My Personal Values Experiment: Quantifying Life Priorities

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measuring personal values quantified self psyche

One of the important factors that influence your happiness and quality of life, in my opinion, are your personal values and whether you live according to your value priorities. Modern psychologists define values as “guiding principles of your life”, and, depending on the method, values can be measured in terms of absolute or relevant importance. In September and October August, I tracked my personal values in order to assess their stability and to see how they interact with other variables in my everyday life. In this and the following post, I will share some interesting insights I was able to get from that data.

The most prominent and recognized values theory in social sciences at this point is the one by Israeli psychologist Shalom Schwartz. According to Schwartz’s theory, pretty much all of our personal values can be grouped into 10 distinct categories, based on the motivational goals behind them. These categories, dubbed “value types” or “super-values”, have been found to be universal and stable across the gender, age and socio-economic groups, cultures and generations. In other words, if I ask you to make a list of what is important and not important to you in your life (money, fame, career, peace and justice in the world, learning languages, travelling, self-improvement, competing with others, relationship with your lover, friends, family, faith, etc.), you can always reduce that list to the following ten super-values:

  • Power (social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources)
  • Achievement (personal success through demonstrating  competence according  to social standards)
  • Hedonism (pleasure and sensuous gratification)
  • Stimulation (excitement, novelty, and challenge in life)
  • Self-Direction (independent thought and action; choosing, creating, exploring)
  • Universalism (understanding, appreciation, tolerance, caring about humanity and nature)
  • Benevolence (preserving  and  enhancing  the welfare of loved ones, friends and family)
  • Conformity (restraint of actions, inclinations)
  • Tradition (respect, commitment, and  acceptance of the customs and  ideas that traditional culture or religion provide the self)
  • Security (safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self)

quantified self and self tracking personal values Schwartz also empirically demonstrated that if you place these value types in a mathematical two-dimensional space, they will form so-called circumplex structure: the values with similar motivational goals will end up closer to each other,  and the values with conflicting motivational goals will be further apart. For instance, Self-Direction values are adjacent to Stimulation, because both groups imply openness to change and autonomy. The same two value types will be found farthest apart from the Tradition, Conformity and Security values, because the latter associate with restraint and submission. On the left: circumplex structure of personal values (click on the image to enlarge).

When I first started tracking values in September August, I used value types instead of individual values, to keep the logging process simple. After the third week, however, I realized that these categories are too abstract and general, and I half-consciously kept turning to concrete values. For instance, one day, I would think of blogging when rating Self-Direction, and the next day, when rating Achievement values. So in October, I decided to track concrete individual values:

  • Money
  • Career
  • Hedonism
  • Adventure
  • Learning
  • Creativity
  • Independence
  • World and community
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Relationship with my partner
  • Spiritual balance

Everyday, in the morning, afternoon, and evening, I would rate importance of each of these values on a 10-point scale (1 – not important at all, 10 = extremely important) using rTracker app . At the end of the month, I subjected these ratings to simple transformations to make them more interpretable. Because each of these values is important in some degree, Schwartz suggests “centering” the priorities by averaging all value ratings and then subtracting the mean to get the “relative” importance. The less important values thus now have negative scores, the more important values are scored positively, and the values of average importance have scores around zero. Here is an example, using value importance ratings from the morning of September 4th:
Quantified self guide to measuring personal values - transformation table

The first thing I did was to look at the average importance of each of the super-values, to see which ones scored highest (and lowest):
Measuring personal values - average priorities

I know, my own data makes me look like a selfish and shallow person. According to the chart below:

  • the most important values were Money, Independence, and Spiritual Balance
  • the least important values were Adventure, World, Family, and Friends.

Before you jump to conclusion, however, remember that we are looking at the centered ratings, which bring out the relative differences in the values. Such a scaling approach highlights that some values on average had higher priorities than others, but essentially, all the values are important. I must also admit, October was a tough month: I did fall out of touch with friends and family that month, and cold weather surely killed any desire to bike or have fun outdoors.

I then looked at the stability of values within the day. In other words, I compared importance of value types across dayparts, to see if the same values are equally important to me in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings:

Measuring personal values - dayparts

As you can see, there was some interesting dynamics between the time of the day and importance of some values:

  • importance of Career seemed to be decreasing toward the evening
  • Hedonism was more important in the mornings and evenings than in the afternoons
  • Learning, on the other hand, peaked during the work hours
  • the strive for Independence tended to descrease towards the end of the day
  • there was a spike in the importance of Creativity during the work hours
  • importance of Relationship was increasing towards the evening

My theory is that these differences are driven by the situational context. The morning and evening values were measured at home, and the afternoon value priorites – at the office. While at work, Learning and Creativity are more important as they are related to my work. In the evenings, desire to relax and indulge myself naturally goes up (in the mornings, it probably reflects my desire to stay in bed longer). And Relationship values become more important in the evening when I see my partner as we often walk our dog together. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough data to compare differences across the weekdays and weekends.

In the next post, I will discuss the correlations between the value priorities and other variables, including mood, stress, happiness, and sleep quality. Stay tuned!

CORRECTION: I just realized that the data for values came from September, not October. I apologize for the confusion. I am releasing October data this week.

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7 Responses to My Personal Values Experiment: Quantifying Life Priorities

  1. Liora says:

    Fascinating stuff. I’m enjoying your quality posts here. Glad to see rTracker is still working for you; I’m still toying with it a bit, trying to find the best way to use it.

  2. Hi Liora,
    Glad you liked the post. If you need help with rTracker or designing a self-tracking project, drop me a line on Twitter @measuredme or measuredme (at) g mail (dot) com.

  3. Lilly says:

    Very interesting and informative post …I always enjoy reading. Kepp up the Excellent work!!

  4. Constantine, an interesting approach! I never thought of self-observation with respect to “personal values​​.” As you have formulated for yourself these questions?

    Yes, and more. What software do you use to illustrate your blog, to analyze the data at all?

  5. Measured Me says:

    Hi ALex,

    I borrowed definitions from Schwartz’s values theory. He actually uses about 50-60 values, I just selected those that are most relevant to my life. As for data visualization, I am using Excel and Sparklines plugin for Excel. To analyze data, I use SPSS, SAS and Excel (but hope to start using Python soon).

    Started reading your blog, very interesting! Great job!

  6. Constantine, I am glad our communication. – this is not my blog. This collaborative blog, so it still writes a Russian university professor of statistics. Unfortunately, in recent years Alex Zolotarev cool to publications, but still his work as the most important on the blog.

  7. James says:

    Interesting approach to self-reflection! I think Benjamin Franklin did something similar with “virtues”.

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