people I met also said that they give importance to these beliefs.

Other Ways of Naming Your Values

There is another way that I feel works for naming personal values. I learned this from reading my students’ journals (at least those pages which they permit me to read).

I asked my students about what they value most in life. On sunny days, they’ll tell me it is excellence, discipline, and learning. Teachers preached these words often.

But when I asked them to write freely in their journals, they seldom write about these words. Instead, you get to read words like freedom, cool, awesome, understanding, self-esteem, confidence, respect, friendship, care, and love. I also noticed words like unworthy, stupid, invisible, unimportant, slow, and unfair.

Because they told their stories, I understood.

They wrote about things that matter most to them, not the things that the world says matter to them.

Yes. You can start a journal to discover your deeply held beliefs. Write for a month and you’ll have an idea of what matters to you. If you’ve been keeping a journal for years, it is likely that you already know.

Why is that? Because writing is closest to thinking. Writing makes your thoughts visible.

What I am saying is that deeply held beliefs are not something you have to pick up from some lists. In naming your values, what I am trying to tell you is to discover or uncover what you already have.

It is okay to spend weeks or months understanding yourself. Your values will not disappear anytime soon.

You will name your deeply held beliefs to understand why you do what you do. You will understand triggers that influence your emotions and actions.

If you want to start today, here are prompts that can help you.

When was the last time you felt most alive, most happy, and most energetic? Tell a detailed story.

This one question will reveal much to you.

You can also interview your closest friends. Those who will not lie to you. Ask them to tell you when was the last time they felt you were most alive, most happy, and most enthusiastic about life? Your friends can help you name your values.

I know that for most people this is not easy. We are afraid to meet the person they know. But this is just the first step. Soon, you will meet your damndest best.

My Personal Values

Personal values guide us in how we choose to live, even if no one is watching. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds, we can talk about. I choose to get a life and thrive – and these are the values I believe can help me most.

I am PURPOSE-DRIVEN.
I pay attention to my intention. Intentionality works like magic in relationships, in businesses, in leadership, and in backyard farming.

I value SIMPLICITY.
I keep things simple. I simplify complicated problems, explain them in simple words, and find simple solutions.

I TRUST FIRST.
What you see is what you get. I share with you what I do. I worry not about impostor syndrome because I know my limitations and my talents and skills.

I keep PROMISES.
Not always in the past, but not keeping promises is a yoke on my shoulder. I show up. I persist. I try, fail, try again, and fail again, but I won’t stop as long as I live.

I THINK DIFFERENTLY.
One can think out of the box, or in the box, of the giant box or no box. I choose to zzzag when others are zigging.

I choose to PLAY BIGGER.
No, not because I am ambitious. I am a simple person who does not dream of becoming famous or super-rich. Playing bigger is strategic and practical.

Resources

What we do each day is influenced by our values. I often write about motivation, habits, and behavior change.

You can find actionable ideas from the following posts which you may find in the Live a Good Life topic of my blog.

Footnotes

  • 1
    I got this clear definition from Kris Cole’s book Crystal Clear Communication.
  • 2
    Core values are the shared beliefs or principles of members of an organization. If you want to learn how to come up with organizational core values, go to Core Values for Business.
  • 3
    Bayanihan as a Filipino value encourages us to be living heroes to each other.
  • 4
    Explore the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Thank you Carol Dweck!
  • 5
    The mushrooming of community pantries during the pandemic showed what we Filipinos can do as a people.

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