5
Examine Your Core Values

Your values create your internal compass that can navigate how you make decisions in your life. If you compromise your core values, you go nowhere.

—Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Ever have that uneasy feeling that you are totally off course?

You know you're headed in the wrong direction, and maybe you're not even sure how you know that. But you feel it deep in your gut, and that uncomfortable feeling tells you something needs to change.

Compare that to the opposite feeling, when everything seems right. You feel like you have the wind at your back and you're sailing in the right direction. You may have challenges that come up. However, you feel you are entirely equipped to handle them.

The difference between these two vastly different feelings goes to the very essence of your core values and whether you live your life aligned with them.

So, what exactly do I mean by core values? They can be described in any number of ways—your sacred beliefs, the forces that drive you, a personal code of conduct. They are deeply held beliefs that you practice and use to live your everyday life. They define you as a person in the way that you live.

Having a strong, unshakeable sense of your core values dramatically affects how you deal with your pivot point. You will find yourself more resilient and able to withstand the impact of an unexpected emergency or disaster. If you do get knocked off course, it won't be for long because you have such a fundamental sense of yourself.

You also develop higher confidence in yourself. People who know their core values know precisely how to optimize their life to live within them. When they live aligned with their core values, they tend to be more successful, too. It's almost impossible not to be.

When you don't have a firm grip on your core values, you're in for a tough time. You may find yourself hanging out with people you don't like, doing things you don't really want to do, and feeling a ton of anxiety about it. You may feel stuck, or on a downturn, or angry or disgusted with yourself. You probably won't be performing anywhere near your best at any given task or vocation. The price of not being true to who you really are is outright misery.

The good news in this situation is that you can always shift course. You can adopt a new set of core values that more accurately reflect who you want to be, or you can finally start following the excellent set of core values that may have been there all along. It's never too late to turn around.

So, what if you don't know what your core values are?

Finding Your Core Values

I believe that most people have some idea about their highest priority beliefs and behaviors. However, as with most things, it's hard to be objective when you're right in the middle of it. Similar to your unique gifts, sometimes your friends have a clearer picture of your values than you do. Your core values are the upstream source of nearly all the positive ways you show up in the world. They come from your actions sourced from your beliefs. Your close friends and family will be able to see that.

Ask your friends and family questions: “How would you describe me to a stranger?” Or, “What are some of the reasons we are close friends?” Or another great one, “How have I positively affected you?” It's not an exercise in fishing for compliments. It's gathering needed feedback to get clear about how you want to show up in this world.

Another way to clear up your core values is to examine what your day‐to‐day living looks like. What is your vocation? Do you enjoy your work? How do you spend the day? How do you use your gifts? When do you feel at peace? When do you feel loved? What excites you? What gives you hope? Why do you get out of bed in the morning?

Sometimes you have to take behavior you observe in yourself and follow it upstream to the source, the core value. For example, say every morning you go jogging and eat a healthy breakfast. The behavior is exercise and good eating. Then just ask the magic question of “why?” Why are exercise and healthy eating important to you? Your answer might be, “I want to be healthy so I can live a long time.” Or it might be, “I want to be as healthy as possible for my kids.” Or maybe it's, “I want to be healthy so I can attract a mate and raise a family.” Or perhaps, “I want to be healthy because my body is a temple, and I am honoring God.” Your reasons for being healthy could be one or all of these things or any combination in between.

It's common to share a core value with others. For example, many people have some variation of a health core value in their lives. Values about family, love, helping others, and God are all very common, even though they differ in their type or specificity. We human beings, at the end of the day, all want very similar things.

So when we find ourselves in a spot where we don't feel right, one of the first places to look is whether or not we are aligned with our core values.

Getting Back into Alignment with Your Core Values

Sometimes you slip out of alignment with your core values. It doesn't make you a bad person—you can always turn things around. But I believe it is important to get back on the horse as soon as possible. That's why it's crucial to stay present and notice what's happening. When you are off your mark, the internal feelings you get are the first wave of feedback you need to change.

There is an example from my own life that I would love to share.

I had a lot of things go wrong my freshman year at the University of Louisville. One of the biggest surprises was my poor academic performance. In my first semester, I got a 2.7 GPA—well under my standards and far below what my parents expected of me. I could have done better, and I knew that.

