Clarify Your Values Before You Set Your Goals

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Goals!" by Brian Tracy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are your values in life? In other words, what’s most important to you? Why is it important to define your core personal values?

Your values are like a compass—they show you a clear path forward and guide every decision you make as you work toward your goals. If you’re unclear about your values, you won’t be able to make decisions that move you in the right direction, resulting in frustration and a lack of fulfillment.

Here’s why it’s important to clarify your values before you embark on a goal.

Clarify Your Values

Before you start setting goals, it’s important to clarify what’s important to you. Tracy says that this is an important step because goals that aren’t aligned with your values will inevitably lead to unhappiness.

According to Tracy, one way to clarify your values is by reviewing your past. Reflect on the experiences that have increased your self-esteem and the choices you made in stressful situations because these tell you what’s important to you. Keep in mind that your past choices may not reflect who you are now, so consider if you would make different choices today.  

Another Way to Clarify What’s Important to You

To clarify your values, you could mine your past experiences as Tracy recommends. However, this may feel a little overwhelming: You’ve probably had dozens, if not hundreds, of experiences that increased your self-esteem or involved overcoming stress. It may be difficult to filter through all of these experiences to find what really matters to you.

If you’re struggling with Tracy’s method for identifying your values, you could use this more structured four-step exercise:

Answer “Who am I?” Get 10 sheets of paper, then write “Who am I?” at the top of each page. On each page, write one descriptive answer, but keep it succinct. For example, you might write “creative,” “highly ambitious,” or “writer.”

Ask “Why?” Do a root cause analysis on each page by asking “why” you have these traits five times (or until you run out of answers). For example, answers to your “whys” for “highly ambitious” might be, “Because I want my company to grow,” and, “Because I want to make a difference.” These answers reveal that leaving a legacy is important to you.

Find common themes. Look at all 10 sheets, then group together the pages that have some similarities; each group represents a core value. Arrange these core values in order of their importance to you.

Live your values. Determine how you can live by your values by thinking about the behaviors you need to do more of and less of.

Clarify Your Values Before You Set Your Goals

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  • Brian Tracy's steps to setting and reaching your goals
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  • Why persistence is more important than courage

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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