Clarify Your Values

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Clarify your values. Values are what we care about--wants, needs, likes, and dislikes.

In this video, you'll learn to broaden your scope around values and to recognize the concept of trade-offs. Values cause us to prefer the consequences of one alternative decision over another.

Frequently, we find decisions difficult to make because none of the alternative actions can satisfy all our values. Such decisions involve trade-offs to define which value is more important in the instance. For example, in choosing a job, we might trade off salary with how much we like the position and how it contributes to the community. Or, in buying a used car, we might trade off saving money with paying for a warranty.

Too often, people make poor decisions by overemphasizing the short term (e.g., buy it now because it’s cheap) and underemphasizing the long-term (e.g., too much credit card debt). Further, we may forget to consider a value that is really important, such as how our decision will affect those we care about. Another point to consider is that sometimes we don’t really know what we truly want. Our values may be in transition. In that case, efforts to clarifying our values are crucial to making quality decisions.

Like the rest of us, it's always possible that making a final decision is difficult because you're aren't completely clear on your values.

Values are often in transition, so it's important to challenge your assumed values. How? Experiment. For example, you accept an invitation to go to a concert. You enjoy it, but if you feel guilty or worried that you spent too much money from the savings meant for the new winter clothes you'll need this year, then maybe long-term money goals outweigh temporary fun.

Check out these considerations in the context of a student choosing a college.

Common values when considering schools include:

  • Academics: reputation of programs, graduation rate, ROI for students
  • Programs: majors, minors, independent study, study abroad, distance learning
  • Cost: courses, lodging, travel to and from, financial aid
  • Location: distance from home, weather, ease of access to valued interests (e.g., city vs. rural)
  • Population: sense of community, student competition
  • Extracurriculars: athletics, clubs, Greek life, student government,  employment
  • Spirituality: school's spiritual creed, local religious organizations
  • Personal character growth: fostering resilience, stretching comfort zones

Complete these statements:

  • The opportunities I would likely have from school A are... (and do this for each school)
  • The opportunities I like the most are... because...

Ask your head:

  • Can I explain how much of something I would give up to get more of something else? For instance, am I willing to experience some discomfort (social, weather, class size, etc.) to attend a school that can better meet my long-term goals?

Ask your heart:

  • Am I considering seriously enough the potential impacts of my decision on all those I care about?
  • Am I overreacting or underreacting to the risks of each school?


  • It's unlikely a single school will completely fulfill all your values and goals to the utmost. Consider what trade-offs you'll make when choosing one school over another.
  • Don't forget to consider the values of those you care about.
  • Visualize a typical week at each school and consider which parts you find exciting or beneficial and which you don't. Try to match those parts to your values.

Featured Decision Guides

Find instructions and educational information to help guide your college choice.

Decision Making Step by Step

The Conversations for Clarity worksheet provides a structured method for making progress toward a decision. It helps you find your weakest Decision Chain link.

Learn the Decision Chain

The purpose of making good quality decisions is to get more of what you truly want out of life. A good decision makes sense and feels right.

Commit to Follow Through

Commitment to follow through means that you are set to execute on your decision. It's like pulling an internal switch, and you'll do whatever it takes to make your decision real. You're ready when you're prepared with all the necessary resources like time, effort, money, and help from others. You should also ready to overcome obstacles and have a plan B prepared.

Sign up for our online class

It's a 5-6 hour, self-paced course and recommended for any age 13 and above.