In addition to that, I got mono, short for mononucleosis. It's not a serious condition, but it can last for months, and some of the symptoms are extreme fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, and loss of muscle tone. All of that meant that I lost a lot of weight. Luckily, I was redshirting that year, still developing as a player, so I wouldn't play that season anyway. Still, my performance took a significant hit, and that's hard to take when you're used to playing at such a competitive level.

I think stumbling through that first semester academically, getting mononucleosis, having to sit out of our spring football because of that, and really missing being out in the field led to some changes in some values that I needed to establish.

So, later on in my freshman year, I went through some intense reflection because I wanted to turn things around. I would wake up early and go to work hard in the weight room. I thought to myself, “Hey, I'm on a four‐year college scholarship. I could go in one of two directions. I can chase my dreams, or I can party hard and not make the most of this amazing opportunity.

I said to myself, “You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to go and maximize my gifts here.” I'm a better student than that. I needed to start working harder. I needed to be more disciplined in the classroom. And I definitely needed to prioritize my health and sleep because I couldn't let my immune system go. My immune system was keeping me out of football, the thing I loved the most, which was the whole reason I was there! And had I been paying attention to my body, I probably never would have gotten mono in the first place.

One of the reasons I share that story is that we are vulnerable when we are down, and that's the perfect time to revisit our value system. We're all just now coming out of a deadly pandemic that has affected everyone through no fault of their own. People didn't do anything wrong to bring about this situation, yet some lost their jobs or loved ones.

When you already have a reinforced and clear sense of your core values, it makes being resilient and strong in these situations so much easier. It doesn't stop the storms in life from coming; you're just better prepared to weather the storm.

Seeking Others Who Model Core Values You Want

There were some things I needed to start taking seriously and get back to find the important things in my life. One of those things was my faith, identity as a Christian, and my relationship with God. At the University of Louisville, I started going to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meetings, which helped me develop my relationship with Christ. At the time, only eight total athletes were attending.

Sometimes you recognize a core value in someone that you want to adopt. The person models it for you and makes you think, “I want to be like that.” That's part of why I got into FCA to begin with. The FCA director, Chris Morgan, lived and modeled a way that was intriguing to me. He lived with a joy about him. He had a work ethic that separated him from those around him. It was all essentially stemming from a foundation in Christ, which I may or may not have recognized, but when people live a certain way, you want to follow what they do. I got to see what type of husband he was and what kind of father he was.

That inspired me. He was a leader worth following, and if Chris were really into anything, I probably would have followed him back then. He just so happened to be the leader of FCA at the time, and he remains an extremely close friend of mine. Years later, I'm on the FCA board now.

But at that time, it was a no‐pressure environment, it was a simple invitation to join him, but those invitations were in the way he lived his life. Now I try to live a certain way that others would want to follow, whether inspiring people through a weight loss journey and a health journey, being a dad and a husband, or living with a certain amount of joy. Maybe it's living with discipline in my life. That's what I want to model.

Having an impact on and leading others to make their what's next in life their best yet is what drives my actions on a daily basis—understanding that I have now been given a platform from God through football and my other gifts.

Given your gifts, who in your life models the core values that you want? Is there someone in your life you follow because of their actions? Are you living in a way that others would want to follow you?

Define Your Hard Boundaries

Any person who works in the mental health field will tell you that solid boundaries are necessary to be mentally healthy. If you want to succeed at the game of life, you have to define your playing field and where you draw the line and say, “I won't cross this boundary.”

If you are uncertain exactly of your core values, try determining your hard boundaries or non‐negotiable areas and work backward from there. It might be easier to instinctively know what you aren't about, so you can deduce why.

When my football career ended, and I needed to lock down my core values before navigating to my next career path, here is where I started: What wasn't I willing to compromise? What boundary wouldn't I cross? What were my rules for life? I started going through some of my hard, non‐negotiable boundaries and rules.

At the time, we were (and are still to this day) going to make a home in Louisville. We had just built a house there, which we were planning on living in half the time. Prior to my career ending, we obviously were living in Buffalo the other half of the year when I was working. Leslie's originally from Louisville. We met there. So, for this next chapter of our lives, I wanted to honor her by living in Louisville, where she could be around her family. My family is pretty close in Cincinnati, which worked out great for both of us.

So that was number one on the non‐negotiable list.

