Writing Out a Value

Writing Out a Value

Articulating a value in words doesn't necessarily help you live it better. But you still might want to write out a value you have for various reasons, including:

  1. To tell someone what's important to you.
  2. To find others who share the value, by circulating a text.
  3. On a design project, to set a clear objective, or to check if users share the value, and whether your design helps them live by it.
  4. To inspire strangers. If you phrase your value correctly, people who don't have that value yet might see the wisdom in your value when they read it. They will think to themselves "I could try being that way!".

Each of these has different requirements, in terms of copy. But there are some things to keep in mind that will help with all four.

Here we'll walk you through the steps towards writing out a value.

Note: The values written here and in the following examples are pretty condensed. Sometimes it helps to write very expansively and then focus, and sometimes the value demands lengthy descriptions.


Make sure what you are trying to write is a value.

Not a feeling or experience.
Not a goal.
Not an internalized norm.

The 3 Parts of a Value

An articulated value should have three parts. (1) The Context, (2) The Attentional Policy, and (3) The Source of Meaning. The most important part (and usually the trickiest to articulate well) is the (2) Attentional Policy.

The general formula is:


Here are 3 examples:

Shine Crazy
Passionate Impressions
Unique Me Reading

Note: Avoid Vagueness and Poetry The most common error is vagueness. Values are precise enough to guide you in specific concrete situations that you face in life.

Examples of vague concepts (that might seem like personal values)
Examples of unclear phrases and poetry
Questions to ask to help you be more clear


All values have a context where we want to live by them. Being 'kind and gracious' might be someone's value when socializing with friends, and being 'ruthless and harsh' might be a good way to live in a martial arts class.

Starting with clarifying the context is usually the intuitive and safe way to go.

Attentional Policy

You can always view a value as a bit of advice about what to attend to. It's a kind of instruction that's like, hey, in this kind of situation, pay attention to this.

Break down-

Source of Meaning

A value should also give at least some readers a sense of why it's meaningful to live that way. Not everyone will get it, but the text should contain clues about why it's important to you to pay attention to that rather than other things in this context.

Something like "not having to worry about how I look" is not a value, because it doesn't name the thing that's meaningful. It might name an important step in creating meaning, but it doesn't name what's meaningful itself. So if you start writing something like this, ask "how is it that I can be when I'm not worrying about how I look?"

One way to make sure your source of meaning isn't actually a goal is by noticing the relationship between the attentional policy and the source of meaning. If the relationship is one of cause and effect, you're probably looking at a goal. If the relationship is one that the attentional policy is a manifestation of the source of meaning or a very broad category you've probably got a legit source of meaning.

Chunking with a Title

Once you have a fully articulated value, it's useful to name the value something short and catchy. This helps you remember the value (which will help you live by it), and also allows for a more flowing communication once you've relayed the value.

Now check out an example of how this process might look:

Rewriting a Value: Example #1