A Research Paper By Mareva Godfrey, Parenting Coach, UNITED STATES
The words “core values” frequent vernacular and academic settings; tossed about without much thought in the proverbial salad bowl of buzzwords that have become the common lexicon. However, does it surprise you to learn that only about 10% of the population, according to Larisa Halilovic (June 2021) critically analyze and identify their own values? Given that statistical fact, would it then surprise you that values are often unidentified key players in the countless decisions a person makes in a day, a month, or even a lifetime? Would it prompt you to wonder what could be gained by anyone, including the clients you coach, if these became known openly, on a first-name basis, instead of lurking in the background?
What Are Values?
Values are like fingerprints. Nobodies are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do. Elvis Presley
The word “values” is populated by highly nuanced words such as attitudes, beliefs, principles, morality, character, code, ideals, and ethics, to name a few. It is mind-boggling, considering the weight those concepts bear, to conceive that by the age of five many of these have formed and begun to be affirmed. Am I enough, am I creative, am I honest, am I loved? Values are those foundational beliefs about right and wrong acquired from the moment we are born through words, actions, and experiences, and our interpretation and/or misinterpretation of them, factored by the genetic disposition, or personality, of the child. They are delivered in the vehicle of demonstrable actions by the significant people in a child’s life, who is obviously ruled by their own acquired set of principles. If the words and actions align- all the better, but if they do not, it is the actions that speak much louder. Given that children do not use language purposely until about age 2, and do not master it at a 75% level until five, is enough reason to understand why these basic beliefs are simply internalized, rather than named. It is a very aware, intentional parent who teaches the vocabulary for the multitude of feelings and values demonstrated on a given day. Children learn values and process them also through other influences, like immediate and secondary family members, peers at school, teachers, and sports coaches, in the context of new experiences. When the modeling is consistent, and even if it is not, these observations a child makes become the very fabric of his/her being and the core of who they are as they venture from home and into the world.
Throughout our lives many values endure from childhood, others are still being acquired, refined, and sometimes cast aside. Even as adults, it is the influence of friends, spouses, colleagues, mentors, clergy, and the greater culture that affirms or contradicts those core attitudes that define us, whether we recognize it or not. In addition, the person’s individual values are intertwined with society’s standards of right and wrong called morals and influenced by ethics which is a system of principles that define appropriate conduct for a group, such as professional ethics, cooperation, and integrity. Values, morals, and ethics are all key to ensuring the success of a “culture” because they are the spoken and unspoken agreements about how we are going to be when we are together. But, these change as society changes, also as people change the parameters of their life- like going to work for a larger corporation, or moving permanently to a new country which can result in values validation, or pull a person’s compass in a different direction causing confusion, resulting behaviors that are incongruent with a person’s self-identity, and much discontent. As it turns out, these no-name values are all-important!
Why Does Knowing Your Core Values Matter?
When values, thoughts, feelings, and actions are in alignment, a person becomes focused and character is strengthened. John C. Maxwell
Your core code is instrumental in every decision you make. It instructs your choices and helps you simultaneously navigate between two or more. We are comfortable when our choices and behaviors align with our core values and miserable and out of sorts when we are in a position of misalignment; for example if you are being asked to stay after work hours with your team on an important project, but you also promised to aid your child on a science fair project due the next day. Often those out-of-sorts feelings are data that the situation is in contradiction or even testing your true beliefs. In fact, feelings are always linked to values and function as a guidepost of alignment. If examined and named, it becomes much easier to come to a resolution-whether it is a conscious choice or a compromise, or even a rejection of one or more of the choices because it is in the awareness of what is truly important when the right or better course of action comes to the surface bringing relief from the discomfort, but more importantly- deep knowledge of self. The payoff of that relief is that biologically your brain is more adept at seeing alternatives, reflecting open-mindedly, and decreasing dopamine and increasing serotonin levels tied to feelings of empowerment and well-being, even before any effective action is taken. It is a win-win all around. On the other hand, ignoring or bottling up the feelings that signal the underlying values is a recipe for depression, anxiety, and physical ailments according to Susan David Ph.D., an expert on emotional agility.
Knowing these are also important because they help people know you through the constancy of your actions, help you discern the values behind the actions of others, and can help you find others that share the key principles that are part of your self-identity. In this tribe, a person is inspired to be true to what one believes and live a more authentic life. The studies indicate that people are the happiest when in the company of others who share their same core values, not their interests, whichever they may be. Behaviors in a group are contagious, a fact that underscores the benefits of connecting with others who reinforce what is profoundly important and an essential need for you. For example, in groups of couples that are happily married, the couples statistically prevail in staying together, yet the reverse is also true.
