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The Importance of Finding Your Personal Core Values with ADHD

Updated: Apr 30

Painting in the style of Van Gough of a profile of a man with his brain visible. In different portions of his brain are written the words Adventure, Honor, Creativity, Courage, and Integrity
Art by Braden Young

With everything going on in our lives it makes it easy to lose track of our personal values. This is especially true for those of us with ADHD. Personal values are the guiding principles that give our lives meaning and purpose. They are easy to lose sight of in the midst of all the thoughts and distractions that come up. Yet, these values are the compass that can help us navigate the challenges of ADHD and lead a fulfilling life.

Finding and embracing our personal values is very important, and doing so can change the way we manage ADHD. Let's go on this trip of self-discovery together, whether you have ADHD or are a loved one who wants to learn more about it.

What are Personal Core Values?

Personal values are the beliefs that we find most important about life and the way we want to live. They are what determine what our priorities are in life and give each of us our "why". Values are choices that you make in your life, and they are perfect for you in the sense of being whole and complete. For those of us with ADHD, it can be difficult to really stop and define what our values really are since our brains are ever shifting and evolving. However, when we really take the time to examine what is most important to us, we will find that we all have at least a few values which we will always come back to because values are at the core of who we are and who we want to be. When we fail to live in accordance with our values, we will often feel unsatisfied in life which is a large reason that we fall into depression.

When we can identify our values, we can start to identify the path we want to take in life. We can start to form our goals around meeting these values in our lives. They allow us to follow our path and to measure our progress on that path.

Quote by Ghandi that says "Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny."

Mahatma Gandhi once said “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.” I find this quote to be especially valid for those of us with ADHD as we can become so distracted by everything around us that we begin to lose track of our own values and therefore we lose track of our own destiny.

Why Understanding Our Personal Core Values is Important for Those with ADHD

For those of us with ADHD, understanding our own personal values can be even more important. Dr. Edward M. Hallowell gives a very accurate analogy of our brains stating in his book "Driven to Distraction,": "ADHD is like having a Ferrari engine for a brain with bicycle brakes." It is because of this very reason that we need to be able to aim our brains in a way that is productive and fulfilling in our lives.

Understanding our own personal values can act as an effective compass for our brains when our ADHD brains try to lead us in too many different directions. We can use our values as a guiding light amongst the chaos. Additionally, those of us with ADHD often face additional challenges, including rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) and imposter syndrome. RSD can make us hypersensitive to real or perceived rejection, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed by criticism or the mere idea of it. Imposter syndrome can make us frequently doubt our abilities and achievements, leading to feelings of being a fake.

Understanding and sticking to our personal core values is crucial in these situations. When receiving outside feedback becomes confusing or painful due to RSD, or when imposter syndrome causes self-doubt, values act as a reliable guide. They help us remember who we really are, beyond short-lived emotions or what other people think of us.

How Do We Find Our Personal Values?

If you're anything like me, when asked what your personal values are, your eyes probably glazed over and you realized that you have no idea how to answer that question. If you Google "personal values" you'll find some pretty daunting lists which can be pretty overwhelming. For this first part I recommend taking the approach found on Scott Jeffrey's website and start by adopting a "Beginner's Mindset"

Beginner's Mindset

Essentially, adopting a beginner's mindset means letting go of all pre-conceived notions of how things "should be". After all, these usually just lead to cognitive distortions that make us feel unnecessarily guilty. As they say, "Stop should'ing yourself." Once you let go of how things "should" be, you are free to let yourself decide what values are most important to you without feeling guilty for any reason. This was probably my biggest personal obstacle to accepting what my core personal values really were.  Many of the values in any of the lists can be considered to be selfish values if we look at them in a traditional sense of things. It wasn't until I realized how some of my core values worked in conjunction with one another that I realized that it was actually incredibly self-less to pursue my values as they ultimately led to my "enjoyment" and "pleasure" I get from helping others.

"If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few."

~ Shunryu Suzuki, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice"

Create Your Initial Values List

Now that you've opened up your mind to the possibilities (or at least are more receptive to them hopefully), we can start to create our list of personal values. Below I've provided a list of words that you can use to help identify your core values. But I don't want you to just pick and choose words off of the list that you think are better than others. Instead, look back on key experiences in your life. And see if any of these words stood out and resonated with you.

Core Personal Values













Let's look at a few different scenarios to help us with this.

Think back on a moment in your life that you would consider a peak experience or a moment when you felt like you were on top of the world.

  • What were you feeling at that moment?

  • What was going on?

  • What values were you honoring in that moment?

Now, going in the opposite direction, let's think back on a low experience in your life when you felt angry, frustrated, or upset.

  • What were you feeling at that moment?

  • What was going on?

  • What values were you suppressing at that moment?

Now that we've looked at those 2 polarized scenarios, let's look at our general "code of conduct." We all have that certain something that we see in ourselves that separates us from everyone else. Whether it's our creative passion, our sense of adventure, or our love of learning.

  • What do you feel is most important in your life?

  • With your basic needs and anything else in mind, what do you need in your life to be truly satisfied?

  • What are the personal values in your life that you absolutely must honor or a part of yourself will wither away?

Narrow Down Your List into Groups

Now that we have compiled all of the responses to these scenarios, we have a comprehensive list of your own values. On our list, there could be anywhere from twenty to forty different values.

It is impossible to take action on that many.

The next thing we need to do is organize these principles into similar categories.

For instance, accountability, responsibility, and punctuality are all qualities that are intertwined with one another and can be combined into one group. I grouped the values in the lists below, but as a word can have different meaning to each person you can group your values however you like. Try to create between 5 and 10 groups if possible.

Next, try to figure out what the central theme of each group is. For instance, you have a group that includes creativity, curiosity, creation, originality, and wonder, the overarching theme of that group could be "Creativity".

Rank Your Values Groups

This step is often the hardest part. Now that you have your list of values groups, rank them from most important to least important. Scott Jeffrey recommends doing this in multiple sittings by ranking them and then sleeping on it and coming back to it as you may realize that one value may actually mean more to you than another.

You could go even further and use these ranked values and create what is effectively a personal mission statement by creating a bulleted sentence for each one using the words for each group. But I will leave that to you as just creating this ranked list was enough for me to really start reframing my life and changing my way of thinking to match my values. Scott Jeffrey goes into more detail about this in steps 6 and 7 on his webpage.

Go Forth With Your New Sense of Purpose

I can't stress enough how much of a game changer discovering my core values and owning them has been for me. Too many times in my life I found myself feeling lost without a sense of purpose. It really wasn't until I really talked about it with people at the ADHD conference that it really dawned on me that I needed to know my values before I could really know myself. I really hope that finding your values helps you in the ways that it has helped me. And if any of you have any questions feel free to reach out to me by commenting below, or email me at, or come join our Discord server where you can talk to me directly and see the many other resources we have available.

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