Understanding yourself: self-coaching – personal values

Evaluate your personal values with this self coaching session from the Open University's PLA (Personal Learning Advice) service.

Welcome to the second edition of our self-coaching articles. 

Our first article was based on knowing your strengths and potential – if you haven’t seen it – you can read it here.

Self Coaching Session 2 – Understanding your personal values

How are your New Year’s resolutions coming along? Have some slipped already? One possible reason for that is that the resolution you chose may not be aligned to your personal values. So, while others – or society more generally – may think it something important, deep down, you are not that bothered! This is why it may have dropped off your radar already! 

Are you interested in finding out more about what is important to you and what motivates and drives you and some of your behaviour? If the answer to that is yes……..find 10-15 minutes for yourself and read on!

Personal Values can be said to be the qualities you most want to express in your daily behaviour. 

Within this definition there are some key words to be aware of.  

  • Personal: Look beyond what society or others in our lives says “should” matter to us. It is important (although can be very tricky) to identify what we personally feel is meaningful and what we are personally motivated to move towards in our daily lives.  
  • Express: Our personal values only come to life when they are expressed in our actions, in the things we do. When they can be seen by ourselves and others. 
  •  Daily Behaviour: We are not talking about significant changes or huge leaps of achievement. It is about reflecting on the small things we do each day that help us move towards expressing our personal values. 
Benefits of understanding your personal values

Understanding what your personal values are can help you in a number of ways:  

1. When you are not sure what to do – knowing what your values are might help you make a difficult decision. 

2. Knowing your values also helps you understand your ‘emotional world’ a little better. Is there something annoying you? Chances are that the things that could be getting on your nerves are in conflict with your values. 

3. Knowing about values generally can also help you understand others and the behaviour of others. It is likely that the people around you – family, friends, colleagues – behave differently, make different choices to you – probably because they have different values to you.  


Step 1:

Take a look at this list of values. Looking at these values, sort them into three groups, as detailed below. You can place a 1, 2, or 3 against each value or do the activity in the way that works for you. There are lots to choose from on this list but if there is one or a few missing for you that you want to add in, just add them to your groups. Try to be ‘playful’ with this activity, don’t take it too seriously and go with your instincts.

  • Group 1: These values seem to carry most personal meaning for you; they seem to resonate with you; they attract you or ‘ignite’ you in some way. (Light your fire!)

A roaring log fire

  • Group 2: These values also carry some personal meaning for you, yet they don’t seem to ignite you quite as much as those in Group 1. (A bit less heat!)

A chandelier hanging in an opulent room

  • Group 3: These values carry less personal meaning than those in the other two piles. They might still be important – to you and/ or to society – but they don’t resonate with you as much as the personal values in Group 1 and Group 2. (Not so much – a bit meh!) 

A cupcake with a single birthday candle

Step 2:

Try to identify a smaller set of your ‘Top 5’ from Group 1 – those that seem to carry most personal meaning. These will be the values that we really feel most highly motivated to move towards and express in daily life. This might feel difficult to choose; again be ‘playful’ – it does not have to be your absolute Top 5! Write those 5 values on a separate piece of paper or type them onto a different document to distinguish them from the rest. 

Step 3:

Choose one of the values (it really does not matter which one) and start to think about and write down what you do every day or week that demonstrates this value and that moves you towards acting out that value in your life. 

For instance, let’s imagine you had chosen ‘care.’  Actions for this might be: making a cup of tea for a family member or friend, calling a friend/family member to see how they are, looking after yourself by taking a break/going for a walk.  

Applying this to your studies,  and further resources 

You might be asking, ‘What does this have to do with my studies?’  

Understanding your values helps you to know yourself better and what interests, motivates and drives you. Do you feel your studies are aligned to who you are and what you enjoy doing? Do your studies ‘light your fire’? 

  • Talk to your Student Support Team if you are wanting to explore different modules and courses which better suit your values. You can find their contact details on your Student Home Page.  

Understanding your values and knowing yourself also helps when searching for a fulfilling career.  At the OU we have a dedicated Careers Team who can support you to make the right choices about your course and career. 

There is a great Open Learn course called ‘Succeed in the workplace’ and you can access it here. This course contains sections about understanding your values. 

If you are interested in watching a video about values, try this one from Mind Tools. 

Much of this exercise we have shared with you comes from activities based on ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’ – you can find out a bit more about this here. 

… And Finally

Identifying your values isn’t a one-off exercise. Your ideas about your values can change over time, and it’s useful to revisit your values on a regular basis to review your development and any changes. 

Thanks for reading! We hope you have enjoyed this month’s article. We welcome comments, questions and chat about the article and activities.   

Next article – February 2022 – Mastering Motivation 

If there’s anything you’d particularly like to see in this new self-coaching feature, please let us know.  

We look forward to seeing you again soon! 

The Open University (OU) has set an ambitious Access and Participation Strategy with progressive targets over the next 5 years to tackle inequalities. The OU has many areas in which we need to improve and do better, and one focus is on the degree outcomes between students from underrepresented groups and the wider student body.  

To help address this, we have set up a dedicated team providing personalised coaching and mentoring to our students. This service is known as the Personal Learning Advice Service.  

Students who are eligible for coaching are contacted directly by us and cannot currently self-refer. We are a new service, and we are currently delivering and evaluating pilot projects with small groups of students at the OU. We worked with the OU Students Association in designing and setting up this support for students.   

If you would like to know more, please email PLA-Services@open.ac.uk 

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