Number two was I didn't (and still don't) want to take a job or pursue anything that went outside of my core values. So, my next job can't put me in situations that would compromise my health, my faith, or my marriage.

Then the third was I didn't want to risk our current lifestyle by high‐stakes investing or some other kind of high‐risk venture. I had worked hard to build this lifestyle for us so we could live comfortably for a long time. It doesn't mean I don't have dreams of being at the next level of wealth and being more generous or more impactful with our money and resources. But I didn't ever want to risk what we have to pursue what's next.

Once You Have Your Core Values, Write Them Down

Your core values evolve and shift over the years, and that's perfectly normal. One of the great things about growing older is after a while, you start to see things a little differently, a little more clearly. For me, my value system has changed slightly over the years. I think ever since I left football, my values have become even more intentional. I don't want to do anything that violates my value system.

I have these core values written in visible places in my house. I have one list of them on a whiteboard opposite of where I do my remote podcasts, so I can just glance up and look at them if I ever need a reminder. Everyone's values are a little different, and that's okay. Here are mine.

Eric's Core Values

  1. Loyalty to God, family, and friends
  2. Great discipline and work ethic
  3. Being generous
  4. Having fun and a positive attitude in life
  5. Prioritizing my health

The first one, loyalty to God, family, and friends, is a no‐brainer for me. I'm not going to do stuff that compromises my relationship with them. I want to be loyal and express my appreciation for them. You show loyalty by committing time to be in their presence. Trying to be the best version of yourself for them. Never speaking badly about them, and learning as much as you can about them so you can be there for them.

Number two is great discipline and work ethic, because great things follow discipline in life. I'm just passionate about being disciplined in life, which always will bear fruit. No matter what, you'll prepare yourself for those big opportunities if you have and practice personal discipline. When they come, you will be happy with the person in the mirror. If self‐confidence comes from keeping the promises you've made to yourself, then are you doing on a daily basis what you have committed to? Keeping promises to yourself can only come with tremendous self‐discipline.

Work ethic is part of the same core value. There's a direct relationship between being disciplined and having unstoppable drive. I want to be all‐in on everything I'm doing. I have an obsessive personality, and I believe that is fine as long as I'm channeling that obsession to positive things in my life.

Number three is being generous. I've been blessed with generational wealth, and I feel it is important to be generous to the people and causes I feel are important. But even if I hadn't the same kind of financial resources, I would have the same core value. Being generous is a state of mind, and not necessarily about giving away wealth. You can be generous with your time, your efforts, or sharing what you do have with people who will appreciate it. Serving others is a form of generosity. My kids exercise their generosity every week when they run our neighbor's trash bins in from the curb—it gives them great joy. Generosity gives me great joy, too.

Number four is having fun in life. I sometimes think when you are a high achiever or high performer, it feels like it takes the pleasure out of life. Don't get me wrong—winning and succeeding is fun. But there's something to be said about just taking trips with the family and goofing around, and having some beers around a fire, telling stories, and cutting up on each other. Or golf trips to play incredible courses around the country. Or quick trips with Leslie to give her a break from the kids and time for us to focus on each other. To me, that adds the spice of life that makes all the hard work and discipline worth it. It also allows me to keep a positive attitude on those periods of life that require intense focus and discipline.

And then the last one is prioritizing my health, and that's for a few reasons. One, I just feel that ultimately, if you don't have your health, you don't have anything. You can't enjoy the fruits of your labor. You can't have an impact on others. I sacrificed my health in a lot of ways playing football.

It's up there with maybe one of the most physically demanding professions out there. Now, post‐football, I prioritize taking the weight off, taking care of my body, staying in good shape so that I can spend time with my family. I want to pour my energy into them, like playing with my kids for as long as I possibly can.

And it's important to me to have my health to make an impact for Christ, and on the lives He puts on my path.

***

Writing your values down and seeing them often is a vital part of making them live through you. It's not that I don't know what my fundamental values are without the posted list—it's that I want a constant reminder of what I'm about, a sort of rigid boundary so it's no longer a question of what I will do or what I won't do.

After a while, these values just become you. There is a lot of power in choosing what your values are and standing by them. It takes a lot of guessing out of situations.

