What are values? 

 Our values are absolutely key to who we are.  Values are deeply embedded ideas about how things should work, what matters, and as such they shape the decisions that we make and our behaviours.  Take for example my bugbear about selfish drivers.  I get irate about selfishness in general as I have a deep-seated expectation that social interaction should be based on people respecting each other.  I feel that consideration for each other is a kind of glue that keeps us all knitted together and functional as a society.  If someone cuts me up whilst driving, for me the social glue of mutual respect and regard is destroyed!  Values matter to an extent that they make us incredibly passionate about things.  Sometimes, such as in my example, this passion surfaces rather irrationally.  But values can also get us doing things that we would rather not – such as Boniwell’s (2017) example of the dislike of changing nappies being overridden by the value of caring.  Values are also malleable: they can be changed, lost or destroyed as well as built and strengthened. 

 If you are interested in delving more deeply into values, have a look at the work of Shalom Schwartz who theorised (following decades of research) that there are 10 universal values 

Psychologists argue that whilst these values are purportedly universal, they are influenced in their manifestation by cultural context and individual interpretation.   

 Why and how do values matter to our success? 

Oishi et al (1999) posit that ‘people gain a sense of satisfaction out of activities congruent with their values.’ It follows then that our success will derive from following our values, as activities relating to our values are inherently satisfying.  Whilst the below is not an exhaustive list, I think there are a few key reasons why identifying and following our values help us to succeed: 


According to positive psychologists (Peterson and Park, 2009; Niemiec, 2017), our strengths, the things that we are good at and passionate about, are our values in action.  Essentially our strengths are the enactment, in our behaviours, of the things we value.  One of our core strengths might be kindness, which we exhibit in our interactions with others e.g. we always check in with our colleagues.  Our effectiveness at being kind would then relate back to our core values e.g. benevolence, and if we look carefully we’ll probably find this value exhibiting itself in other ways in other domains of our lives. In what domains of your life do your values turn up as strengths?  If you’re interested to look into your strengths, you can complete a free test here.


Our values help us decide what to prioritise in terms of our goals (Boniwell and Tunariu, 2019). They provide a patterning to make sense of the world as we move through it, so it follows that the things that we strive towards will echo these goals too.  We are most motivated by what is consonant with our values (e.g. Deci and Ryan, 2008), and we can struggle sometimes with external goals that do not sit well with who we feel we are, or how we work. More broadly, feeling incongruent in our work environment can hinder our satisfaction, affect our energy and extreme incongruence (such as feeling betrayed) can even lead to burn out. What values are most congruent with where you are now?  What values are incongruent (e.g. with your work situation, or other aspect of your life)?


Related to congruence is where we are able to authentically live and realise our values.  To be authentic, we need to feel that our behaviour fits with our values.  It follows then, that our success will emerge when we are able to behave in a way that we feel best represents us, and that we have some social recognition for that behaviour and authenticity. What would be happening if you were able to express your values in the most authentic way possible? 

So to summarise, our values are blue prints for our goals.  They also provide standards and criteria through which we judge people, events, political decisions etc., and even driving (see above!).  If we work on recognising our values (for available questionnaires see here) we can make better decisions.  If we recognise where our values emerge in our behaviours (e.g. as strengths), and where they are stifled, then we can begin to see where our path to success lies.

We’re here to help! If you would like support with the topics covered in this blog post or any aspect of your research/academic role please contact us or visit researchcoach.co.uk to find out more about our services for academics and researchers. To keep up to date with our blogs, events, resources and opportunities please join the Research Coach mailing list