How to Use Your Core Values

Whether we’re talking about the corporate world or your personal life, lists of core values all suffer from the same weakness.  They’re just words on a page.

You may spend hours reflecting and carefully crafting your core values statement.  But what happens once the words are chosen and sentences crafted? Do the words get stuck in your journal or in some dark corner of the documents folder on your computer?  Do they end up printed on a piece of fancy paper and hung on your wall?

If that’s true, then your core values are not serving you well.  You put a lot of time and heart into those words.  Used properly, core values can be transformative in your life.  

So, how are you going to use your core values?


The purpose of core values is very simple: To help you filter your choices.

A filter lets through certain things and strains out other things.  Core values filter by helping you say yes to the right things.  Just as often they help you say no at the right times.  Like any filter, however, core values only works if they’re in the flow.

So, how do you get your core values to be “in the flow” of your life and decisions?  You review them, incorporate them, and evolve them.  Let’s look at how.

1.  Review Your Values

Choices present themselves in your thinking all the time.  If you’ve done a good job drilling down to your authentic core values, they will guide your choices without you even thinking about it.  But because this filtering is happening automatically, you don’t have the chance to reflect and choose the best path.  This is when the shadow side of our values can come out.  We live by reaction, rather than response or action.

The best outcome is available to you when you are conscious of your core values while you are reflecting on your course of action.  Review your core values regularly, and you will be more conscious of them.  Here are several ways to do this:

  • Read your Core Values Daily.  This is most helpful when your core values are new to you or when you find yourself in a chaotic or complicated season where you’re desperate for focus.  Read through your core values every morning.  This help you learn them.  It also serves as an affirmation of the kind of day you want to have.
  • Reflect on Your Values Monthly.  Maybe daily is too frequently for you.  In that case, once a month take an hour for a more in-depth review.  Read through your values.  Then reflect or journal on how this value is showing up in your life.  You may notice areas where the value is needing to be addressed.  Or you may notice that this value has been showing up very positively.
  • Align your Goals with Your Values.  If you are the kind of person who writes down your goals (and you ought to be), then take some time to compare your goals with your core values.  Every goal should align with your values in some way.  If you have a goal that doesn’t, it needs to be rethought.  If the goal is important enough, perhaps you’ve left a core value out.  The more your core value and goals align, the more clearly you will see yourself becoming the kind of person you want to be.
  • Memorize Your Values.  If you can memorize your values, they will always be with you.  Every time a complicated decision comes up, your values will be right there beside, helping you untangle the confusion.
  • Get Periodic Feedback.  Ask people who know you and love you where they see this value showing up in your life.  If you’re willing to be vulnerable, ask them where they’ve seen you violate this value.  Don’t argue or defend.  Just listen.  Allow their outside perspective to be one of the ways you get to know what’s true of you.

2.  Incorporate Your Values

Value Word Art - Creative Intentionality
Click here for examples of four Word Art posters I created for my own core values.

The root of the word “incorporate” is the latin corpus, which means body.  To incorporate something is to give it a body, to give it presence in the world.  

Values that never “get a body” remain lifeless abstractions.  No matter how eloquent the words, they will motivate no life change.

So how can you give your values a presence in your life?  Any way you can make them more concrete, and relevant to you will work.  Here are some ideas:

  • Do the 100% Exercise.  A few times a year take one of your values and ask this question: “If this value was 100% true of me, what’s one thing that would have to be different in my life?”  Brainstorm a list of possible answers to the question.  Then pick one of those things that’s immediately do-able and make it happen.
  • Create Visual Prompts.  Make sure your core values are visible in the places where you are day-to-day.  This can be as simple as printing them out and hanging them in your office. If you’re an artist, create original pieces of art that represent each value, and then situate those pieces around your life where you will see them often.  If you aren’t an artist, create Word Posters.  (Some examples of what this means)  Use Google Images or Flickr to find photos that visually represent each value.  Then using your computer, overlay the value on the image.  If you use high-quality images, these Word Posters can be quite beautiful.  Post them where you’ll see them in your day-to-day life.
  • Build Value Muscle.  Pick one value for a season and invest in that area.  Read a book that aligns with that value.  Try one activity that’s out of the normal routine for you that emerges from that value.  Choose a simple, repeatable act that demonstrates that value and commit to doing it five times a day for a week.  As you do these and similar things, journal about what you are learning.

3.  Evolve Your Values.

You are not static.  You’re having new experiences that shape your worldview.  Because your core values are a part of you, that means they are always shifting as well.  Sometimes they shift through entropy and apathy, and the shift takes you away from who you want to be.  Other times you learn powerful lessons and your values strengthen.  It’s important that your statement of core values keeps up with who you are becoming.

Set aside a block of time once a year for an annual re-visioning of your core values.  Think through each value.  How has this value guided you this past year?  Where has it led you?  Does it still resonate with you?  Is the word choice still the best for everything you’ve learned?  As you grow your picture of the future may shift as well.

Don’t let your core values die on a sheet of paper somewhere.  Choose the practices here that make the most sense to you, or come up with your own, so that over time your core values become embedded in the daily flow of your life.

Ever done anything like this?  How do you keep your core values present in your day-to-day?

 This is part 4 of a 5 part series. Catch up here:

9 thoughts on “How to Use Your Core Values

  1. Marc – a lot of good practical suggestions here.  I especially like the part about incorporating values.

    Perhaps one thing to add would be something to help understand what influences our values.  I am passionate about ending unnecessary suffering in the corporate world.  In general, the higher someone is in the organization, the less happy they are.  And I think the reason is that they internalize a company-first value system instead of a people-first value system.  And I mean core value system, as the company often wins when a conflict arises between work and personal life. 

    So I wonder here, if someone has a strong influence in their life, be it a company or a group of friends who espouse a different set of values than what you aspire to, it can be very difficult to change.  What do you think?

    1. I think you’re right.  Our values are embedded in us, but we are also influenced by the people and forces around us, and who we are evolves.  I think of the summer I spent as a twelve-year old when my mom sent me from Ohio where we lived, to live with my grandma in Arkansas.  I hung out with her neighbor kids all summer, and wouldn’t you know it, by the end of August, I had a southern accent!  It just happened to me.  We take on the “accent” of the influencers in our lives.

      I need to mull for a while on how that interacts with our core values, and what to do about it.  Sounds like a great post idea.  What’s been your experience in that dynamic?

  2. This was really helpful – I had recently gone through a process to uncover my values and one of them seemed at odds with my present life – yet when I tried to take it off the list it wouldn’t go away. Seems I’ve just been neglecting it for a long time. You “gave me permission” to take it back. Thank you for these great articles.

    1. I’m so glad to hear it! We all operate from core values — we may just not be clear about what they are, or how they show up. I’m glad you’re thinking about this and taking ownership of the process.

  3. This year I am planning to write out our core values for our church so this piece was very informative. Thanks

    1. I’m so glad this helped.  You may find my little book, “Discovering Your Authentic Core Values” to be helpful too.  While it’s written to the individual, the premise and exercises could easily be adapted to an organization.

      Blessings on this important task!

  4. Are you available to review core values? Your 5th post literally took the words right out of my mouth i.e. the need to belong

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