Back when I was playing for the Bills, they had their own set of values posted everywhere for the players to see them. Before that, for the longest time, we had no idea what our core values were with the Bills. But that changed. Suddenly, when you walked into our practice facility, the core values were stated there every single day—an acronym using the word heart:

  • Hard work
  • Energy
  • Accountability
  • Respect
  • Team

Every day, our core values and the organization's core values were branded into our brains. We lived, ate, and breathed it. And it showed in how we treated each other as a team and how we approached the game. I'll never forget that.

Design Your Life and Schedule Based on Your Core Values

When you have a solid idea about who you are, many things in your life become crystal clear and are no longer a question.

Then you go one step further: you actively plan your life on your core values. I very much believe that you become your thoughts and behavior—so you have to be careful about your behavior on a day‐to‐day basis. You need to create a schedule that flows from that. It reflects who you are as a person. I fill up my schedule with things that I know will feed my soul, help make my body and mind healthier, get me closer to my family, and find the joy and fun in everyday life. Honestly, I don't have any room for anything else.

One of the things I do is fill my schedule with enough obligations that I'm actively pursuing Christ, whether it's a men's group or a couple's Bible study, or it's church on Sunday. I fight to fill my schedule with enough of the good stuff that weeds out some of the other riffraff.

Having fun in life is also one of my values, so there's some balance there, too. But even my idea of fun also fulfills some of my other core values. For example, if I'm going to play a game of golf, I'm also exercising my body for health, loving nature and appreciating God's creation, and using great discipline to try and perfect my golf swing. (My golf swing is a long way from perfect.)

By filling your life with activities that fulfill your core values, the other things automatically fall off. You only have the capacity to internalize so much stuff. So, if you're internalizing a positive podcast, if you're reading self‐development books or books with a positive message, if you are spending time with those close to you, you'll reap incredible benefits. You're going to be happier and feel more fulfilled.

You're also eliminating the negative self‐talk. You're removing the people in your life who don't serve you, who bring you down or bring things into your life that negatively influence you. Being aligned with your core values just brings you closer to who you were meant to be and makes you a shining light. People may just want to be around you, and they may not even be sure why.

One of the men I admire who has a solid sense of his core values and living them to the fullest is Keith Craft. Keith is the lead pastor of Elevate Life Church, a non‐denominational church in Frisco, Texas. He is also an influential leader, author, and speaker and has shared the stage with some of the best speakers in the world, including ex‐presidents.

One of the things Keith said is, “Whatever you honor, you will attract. Whatever you dishonor, you will retract out of your life.” I think that's such a powerful statement and couldn't be more accurate.

Having the Courage to Reach Out

Being firmly grounded in your core values gives you a certain freedom and confidence. When you robustly live your values, you start to get a better sense of other people who share your values, maybe even people you don't know. And conversely, they get a better understanding of the real you.

On my podcast, “What's Next With Eric Wood,” I started with fellow football players as guests and professional athletes from other sports as well. I was learning and being inspired by other athletes and their processes, how they overcame obstacles and what made them tick. As time went by, I became interested in thought leaders and motivational speakers. A lot of these people changed my life and altered how I saw things. Suddenly my future and circle of influence got a lot bigger, just by having the courage to reach out and connect on my podcast.

I'll reach out via social media or try to find a mutual connection in some way, shape, or form to guys who inspire me—Ed Mylett and Steve Weatherford. Also, I love having on former teammates or athletes who I know have a great story or could be inspiring or fun.

My larger point is to exercise your courage to reach out to people who model the values you strive to live to. Use the tools at your disposal! You'd be surprised how many people would respond and be touched by your outreach. Social media is an incredible tool to express your values. Once you start putting it out there, you start to attract others with those same values. Finding people of like mind and similar values can help you go further and enrich each other.

I try to align myself with the people I admire and strive to be like. I want to elevate them because they've made an impact on my life, and I want to learn more. I want people to learn from them as well, let them affect their lives. It's incredible how much you can learn about someone in just an hour and how much you can take away from listening to others.

When you start doing a deep dig into someone else's life and ask, “Hey, if you could do this differently, what would you do?” Once you discover the treasure trove of someone's lifetime of learning, you can truly learn something new and get inspired.

Key Takeaways

Here are the key takeaways about core values:

  • Examine your core values. Are you living up to them?
  • If you don't know what your core values are, do the work to find them.
  • Seek others who model the core values that you want.
  • Define your hard boundaries.
  • Once you have your core values, write them down.
  • Design your life and schedule based on your core values.
  • Have the courage to reach out.
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