Claiming Your Core Values + Motivations

Tips to Determine Your Core Values + Motivations

This week, we are continuing the getting to know yourself series with an overview of core values and motivations. For me, these topics are closely aligned because your values are what motivate you to do certain things or think in a particular way.

How do the two relate? Values are nouns, descriptors of what matters to you, things like family, achievement, strength, or abundance. Motivations are verbs; they’re what drive you such as to make a difference, leave a legacy, earn a lot of money, or parent abandoned children.

How to Identify Your Core Values

I shared an exercise to identify your values just over a year ago. If you haven’t completed that exercise, you might want to do so now. Or you can try this:

Make a list of 5-10 people who inspire you. Consider your past and present, friends and family members, historical figures or world leaders, fictional characters, etc. Next to each name, write down the character qualities that you associate with that person. Circle any qualities that you list more than once. These are a good place to start looking for your values.

As you tease out your values, you may notice there are differences between what you value personally vs. professionally; thus, you might want to create two lists.

How to Identify Your Key Motivations

One of the central ways to differentiate types of motivations is whether they are intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within, and is characterized by an interest or enjoyment in something for itself.

Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources and can either be positive or negative, the quintessential carrot vs. stick. Extrinsic motivation could include praise, awards, or gifts on the positive side, or coercion, threats, or punishment on the negative.

Intrinsic motivation is significantly more powerful than extrinsic motivation. The major problems with extrinsic motivation, in case you were wondering, are that it results in diminishing returns over time (you need more of it to accomplish the same result); if it’s withdrawn, motivation disappears; and it can reduce or remove someone’s innate desire to do something (their intrinsic motivation). Naturally, when I’m talking about identifying your motivations to get to know yourself, I’m focused on your intrinsic motivators.

As you begin to think about your values and motivations, you might want to first look back at prior topics we’ve covered, specifically understanding your past and uncovering your key beliefs. Not to dwell on the subject but our pasts often shape how we think about the world and what we most value.

To tease out your motivations, try the following exercise:

Make a list of 5-10 things you’ve always loved to do. These can be short and sweet, like travel, read biographies, or volunteer with children. Now, look at your list, pick one item and ask, “What does that do for me?” Keep asking the same question until you get to a core motivation. Hint: You’ve reached a core motivation when the answer to the question, “What does that do for me?” is the same as your last answer. As with values, you’ll probably have several key motivations.

Abraham Maslow, founder of humanistic psychology, postulated that human beings have a common set of needs—physiological, safety, belonging, and esteem needs—that must be met before we can pursue needs that relate to our self-actualization, such as creativity, morality, spontaneity, and removing prejudices. In completing your motivation exercise, you may find that your key motivations fall anywhere on Maslow’s hierarchy. This is completely reasonable and to be expected.

For example, my #1 personal value is belonging and connection, which could also be stated as having a key motivation to belong. It’s no secret why, either: As a child of divorce who felt like she never quite fit in with her peers, it became important for me to feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself, like I’m not alone. My childhood wounds will probably always impact me, as they do all of us, but it’s what I choose to do with them that really matters. That’s where values and motivation come in.

By identifying and claiming your core values and motivations, you will be better able to make important life and career decisions, connect with like-minded people who can understand and support your goals, and stay on track with what matters most to you.


Kate Watson

For part seven of the getting to know yourself series, click here.

Embracing your personality » - […] For part six of the getting to know yourself series, click here. […]