How to uncover your true values

May 9, 2018 | General | 2 comments


I care about values more than analytics. There, I said it.

In the past I’ve felt so nervous about saying that – like I’m not a proper copywriter if I don’t abide by the formulas and the rules and the numbers.

Here’s what I believe. I believe formulas and rules have their place – they can be useful tools. I’ve suggested some pointers for structuring posts in a previous blog, for example. I definitely believe in keeping things simple!

But I think the place we truly connect with our readers is deeper than that. A gut-driven ‘yes’ rather than a head ‘yes’.

And I don’t want to trick my clients (or my clients’ clients) into a yes by second-guessing what they’re into and making them feel like they’ve missed out on the event/sale of the century if that don’t buy. Instead, I’m about writing clear, honest words that connect. Connection is about being heard and understood, not trickery. And, for me, that comes down to values.

I’ve worked with values and values-based decisions for over a decade, what with my careers service background. And it’s powerful stuff, like having an inner compass. But one of the niggles I had about values work is that it’s felt like picking sweets in a sweet shop – it’s often hard to rule some out, they all look so good!

A couple of weeks ago I attended some Acceptance and Commitment Therapy training, which opened my eyes to this. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a values-based psychological model. I’m far from an expert on it, nor am I a psychologist, but it’s an approach I find incredibly helpful for everyday living, and for my own writing practice. So it’s something I want to weave into my work more.

Values from the inside-out

Our wonderful trainer got us to look at values in a different way. Rather than dealing with the words themselves, she got us to look at important, stand out events in our lives.

I invite you to do this now. Get a pen, and think about maybe six events that have significance to you. They don’t all need to be happy, but they are key to you in some way. Write them down – a quick sentence is all you need: ‘Completing the half marathon’, ‘Talking at the conference’, that sort of thing.

Once you’ve done that, think about, if pressed, which experience you’d ditch (a bit like a team-building ‘who would you throw out of the hot air balloon’ exercise you may have come across at work or school. If you haven’t and the hot air balloon reference makes no sense, just ignore and read on!).

So you’ve taken out an experience that, if you had to, you’d let go of. It’s the least valuable to you on the list. Draw a line through it, or make a little mark to show it’s gone.

Now do that another two times, so you’re left with three experiences.

Now, take each of these experiences in turn. What is it at the heart of that experience that you care about? Let’s say it was your wedding day. What was it about the day that was so important? The commitment you were making to your partner? Bringing some of your dearest people together? Taking a moment to celebrate the good things in life? Think about what makes your experience valuable – what lies underneath it.

What I love about this approach is it gets to the values by stealth. Rather than think “Ooh, ‘kindness’, yes, definitely, I’ll have a bit of that, hmmm, ‘perseverance’, yes, I like that one, ooh, ‘freedom’, yes, I like the sound of that…” it gets us to reflect on the personal meaning of our experiences. And from there we can deduce our values – the ones that really do matter to us, the ones that we’ve chosen to incorporate into our lives and form part of our core identity.

We don’t let the sweet shop get in the way – we find the sweets at the bottom, unexpectedly!

I’d love to know what you think about this approach. It’s been a bit of a game-changer for me! Do add your comments, or if you’d like more of a chinwag about all things values-driven and copy, come and join us in The Copy Kitchen, a free group for people who want to use words to build a genuine connection.

See you in there!



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Gayle Johnson

Gayle Johnson


Gayle is a freelance content writer, writing mentor and facilitator. She is the creator of ‘Wordspill’ and loves helping people use words to connect with themselves and others. Find out how you can work with Gayle and her services


  1. Lindsay

    This sounds like a great exercise to do! Will have a go at this later 🙂 I think that people are more likely to hear you and respond when you write from a values perspective as opposed to thinking about your figures

  2. Paula Goude

    I really like this way of looking at values. I’ve already got some experiences in my head as I was reading, but I’ll do the exercise properly tomorrow when I can give it proper thought. Thank you for sharing.


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