Steering Your Life by “True North”

Values, Habits, and Actions

Your values are compass points. Just as the compass needle points to “true north,” values determine your life’s path. Sailors rarely get lost if they follow their compass, and similarly, your values will help you make all the important decisions for your future. Your values will also show you when you are off course, sailing into the high seas of frustration, anger, or anxiety.

Values become habits that dictate your actions, resulting in the formation of your personal value system. This is also known as your core values, which lead you to critical judgments or decisions, causing actions that lead to predictable results. Discovering your core values will create a guideline or map to clarify what is important and what is not. From there you can make choices that will be most fulfilling, and let go of those that will set you adrift or off course.

In the following statement, Mark Twain may have described it best:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So…sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.   

What Are Values? 

In order to decide what things in your life are most important, let’s look at the meaning of value. One dictionary defines it as “something (like a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable.” In other words, values are ideals or philosophies that have significant meaning to a person, to the point that they are willing to do whatever it takes to live by them.

Your core values stem from a trust in or conviction to a feeling, idea, or opinion about a principle that is genuine, desirable, and beneficial. Values are not ethics. There is no feeling of right or wrong conduct here. Values are not about good character or moral conduct, although living in an exceedingly moral manner might be a value. Values are not standards either. Values are the characteristics of a life lived completely from the inside out. When  respect is given to the values and decisions you make, you will feel an interior “rightness.”

Allow me to interject a musical analogy here. It’s as though each value creates its own unique tone. When you live according to your values, the different tones make an interesting harmony. When we are not living our values, there is disharmony. The resulting discord can turn out to be undesirable, and perhaps unhealthy.

If you take a look at your values, they can be grouped into three categories, from superficial values, to chosen values, to core values. Here’s a brief description of how to recognize how they work in your life.

  1. Superficial “Shoulds – These are generally shallow values we hold that come fundamentally from things we think we should accept, do, or act upon. These sorts of values frequently are based upon things we were told by our parents, teachers, church leaders, or some other authority, normally when we were young.
  2. Chosen Values – These are values that directly impact us and we hold and endeavor to maintain them. We have chosen them as ones that are critical to our personal satisfaction, and we act upon them on a consistent basis.
  3. Core Values – These are generally the top five critically important personal values we hold. When we are not living our values, we are probably going to feel disappointed, discouraged, and even ashamed. It’s difficult to lead a fulfilled life that does not line up with our central (core) values.

The rest of this article will delve deeper into core values, including some exercises that will reveal how to discover them. Each of us is unique, and our core values reflect those compass points in our life’s journey. Let’s head “true north!”

Recognizing Your Core Values 

Many people have three to five core values that are residing deep inside us (at our core). Many of them have been with us since our formative years. We can assume that they’ll keep on being our core values for a long time. It will be easier to recognize them after you use the values exercises below, and will be useful and motivational tools for you in your long-range plans. 

The discovery of your core values can become more clear through the eyes of close family members and friends. The perspective of others upon your values is sometimes a better picture of the ones that you have. We all have blindspots, and asking others their viewpoint can help to uncover your core values. One key question you could ask at  this point is, “what would be so important to you that you would hold to it even if nobody else knew, even if you never got paid or acknowledged for it?” This question alone can open up your eyes to what you value most.

When you recognize your core values, you will benefit as you investigate the degree to which your life reflects those qualities. This investigation can cause “aha” experiences as you make further associations between your core self and the ways in which your life is and is not an outflow of your core values. This can likewise uncover the gaps between your real life and the perfect life you have imagined.

The exercises in the next section are designed to take some time, and will be a process that will give you clarity about your life and your core values. Values are foundational as anchors in our lives, the nonnegotiable attributes that reflect our identity. 

Values Exercise #1

Prior to starting this exercise, read through, and then copy, the following list. Select the words and expressions that best show your values. In the event that you have values that are not on the list, include them. Choose somewhere between twelve and fifteen words; these are the values that best describe you. After you have all the words that correspond to your core values, write a sentence or two about how each of these describes who you are, or where you are headed.

  • accomplishment
  • ambition  
  • being in control  
  • communicating  
  • compassion  
  • competency  
  • competition
  • creativity  
  • determination  
  • efficiency  
  • encouragement  
  • excellence  
  • family
  • forward-looking  
  • fulfillment
  • hard work  
  • honesty  
  • humor  
  • inspiring others  
  • love of learning  
  • making money  
  • mentoring  
  • orderliness
  • patience  
  • perfection  
  • persistence  
  • risk taking  
  • security  
  • self-esteem  
  • self-expression  
  • solitude  
  • stability
  • success  
  • trust  
  • winning

Values Exercise #2

This is a values/discovery exercise. Before answering the following questions, take some time to think about each one. As with all the exercises, this should not be done quickly, and in many cases, it can take several hours to complete. Do it at your own pace, have fun with it, and you may discover a “new you.”

  • In the event that you can bring just ten values with you into a potentially risky place, which are the ones you should have?
  • What values would you battle for? Are there any you would sacrifice your life for?
  • What values are important to the point that you would leave a place of employment in the event that they were jeopardized by your boss?
  • How might your closest friends characterize you? What would they say depicts who you are and what you are like?

Values Exercise #3

Choose a goal that you have, or create one. In relation to your top core values, how well do they line up with your goals? Your goals will be an extension of your core values. Take a look at any obstacles you will need to overcome in order to allow your goals to develop, flow, and come to fruition. 

Write down your goal(s) and the obstacles to reaching it. Now focus on the core values that will lead you to your target.

This is not a goal-setting exercise, but my next article will go into more depth on that topic.

Living Your Values/Taking Action 

Those things we do in our life that become routine and habitual are, in fact, our values in action. The states of mind and attitudes that drive our life turn into our own working system. One way to create greater satisfaction with your life is to form habits that bring well-being, happiness, and fulfillment.  

Following the values exercises proposed above, it would be useful now to identify three to five helpful habits that you can implement during the next ten weeks or so. Take a look at your every day schedule and think about how you invest your energy as contrasted with the values you have chosen. When you know your core values, it is vital to block time in your timetable that include them. Commit to the values-directed exercises in your calendar that will make you responsible for your activities. Assuming responsibility of your datebook will guarantee that you are not controlled by your calendar.

It is now time to begin a plan of action. Use the tools and exercises above to firmly establish a system that will align with your true values and will steer you on a course of “true north.” If you prefer to work with a professional life coach, you can find out more about me here.

Allan Siegel

Life Coach


This article has 4 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this knowledge. I had a hard time achieving my goals, but now I will implement these exercises, especially for 2018.

    Personally, as a fitness advocate, my goal is to gain more muscle mass, as well as getting rid of excess fat. My values involve being persistent, ambitious, family, growth, and much more. Thank you, I will definitely come back to read more.

    1. Thanks for reading this page. If you ever need help with gaining more clarity, I can set up a complimentary life coaching session with you.

      I hope that 2018 brings fulfillment in all of your goals.

  2. Thank you for sharing your value setting strategies. I can see how your values exercises can help in the inventory process of better defining ourselves. This introspection can open doors to the true self allowing superficial awareness to fall away. By defining what we TRULY value we can make better and healthier decisions for ourselves.

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