I have learned a lot about values the last few weeks, not only on the definition of values in general, but also defining what are my own core values. The process of defining your core values is an ongoing process, not so much that your values change, but over the years you will find better words to describe your values.

Try not to become someone of success, but rather try to become someone of values” – Albert Einstein

Values aren’t tangible for our environment, they are “below the surface”, things that drive us internally, from within. This is the reason that your values won’t change much over you life, as they are in depend of your surroundings. This also means that is sometimes hard not only to explain your values to others, but also for yourself to figure out what your core values are. Two people could use the same words to describe their core value, however the meaning of the word can differ per person, because often one word is not capable of encapsulating the whole meaning of your value.

Values not only provide information of what “we stand for”, but also can act as criteria to evaluate people and circumstances, as well as criteria to assess our own decisions. Besides values, each person has a personal set of values that are most important to someone, the core values.


  • “central criteria which we use to judge behaviour of ourselves and others” (Van Doorn en Lammers)
  • have emotional attachment and personal meaning
  • moral goals or ideals people pursue, cherish or get motivate by

Core values:

  • the most important set of values to someone
  • generally preferred to consist of 3-6 (to maintain applicability)
  • election by object, behaviour, opinion, etc.

There is a certain exercise that can help you define your core values, or at least set the first steps to discover them, called the laddering tool (listen, summarise, question).

This exercise should be done with someone else. They will ask you 5 main questions, with each main question they will repeat the sub questions to help you find out what it is that you consider important, while writing down the answers. It is important that the one questioning doesn’t go in to conversation and starting putting in his own experience/thoughts/opinions, which is hard, but otherwise you will interfere with the thought process of the other. So try to stick to these subquestions.

The main questions

  • What do you cherish and hold high value to?
  • What are you grateful of in your upbringing?
  • What wasn’t part of your upbringing but you still value lots
  • Who/what inspires you and why?

The sub questions:

  • And if you have that, what does that give you?
  • What does that mean to you?
  • How does that make you feel?
  • Does it give you something else, apart from?

(notice that there is no ‘why’ question, we aren’t looking for clarification, just the meaning of it)

Underneath is an image of how the first main question and a reputation of the subquestion lead to a diagram, in which I then highlighted some key words, that resonated with me.


The deeper into the questionnaire, the less words you will use. You will become less rational, and answer are more based on feelings and/or emotions. At one point you will probably get stuck, you won’t be able to find words to describe what you mean.

So how do you know when you are at the core:

  • when you start circle reasoning
  • when the same nouns are being repeated
  • when it takes relatively long before a question gets answered compared to the time it took before

By defining your values, unconscious criteria are now conscious. One could use them to reflect on past decisions, and help with accessing future decisions. When one acts aligned with their values, ones authenticity automatically increases.


I hope this was helpful and inspired you to discover your own core values, if there are any questions you have one this subject don’t hesitate to ask. If it is helpful, I could do a separate post on my own core values, and what meaning they now have in my life.



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