Why clarifying your values boosts self esteem & confidence, & the Hawaiian concept of Pono

What are you 5 or 6 core, intrinsic values?

When I’ve asked my coachees this, I’ve yet to have one who’s crystal clear on what their values are. Yet many people struggle with self-motivation, inflexible behaviour and low self-esteem because they don’t have a clear picture of their core values. 

Values are important – when we’ve a clear picture of our intrinsic values, we develop a clear sense of self – of who we are – and what’s important to us. We can make decisions aligned with our authentic self – rather than living up to the expectations of others and living through their values. This self-awareness of what’s important to us can be hugely motivating, and can help us be self-directed and self-reliance, all key in developing self esteem. 

What are values?

  • Values are the deep-rooted beliefs that you use to decide your codes of right and wrong, what is good and bad, and what’s important to you. 
  • You can see values as an internal compass that can guide you throughout life, and while they might evolve over time, they are often fairly consistent for each of us.
  • NOTE: Many of our clients confuse values with needs. They’ll say they have a value of ‘inclusion’ or ‘achievement’ when actually they have a need to feel included or be successful to feel OK with themselves. Personal needs tend to be similar for all people – like the need for money, shelter, friendship, and belonging, while values are personal to you. Often it’s the case that when your needs are not being met, you can’t function well, whereas when your not living your values, you don’t feel at ease with yourself.  

Why are values important to building self esteem, and the Hawaiian concept of ‘Pono’?

  • Values give you a clearer sense of self, meaning, more energy, focus, and self-esteem. 
  • Values show you how to feel ‘pono’. Pono is a Hawaiian concept that advocates living with a conscious decision to do the right thing in relation to yourself, others, and the environment. It’s about feeling right with yourself and the world — feeling aligned with who you really are, calm and centred with everyone around you. If you’re not feeling pono but you’re clear on your authentic values, you can realign. So when your critical ideal self pops up to tell you that you should or ought to be doing something, which is out of kilter with your authentic self, by knowing what value or values you’d be dishonouring, this can help you ignore the ideal self and be more assertiveness. We can create lines in the sand, boundaries by which we can learn to assert ourselves more firmly even when facing opposition. Values allow us to trust our own judgement, and not feel guilty when others don’t like our choices.  
  • Sadly, most of us only feel pono occasionally. We feel uncomfortable in our own skin because we’re acting in conflict with our values.
  • The clients I see who are not living through their values, chasing after money and bigger houses for the sake of keeping up the Joneses are often hectic, drone-like and stressed. Why? Well it’s because it’s much harder to pretend to be someone you’re not than to be who you actually are, and living a life in line with our values is the trick to having the sort of life where you want to spring out of bed in the morning.
  • People often compartmentalise who they are in certain situations. I hear all the time “that’s who I am”. The problem with this is that people have a predominant value at work, another at home, and a different one with friends. It might be a value of diligence at work, while one of caring at home. But that limits you. It’s like playing a whole golf course with just a seven iron and putter. But if you can choose to use whichever value you need in whatever situation, regardless of whether you’re in work or at home, then you’re playing the course with a full set of clubs and you’re obviously going to get a better score. 
  • I had a client who was a workaholic, working through to 8pm most days. When asked about his motivations to work such long hours, he cited fairness – everybody else was doing it; he was in a cultural of machismo that encouraged people to work long hours. He’d been doing this routine at a prominent magazine publishing house for six years, honouring that same fairness value. When we sat down and we uncovered his full set of values, he found a value of self-improvement was been completed ignored by his fairness, so later he started leaving work two times a week at 5.30pm to get home then head out for some evening classes.   
  • Most of us live to please the “I should’ self, so we lose sight of their values. But by clarifying values, you can see when they’re not living up to them, and through self development look at the changes required to live them.

How do you identify your values?

There are several online tools I’ve come across used to help people identify values, some better than others (one of the better ones is the Depth-orientated values extraction – DOVE – tool). Most ask you to pick a series of values from a list, which in itself is not an issue, but what I find more empowering and memorable, is when you ask to come up with their own values and to name them.

But the most common and problematic error in the values-clarification tools I’ve seen is that none ask you to make the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic values. Understanding which values you have chosen for yourself, rather than running with inherited, familial values that have been hung around your neck by key childhood figures (parents, caregivers, teachers, siblings) is key to building self esteem and self reliance.

In my online course, How to Build Unbreakable Confidence participants use to the Lequin Polygon Profile in Module 6 to identify and name their own intrinsic values. It’s a very useful, insightful tool that I’ve used for many years. The module also provides examples of how the profile can be used to bring values-driven decisions into our everyday lives.

How to Build Unbreakable Confidence is a 10 module long course, comes with a course workbook, audio downloads, and tutor support from myself should you need to ask me questions about the content.


Peter Willis, co-founder and tutor of Unchain Your Brain .org – online courses for managers and leaders



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