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Values are one of those things we hear a lot about, either personally, or in our organizations. Often we pay lip service to them, or we talk about values we think everyone agrees with, like kindness, loyalty and openness.  While that sounds fine, (and I know you’re not a monster!), they may not truly be your highest values.

Being able to articulate your personal values can guide you in so many ways. They become a compass. Their absence or fuzziness might be why you’re feeling out of sorts at work or in life. Finding values that are yours will amplify the things that absolutely matter to you.

There are lots of tests online that help you find your values, but I want to share a way I use that’s really powerful. Are you ready to dig deep into what you truly value?

We’re going to explore your values through the lens of peak experiences. Peak experience was a term coined by Abraham Maslow in 1964, and he used words like “rare, exciting, deeply moving, exhilarating” to describe them. They are moments when joy and elation combine in a feeling that elevates and transcends the ordinary. They can have a spiritual, profound aspect to them. They are moments you don’t forget. They are a portal into discovering your unique values.

Think of a time when you felt a peak experience.  Try not to reach for the obvious or rote – like the birth of your child, or climbing that mountain, or getting married. They may have a been peak experience, but don’t fall into the trap of what an expected peak experience should be. For instance, one of mine isn’t my wedding day, but rather walking into a pub when I was 17 and seeing my first punk band live. The thrill, elation, pure joy of that moment has stayed with me. So be honest with those experiences that left a delible mark of pure joy on you.

When you have one, write the words that you associate with that. For me, seeing the Scientists play in a grubby Perth pub, I felt like I’d found my people and my music. I felt like I belonged. I loved the feeling of doing things differently and not following the status quo. Write down what your experience meant for you.

Now find a second experience, and do the same thing. Write words that capture that experience for you. And if you’re game, find a third peak experience and do the same.

Okay, you’ve now got some words, have a look over them and see what emerges for you. Are their consistencies? Surprises? Things you kinda knew about you but hadn’t claimed? These are indicators of what you truly value.

For me, when I look at my different peak experiences, I’ve found consistent values throughout. Whilst I value kindness, loyalty and courage, this process showed me that what I truly claim for myself as values are belonging, connection, being a light, finding new ways, being part of something bigger than me, inclusiveness, finding my people, strengthening the things we have that unite us.

I try to make sure as many of these values are present in my life and work on a daily basis. When they are not, my energy sags – I’m not living my authentic values.

What did you find?

What’s powerful about this exercise is how you can apply this in your life and work. If you’re feeling bleh at work, check whether what you value is being activated. How can you find ways to include what gets you in flow and lights you up in what you do? I’ve had clients have the most incredible breakthroughs playing with this.

One person discovered he truly valued the intricacies of detail, understanding how things work, seeing the universe in the smallest thing. He then applied this to his interactions with his clients at the large banking institution he worked for. It opened up a new relationship to living his values at a job he didn’t particularly love, but was committed to staying at for the next few years. He found he was able to bring more of himself and what mattered to him to his work. It changed the context of the work he did.

I’d love to know what values emerged for you from this. Any that surprised you?