When truly locked in a values collision pattern with a loved one, it becomes far easier to analyze the situation by identifying the values behind the behaviors in conflict and then work together to try to find a mutually satisfying interruption of the collision. Consider the following example:
Luisa is the mother of a teen, Maria, who wants to hang out at the nearby beach with her friends. Luisa consents and later finds out that the daughter went to the beach, but also to a walkable mall with some of those friends without permission. Luisa feels betrayed and grounds Maria. Maria throws a fit, calls a mother a name, and runs out of the room screaming obscenities. Luisa now feels disrespected and furious.
If Luisa could step back and cool off, then begin exploring what is behind each person’s behaviors she may identify that she, at an elevated level, personally values knowing where her child is and being talked to with respect when in disagreement. If she then looks at Maria’s behavior, she may discover that her daughter highly values her freedom and being cool with her friends.
If Maria would join in this discussion a compromise might emerge to calmly talk about the loopholes that could materialize with respect to consent before Maria leaves the home. So, mom and daughter may agree to her going to the beach; and if the opportunity arises- to a friend’s house, or to a nearby park, or to bring them all to her house, but not to the mall. Mom could further explain her worry that the group could be distracted by each other in crossing a terribly busy, unmetered street to get to the mall. And the conversation, which will entail some disagreement and compromise would become a practice of disagreeing in agreeable ways that could then be unpacked further and reinforced socially. The path forward may zigzag or even regress, but from the vantage of identified values behind choices and behaviors, it would lessen the power struggle. This would also apply to an unavoidable professional relationship where even one-sided identification of feelings and underlying values might reveal a path forward in future interactions. Effectively, this relationship of acknowledged feelings leading to disclosed values is the GPS system that helps us live our most congruent, genuine, best lives.
How Can We Identify Them?
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. ― C.G. Jung
Susan David, Ph.D., states that being able to label emotions and underlying values is a superpower. Emotional agility allows us to discover the source of discomfort and be able to speak to it, but it is not a directive to action. We have feelings, but they do not own us. This gives us the space to respond instead of simply reacting to the emotion.
Steps: Lean into your negative emotions as an agent of change
- Ask: what is the importance of this feeling?
- Ask: what is this emotion signaling about my needs?
- Ask: what is this emotion signaling about my true core values?
- Set actionable goals towards addressing those needs.
- Affirm every day whether you are moving away or towards those value-loaded intentions.
In the case of Luisa and Maria, those questions may have uncovered that Luisa values feeling emotionally connected and close to her daughter whose behaviors she interprets as needing her less, and Luisa may discover that she highly values independence and being trusted by her mother which she does not believe truly does. From those vulnerable realizations, the heat gets turned down, and compassion is fostered. Everyone needs to be seen and heard.
How Can This Knowledge Inform Your Coaching?
- It starts with the coach critically analyzing his/her own core values, the benefits are clearly the grounding as to your WHO is in coaching and what is important to you in the coaching relationship, and what are the non-negotiables, adding to your own personal well-being and satisfaction as a coach. Lots of good tools can be found online. For example https://www.artofwellbeing.com/2016/07/01/25-powerful-questions-ask-daily/
- For those that use intake forms as part of the Discovery process, they may consider creating one or adding questions to existing forms that focus on the core values of the potential client or using assessments specifically geared for clarifying core values; like https://www.lifevaluesinventory.org/ or https://www.pathtoahappylife.com/personal-core-values/
- If you do not incorporate the above into your practice, or even if you do-listening actively to the emotionally loaded words the client uses in telling the WHAT of the story and asking open-ended specific questions could help the client become more self-aware and validate his/her choices moving forward.
What does feeling ___________ look like for you?
How does feeling ________impact your life?
What is the importance of feeling _______ in this situation?
If you had it ideally, what would you rather feel in this situation?
How does that feeling reflect your core values?
In this ever-changing, fragile world getting closely acquainted with your core values will serve to validate your choices, empower you to stand up to opposing ones, and help you more easily understand the why of your daily moments of happiness and discomfort to best craft increasing the former and effectively deal with the latter. And WHO does not want to have THIS superpower?
I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values, and follow my own moral compass, then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own. Michelle Obama
David, Susan, Ph.D., “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage”, TEDWomen, YouTube, November 2017
Halilovic, Larissa, June 25, 2021, “Core Values: Your Inner Compass,” TEDXFerhadija, accessed 4/28,22
Reiselman, D., n.d. What Are Values? The University of Cincinnati accessed 4/25/2022
Sime, Carley, June 25, 2019, Please Get To Know Your Values, Forbes, accessed April 25, 2022
Santos, Dr. Laurie, “Emotions are Data…So Listen to Them.” The Happiness Lab, Yale professor Laurie Santos, Pushkin Industries, Jan. 3, 2022