Personal Core Values

How to define your personal navigation system

Why are you leading the life you lead? Why have you chosen your specific profession? What´s your drive when things aren´t going so well? The answer to these three questions is the same: It´s your values. This subject has fascinated me for years, because nothing has such an impact on our decisions, behavior patterns and results as our inner value system. But what exactly do I mean by that?

The definition of values

Wikipedia has the following definition: “Values can be defined as broad preferences concerning appropriate courses of action or outcomes. As such, values reflect a person’s sense of right and wrong or what „ought“ to be. Equal rights for all, Excellence deserves admiration, and People should be treated with respect and dignity are representative of values. Values tend to influence attitudes and behavior.“

I like to get to the point a bit more and describe values as “desirable (or undignified) characteristics that serve as an assessment standard in our decision making.“ In order for you to get an even better understanding of this statement, I would like to introduce a short (and incomplete) list of values to you.

personal core values


Have you let this list affect you a bit? Then I would like to ask you two questions:

  • What are your ten most important positive values?
  • Which ten values do you absolutely want to avoid in your life?

I really recommend taking some time for this reflection, and please be very aware of one thing. There is a huge difference between the values that we intellectually see as a positive and those that we actually live by and act on. You can put this to the test. Ask a hundred people what their most important values are, and at least ninety percent of the time you will receive „honesty“ as the answer. But as soon as the next conflict situation arrives, there´s much to be desired and people reach for white lies, keep information secret or are too afraid to voice an honest opinion out of fear of not being politically correct.

Our actions are a direct mirror of your values

Only your actions are a direct mirror of your values. Nothing else. If punctuality was important to you, you would never be late. If honesty were an important value for you, you would rather deal with the negative consequences of not lying. If you viewed frugality as desirable, you would never randomly throw money around. Generally speaking, you can say that you can determine exactly what´s important to you and what you´d rather avoid by looking at your values.

But back to the mirror. I´ve learned about the correlation between our values and the corresponding behavior the hard way, many years ago. For that you have to know that the value of family has always been high on all of my lists. Intellectually, it made perfect sense, because nothing was more important to me than my wife and my, back then very young, daughter. It was so important that I was constantly talking about it to my colleagues, co-workers and friends. And I still remember it today, the realization hitting me like a brick when a colleague I was friends with confronted me with the following statement: “Ilja, if family is so important to you, why are you still at the office at 9 pm for the fourth time this week?“

As a first instinct, I wanted to explain my reasons, wanted to argue that it was just an exception, but then I quickly realized that everything I could say would be a cheap excuse in the end—albeit a very logical and plausible excuse, but, as much as I wished it to be different, an excuse nontheless. And it took a lot of courage to admit the real reason why I was doing this to myself: Back then, my career simply was more important to me than my family.

I have to admit this realization ate away at me quite a bit because, in my mind, my family was the most important thing of all but my behavior showed something completely different. As the old wisecrack says, “I can´t hear your words, your actions speak too loudly!“ But I did not want to accept this situation and knew that I had to change something. Basically, I had two options. Either I had to change my hierarchy of values and accept the fact that, at that moment, my career was my highest priority, or I had to change my behavior to align with my values. And this is exactly what I chose to do, by no longer focusing on my time at the office, but on efficiency and results. The result was that I wasn´t only more satisfied, but was working with more drive and fun.

The only thing that counts is: Which values are you acting on?

I hope one thing became very clear through this example. Working on your own values sounds pretty simple and easy in theory. You write down a few desirable terms that sound good to you and you would like to have in your life. The problem is it doesn´t matter at all what we write down on a piece of paper, the only thing that counts is always which values we act out of—and those aren´t always identical with the ones we´d like to have. This is due to a simple, but often-overlooked, causation. We rate our own behavior, our ideas and values based on our intentions, but those of the people around us exclusively based on their results. If we used the same yardstick for ourselves, many of us would watch their entire view of the world collapse like a house of cards.

Ten steps for the optimal alignment of your individual value system

  1. Write down all the values that are important to you. Be creative. Brainstorm. And, as always, the best way to do this is with a pen and your change journal.
  2. Pick the ten most important values from your list.
  3. Arrange these values in hierarchical order, where your most important value is on top, your second most important value right below it, and so on.
  4. Repeat the whole thing with your negative values that you want to avoid at all costs.
  5. Check if any values on the lists are in conflict with each other (for example: freedom and security or recognition and rejection). Should you come across a conflict of values, replace the lesser important value with a motivating alternative.
  6. Check if your daily behavior is in harmony with your most important values. Should you come across a conflict, you have two options. First: You replace a value with a new one that fits your behavior. Second: You consciously adjust your behavior based on the value.
  7. Adapt your list until you have twenty values in total that reflect your biggest dreams, views and attributes and fit with your future (dream) life.
  8. Integrate your (new) values into your daily life and consciously pay attention to acting according to your most important values when making decisions.
  9. Do this until your consciously chosen value system has become an automated and habitual basis for your decisions and your behavior.
  10. In the beginning, repeat the process every four months, later, once a year.

The more you deal with your very own individual values the more you will realize how important this piece of the puzzle is in expressing your extraordinary personality. The more you are able to fall back on strong and deeply rooted values the more you will be perceived as a Changemaker, because you are living the Changemaker philosophy with every fiber of your being.

The renaissance of values is coming. And that is great news!

Was I able to interest you a bit in the subject of values? I´m always surprised that so few people intensively deal with their inner motivation. And you should have realized by now how much our daily actions are controlled by our values, especially in a world that seems to drift into arbitrariness more and more; strong and explicit values are a rare exception that clearly set apart a company, organization or person from their environment. That´s why I will never tire of calling out for a renaissance of values any time I possibly can. It would be a great honor if you would follow my call. Your uniqueness will thank you.

Let the change begin!


Ilja Grzeskowitz

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