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START Now: The Value of (Writing Your) Values

The Big Idea

To boost the good things you want for your kids, your family, and yourself, state what you value most and then connect those values to the actions, interactions, and events in your lives.

(Note: This also works for students, classes, and teachers)

Strategy: The Case for Values

Articulating your family’s Strategy is the first step in the S.T.A.R.T. Leadership process - a process that is effective in equipping kids with the mindset and skill set they need to thrive and prosper in a highly competitive world, rapidly changing world.

Your Strategy, informed by your family’s strategic vision, values, and goals, sets a tone - influencing and establishing your family's culture, and provides a foundational framework - serving as a guide for your family’s actions and the decisions you make on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis.

Without an articulated Strategy, decisions and actions can be or can appear to be arbitrary reactions to events and situations, which can be unsettling to kids - prompting conflict, and often interferes with the development of mutual trust.

A powerful place to start developing your Strategy is to articulate your own and your family's values - and then to connect those values to your actions, interactions, and events in your life.

Hundreds of studies, including our own, confirm the value and far reaching benefits of this step that are just too good to miss

Academic Research

Twenty years ago, Stanford students leaving for winter break were asked to keep a daily journal.

Half of the students were asked to write about their most important personal values and then describe how the events of each day connected with those values. The other half was asked only to describe the positive events that happened throughout their day.

The results were remarkable.

The Results

After the break, the researchers discovered that the students who wrote about their personal values were healthier, experienced fewer illnesses, and had better energy and attitude than the students who merely wrote about the positive events in their lives.

In The Upside of Stress[i], Kelly McGonigal of Stanford reports the benefits of writing about your values:

“It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. In many cases, these benefits are a result of a one-time mindset intervention. People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.”

In the SHORT TERM, writing about personal values makes people feel more

  • Powerful, in control, proud, strong

  • Loving, connected, and empathetic

In addition, writing about values

  • Increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and

  • Reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.

In the LONG TERM, writing about values has been shown to

  • Boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental and physical health

  • Help people persevere in the face of discrimination and

  • Reduces self-handicapping

START Research

Families participating in the primary research we conducted in schools to empirically measure the impact of modeling, teaching and reinforcing an age appropriate leadership framework reported a wide range of positive outcomes. With respect to establishing a family strategy informed by a strategic vision, values, and goals, families reported experiencing greater engagement, enjoyment, alignment, sense of connection, and sense of purpose in their family around the things that matter most. They also reported experiencing a rise in the development of mutual trust and to experiencing greater well being and overall peace of mind.

Here's an example of my Family Strategic Vision, including our values and goals

In the Bodine Family, we value

  • Family (Put Family First)

  • Presence (Be Present in the Moment)

  • Service (Serve Generously)

  • Fun (Find the Joy)

  • Purpose (Find the Meaning)

and we choose activities and actions that support the development of

  • Responsibility

  • Resilience

  • Resourcefulness

in order to develop as individuals who can

  • Lead Well, Be Well, and Do Well - now and in the future

How You Can Take Action

Identify: Selecting from a Deck of Values Cards. You can use the template in the START Family or Student Workbook, get a set of START Values Cards, or create your own. Reflect, select, and write down the values that resonate most with you.

Affirm: Consider posting these values someplace where you and your family will see them - at your desk, on your mirror, or on the fridge.

Act: Reflect, discuss, and write about the ways you are living your values at home, at work, in your community, and what you can do to more closely align your actions, interactions, and events with what you value most. Establish a routine to check in regularly, ensuring you stay on track.

Expand: Once you’ve done the work for yourself, invite your family to participate. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, and there are no right or wrong choices. The process of seeking, considering, and respecting the input of each family member is as important, if not more important, than the specific values you select. In the process, you are modeling, teaching, and reinforcing a leadership mindset, process, and skill set.

  1. Invite each family member to select four or five core values that they feel are most important.

  2. Over the next few days or weeks, take turns discussing each of the values that are most important to each family member. Listen carefully to your kids and to the case they make for the values they value. By listening, you're reinforcing that you respect their point of view and that their voice matters.

  3. Look for consensus. The five values that receive the most votes become the family’s core values.

Note: If any family member feels strongly about the importance of a value that is not selected, invite them to select it as an additional personal value that you and the rest of the family will honor and actively respect and support.

When and how you engage your kids in the process will depend on their age and the openness and trust in your current relationship with them. Younger kids love this work and are eager to participate. Older kids may choose to wait and watch for a period of time as you demonstrate your commitment to the process for yourself and/or as you re-establish trust - demonstrating that you have their best interests at heart, not your interests disguised as theirs.


Your values establish the foundation for conversations and decisions you'll make for yourself and with your kids - until they graduate and move out - and perhaps beyond. START the process now by doing this work for yourself, with your spouse / parenting partner, and then with your kids.

As you do, you'll be creating and reinforcing an environment where your kids will discover, develop, and become their best selves. In this environment, they'll learn to take the lead in their own lives. In the process, you'll not only reinforce a mindset and develop a skill set that will give them a competitive advantage, you'll prepare the next generation of leaders our organizations need.

For Discussion Have you done this for yourself? In your family? What challenges did you face? What benefits have you noticed? If you’re concerned about the high cost of high pressure in college prep communities, let’s start a conversation, take action, and shift the culture in our communities for good.


[i] The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonical

[ii] START Leadership Series available on Amazon

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