Core Values Exercise: A Scientific Method for Achieving Life Goals

One big problem related to living up to your personal core values is that you need to say no a lot. No to your friends. No to current bad habits that feel awfully good. No to distractions. Including no to money. Not that the first ones are easier to overcome. But saying no to money, when you are the primary source of dollars in the house, can feel like throwing your family into a boat without life jackets.

Ah, core values. Those pesky little buggers that always seem to get in the way of our fun. Who needs ’em, right? Who needs pretentious, potentially world-changing moral code when you can have no values at all?

Well, as it turns out, they may be more useful than we initially thought.

As I wrote in my other article on the importance of values, they do matter. A lot actually.

Numerous studies prove that identifying your core values and striving to live in accordance with them leads to greater life satisfaction and well-being.1

But as you can probably acknowledge. The “how” that comes after figuring out what you value is more difficult said than done.

In this article, I’ll take a closer look at the idea of having a moral code. Then engage in one mysterious core values exercise, showing us a pathway toward making our actions align with what we consider important.

But before all of that, let’s take a look at something that’s not often discussed when we talk about values…

What Aren’t People Talking Enough About In Relation To Values?

It’s hard. Almost impossible. To talk about sustainability and saving the planet when you work in a big corporation in the fuel industry.

Making a commitment when filling out a personal core values exercise is a critical first step. But say that you declared that you want to live closer to what you value. And say that you value health and well-being. How can you engage in value expression when a prime part of your day is you participating in activities that are against what you stand for?

Quite often, our paycheck is related to events that don’t directly support our moral compass.

We value financial independence and honesty. But in our job, we might be forced to act in a dishonest way – for example, use personal information gathered without the consent of clients.

In such cases, the idea of talking about values becomes painful. We feel guilty. Then frustration takes over. We start to avoid the whole concept of having values. Because… Well, because there are proofs all around us showcasing how unable we are to get closer to what we value.

In such cases, the biggest problem is not mainly what are your core values. But how can you live in accordance with your core values when the whole world is against what you value.

What Is a Core Values Exercise?

A core values exercise is an age-old tradition passed down through generations. An ancient manuscript, putting you on a self-discovery journey where you define your core values and find the courage to act in accordance with what you deeply care about.

Or in more simple terms, it’s a report. A file, a pdf document even with a set of instructions used to assess your values. Then, figure out the barriers preventing you to get closer to value-based living and find ways to overcome these obstacles.

A core values exercise is also about setting up a vision that we can get excited about.

After all, is this really how we want to spend the rest of our lives? As slaves to the endless stream of content? Locked into the grips of the allure of Netflix and social media?

If you ask around, people will tell you that being glued to your screen is not the life they want. In reality, however, that’s exactly what happens. Drained after a long working day, we enter the black holes of online entertainment that suck up the rest of our available hours.

Different Methods And Techniques For Conducting A Core Values Exercise

It has become fashionable for users all over the online sphere to promote the importance of mindfulness and self-care.

Meditations and journaling are no longer strange-sounding words and an opportunity for mockery. But important tools in the arsenal of the ordinary man.

What these provide is an opportunity for you to not be ignorant about yourself. To stop neglecting your needs.

And while meditations and journaling are indeed helpful exercises for self-reflection. We can get a bit deeper into the process of value living with these two methods.

Here are two popular methods for conducting a core values exercise:

Method #1: Values Card Sort

Imagine you are handed a deck of cards. But not ordinary cards. A set of cards, each with a different value written on it. For example, bravery, calmness, community, integrity, etc. (See a full list of personal core values.)

After studying the cards. The next step is to sort them into three major categories:

  • Core values: Choose 5 cards that best represent you as an individual.
  • Secondary values: Up to 10 cards that are things you consider important but didn’t make it to the top 5 list.
  • Non-core values: The rest of the values. Things you don’t consider that important.

Once you have your cards set up. Think about the following two:

  • Values you need to work on: From your list, consider the values you have selected but need improving. For example, you may have chosen that you value your family but you may not be spending enough time with them. Think about what needs to change.
  • Top core value: Narrow your top 5 list down to just one card. What value best represent you? Consider this your most important core value. Take as much time as you need to decide. Write down why you chose this card over the others.

Method #2: Values Clarification

The goal of this exercise is to help you strengthen your values.2

Once you have a better idea of what is morally correct for you.

