How to build a more authentic, values-based life

What does it meant to be honest with yourself? What would it mean for you to live a more authentic life? Here is an exercise to begin an exploration of these life changing questions.

by Brian Curtis, Ph.D.

Honesty and Authenticity.

What does it mean to be honest with yourself?

What would it mean for you to live a more authentic life?

In 2008, the psychologist Alex Wood and his colleagues published an article in the Journal of Counseling Psychology where they developed a scale for measuring authenticity.

Of the scale’s 12 items, 4 items are related to living an authentic life.

So, as you read each of these four items, you might think about whether you feel each item describes your beliefs and your typical way of behaving from day to day.

Here we go:

1) I think it’s better to be yourself, rather than to be popular.

(Is that something that you personally believe to be true?)




2) I regularly stand by what I believe in.

(Is this something that you regularly do? Try and become interested to see if any specific examples come to mind of times when you have stood up for what you believed in. Just notice if any specific memories come to mind).




3) I’m true to myself in most situations.

(It can be interesting to consider if there are certain people and specific situations where you are regularly able to behave in a way that is more or less effortless, more or less aligned with the best version of yourself, the type of person you most want to be).

(It can also be useful to consider the opposite: Who are those people and what are those situations in which you regularly feel inauthentic, fake, like you're putting on a show or behaving in ways that tend to go against your core beliefs. Do you notice any differences between these two types of people and situations?)




4) I live in accordance with my values and beliefs.

(Well, do you?)

Values and Beliefs.

In addition to Alex Wood and his colleagues in 2008, the importance of values in living an authentic life was also emphasized by the behavioral scientist Francesca Gino and her colleagues in their 2015 publication in the journal Psychological Science.

In this paper, they define the desire to be authentic as the desire “to act in accordance with one’s own sense of self, emotions, and values.”

So … one answer to what it means for us to be honest with ourselves, to live a more genuine, authentic life, is to intentionally align our moment-to-moment behavior in a manner that is consistent with our values.

But before we can align our behavior with our values, we need to ask and answer a fundamental question: What do you value?

If you’re anything like me, you may have spent most of your life, or perhaps all of your life until now, without setting aside some time to deeply consider what you care most about in life, and why you care about those things.

The type of person you truly want to be. The type of life you most want to live. How you want to be remembered by the people  you care most about.

Discovering your values.

One exercise to explore and connect with the values that are most important to you is the Personal Values Card Sort developed by the psychologists Stephen Rollnick and William Miller.

In this exercise, you review a list of 50 to 100 values and rank them according to whether each is more or less important to you.

(Values being chosen qualities of being and doing that are ongoing guides to living, as defined by the psychologist Steven Hayes).

Below, I'll list 100 values with brief descriptions taken from the Personal Values Card Sort that you can find in the public domain HERE with instructions HERE

Your job is to simply read each value and brief description, then notice whether that value seems very important to you in terms of how YOU want to live your life (NOT how OTHER PEOPLE like your parents, romantic partner, friends, teachers, siblings, or others want you to live).

If a value isn't important to you, simply move on to the next. If a value is important to you, you might write that word down on a piece of paper or type it out so you can remember it later.

In this way, you will have created a list of values that are deeply meaningful to you.

Here we go:




Novelty – to have a life full of change and variety

Power – to have control over others

Genuineness – to act in a manner that is true to who I am

Accuracy – to be correct in my opinions and beliefs

Caring – to take care of others

Intelligence – to keep my mind sharp and active

Intimacy – to share my innermost experiences with others

Leisure – to take time to relax and enjoy

Justice – to promote fair and equal treatment for all

Imagination – to have dreams and see possibilities

Safety – to be safe and secure

Monogamy – to have one close, loving relationship

Art – to appreciate or express myself in art

Belonging – to have a sense of being an important member of a group

Flexibility – to adjust to new circumstances easily

Self-Knowledge – to have a deep and honest understanding of myself

Moderation – to avoid excesses and find a middle ground

Popularity – to be well liked by many people

Compromise – to be willing to give and take in reaching agreements

Service – to be helpful and of service to others

Inner Peace – to experience personal peace

Mindfulness – to live conscious and mindful of the present moment

Gratitude – to be thankful and appreciative

Humor – to see the humorous side of myself and the world

Growth – to keep changing and growing

Compassion – to feel and act on concern for others

Purpose – to have meaning and direction in my life

Simplicity – to live simply, with minimal needs

Self-Acceptance – to accept myself as I am

Responsibility – to make and carry out responsible decisions

Realism – to see and act realistically and practically

Courage – to be brave and strong in the face of adversity

Self-Esteem – to feel good about myself

Sexuality – to have an active and satisfying sex life

Cooperation – to work collaboratively with others

Friendship – to have close, supportive friends

Complexity – to embrace the intricacies of life

Hope – to maintain a positive and optimistic outlook

Practicality – to focus on what is practical, prudent, and sensible

Independence – to be free from depending on others

Beauty – to appreciate beauty around me

Patriotism – to love, serve, and protect my country

Solitude – to have time and space where I can be apart from others

Stability – to have a life that stays fairly consistent

Fun – to play and have fun

Health – to be physically well and healthy

Dependability – to be reliable and trustworthy

Attractiveness – to be physically attractive

Curiosity – to seek out, experience, and learn new things

Nurturance – to encourage and support others

Creativity – to create new things or ideas

Loved – to be loved by those close to me

Forgiveness – to be forgiving of others

Passion – to have deep feelings about ideas, activities, or people

Humility – to be modest and unassuming

Family – to have a happy, loving family

Courtesy – to be considerate and polite toward others

Autonomy – to be self-determined and independent

Authority – to be in charge of others

Fame – to be known and recognized

Protect – to protect and keep safe those I love

Achievement – to have important accomplishments

Self-Control – to be disciplined in my own actions

Risk – to take risks and chances

Integrity – to live my daily life in a way that is consistent with my values

Leadership – to inspire and guide others

Excitement – to have a life full of thrills and stimulation

Order – to have a life that is well-ordered and organized

Acceptance – to be accepted as I am

Romance – to have intense, exciting love in my life

Knowledge – to learn and contribute valuable knowledge

Mastery – to be competent in my everyday activities

Provide – to provide for and take care of my family

Rationality – to be guided by reason, logic, and evidence

Loving – to give love to others

Industry – to work hard and well at my life tasks

Diligence – to be thorough and conscientious in whatever I do

Adventure – to have new and exciting experiences

Pleasure – to feel good

Wealth – to have plenty of money

Fitness – to be physically fit and strong

Commitment – to make enduring, meaningful commitments

Faithfulness – to be loyal and true in relationships

Openness – to be open to new experiences, ideas, and options

Non-Conformity – to question and challenge authority and norms

Challenge – to take on difficult tasks and problems

Spirituality – to grow and mature spiritually

Music – to enjoy or express myself in music

Honesty – to be truthful

Tolerance – to accept and respect those who differ from me

God’s Will – to seek and obey the will of God

Ecology – to live in harmony with the environment

Comfort – to have a pleasant and comfortable life

Tradition – to follow respected patterns of the past

Contribution – to make a lasting contribution in the world

Duty – to carry out my duties and obligations

World Peace – to work to promote peace in the world

Freedom – to be free from undue restrictions and limitations

Generosity – to give what I have to others

Virtue – to live a morally pure and excellent life




Finally, you can put your list of important values into a hierarchy (possibly creating your own personal TOP 10 LIST):

Most important at the top, least important at the bottom.

This can provide a roadmap for how you might go about making changes in your life to build a more honest, authentic, values-based life.


- Brian

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