Ask yourself the following set of questions:

  • What daily behaviors support something you value?
  • What daily behaviors don’t support what you value?
  • Share a specific example when you were fully living based on a particular value.
  • List people who are not helping you live up to your values.
  • Who is someone you know that can help you get close to what you value?
  • How often can you check with yourself to ensure that you stay on track with your values?

Example of Core Values Exercise

Probably the most interesting. Most engaging core values exercise I ever came across that will help you determine and prioritize your individual values is the Bull’s Eye Values Survey (BEVS).3

BEVS it’s not only useful but also attractive.

Bull’s Eye Values Survey has the potential to intrigue even people who consider reflecting on what one values as a colossal waste of time.

The exercise is divided into three parts, starting with a setup stage:

Bull’s Eye Values Survey Core Values Exercise:

Stage 0: Prerequisites

The Bull’s Eye Values Survey will help you examine your life in the following four categories:

  • Work/education: This refers to our career aspirations. Beliefs about the importance of self-improvement and education. Having a sense of purpose towards those around us – our community.
  • Leisure: This refers to how we spend our free time. How we choose to unwind and have fun. Examples might be gardening, mentoring a children’s soccer team, fishing, etc.
  • Relationships: The relationships you have with your children, loved ones, friends, and family members.
  • Personal growth/health: This part is about how you feel about your spiritual life and about your health in general. Or if not professing faith, what you consider meaningful beyond the everyday tasks.

Stage 1: Identify Your Values

The first step of the BEVS values exercise is to categorize what you consider important.

Think about what you care most about the four categories above and consider the following: If I had the opportunity to get exactly what I want, what would I like to get out of each area?

An important note while thinking about the different categories is that you shouldn’t write down goals.

For example, getting promoted can be seen as a worthy thing to mention. But this is a goal. A value is something that is ongoing. In this example, you might have the goal to get a promotion. But your values in this case will most probably be curiosity and knowledge.

Here’s how you can structure your answers:

Identify your core values in these four categories.

Once you have your values written down. Think about them as “bulls’ eye”.


If the “bull’s eye” is exactly what you want out of life. Your dream life. Mark with an X where you currently stand for in relation to this dream state for all 4 categories.

If you feel that your life is perfect in terms of relationships, for example. Then the X for this category will be a direct hit – right in the middle.

Stage 2: Identify Your Obstacles:

Since you now know which areas in your life are not perfect. Write down want gets in the way. What blocks you? What prevents you from getting from your current state to your desired state? Plainly, write down the obstacles:

Identify the obstacles preventing you from living the perfect life. What gets in the way? Be specific.

Going further, consider the extent to which the obstacles you’ve just identified impede your ability to lead a life that aligns with your values. Select the number that most accurately represents the level of impact these obstacle(s) have on your life.

Depending on the difficulty, you might want to start with obstacles that are easier to overcome to get momentum.

Stage 3: My Value Action Plan

Finally, what can we do about getting closer to what we consider important?

Defining the obstacles can feel crushing. Demotivating. But there is almost always something we can do about getting closer to living in accordance with what we value.

Try to identify at least one value-based action you are willing to take in each of the four areas:

Your action plan going forward.

For example, if one of your values is family. You might schedule days where you will spend quality time with your loved ones and prioritize their needs. If your value is health, you might make a point to exercise regularly and make healthy choices.

Some Closing Thoughts

The harsh reality in relation to living in accordance with what you deeply care about is the following: Values are everywhere, but opportunities to live up to your values are not.

A core values exercise like one of the above – or any other one you could find online basically. Will help you identify what sparks joy.

But knowing what you value is the first step. And as everything is worth doing in life, the first step is never enough. There is always more to follow.

You may value creativity. But if your daily life is utterly uncreative. It’s hard to stay motivated.

Even if this is the case, it’s our job to find a way to make this value work despite the setbacks. Despite the obstacles. Every day, one little step closer to a lifestyle promoting our talents. Our identity-based habits.

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  1. Lee, A., & Kawachi, I. (2019). The keys to happiness: Associations between personal values regarding core life domains and happiness in South Korea. PLoS ONE, 14(1). One the web:
  2. The set of questions is a modified version of an exercise created by Brené Brown. You can find more about this by searching for Brené Brown values exercise pdf. Or, you can simply click here.
  3. Lundgren, Tobias & Louma, Jason & Dahl, Joanne & Strohsal, Kirk & Melin, Lennart. (2012). The Bull’s-Eye Values Survey: A Psychometric Evaluation. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice. 19. On the web:’s-Eye_Values_Survey_A_Psychometric_Evaluation
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