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When I start working with a coaching client, one of the first things I do is to help the client to draw up a list of their core values. Every one of us has a set of values that represents the things that are fundamentally important to us. Core values, therefore, are an expression of who we are. The more we are able to express those core values, the more fulfilled we will be and the more comfortable we will be with ourselves. It is suggested in the coaching literature that our core values are established by the time we are about 7 years old. However, the relative importance of those values varies according to our circumstances. For example, consider someone who values security. If they own their own house and have a secure job with a comfortable income, security may come fairly low in importance relative to their other core values. But if they lose their home and job then the importance that they attach to security will increase.

A list of your core values can be a powerful affirmation. Reading through the list gives you a strong sense of, and confidence in, your own true identity. It can also be a valuable tool for decision making. For example, imagine you are thinking of changing your job. You may have several options such as staying in your current job, moving within your current organisation, moving to another organisation, or setting up on your own. You will want to look at practical issues such as finance, but you will also want to consider what each choice will contribute to your sense of job satisfaction and fulfilment. To assess this, consider the extent to which each option will enable you to express your core values. If freedom and independence are core values you may be better setting up on your own. If creativity is a core value you will blossom in a job that enables you to express that creativity. If honesty and integrity are core values you won’t feel comfortable working in sales for a company whose products you don’t believe in.

Core values are always intrinsic values. Money, for example, is rarely a core value because its value is instrumental, i.e. we value it for its ability to procure other things. It may give us security, or freedom of choice, or the ability to create a nurturing or inspiring environment, or to care for our family.

Out of curiosity, I looked at the core values expressed by my clients over the last year or so, to see which values come up most frequently. There were so many very different values expressed by all the wonderful people that I have coached. But the values that keep coming up, in order of frequency, are as follows:

  • Creativity
  • Spirituality
  • Belonging
  • Independence
  • Laughter
  • Love
  • Music
  • Peace
  • Security

I can imagine the fulfilment that must come from a life that allows you to fully express all of those values.


On Saturday I spent the day in conversation while enjoying a gentle stroll around the landscape at Salthouse, on the north Norfolk coast. This “walking conversation” was organised by the artists Liz McGowan and Jane Frost as part of their Salt Trails project. It was one of a series of conversations between walkers about the land, and also between the walkers and the land. The idea of conversing with the land, and with nature, has also been proposed by Stephen Talbott. Conversation is a way of engaging with things that recognises that they are always changing. Talbott suggests that both nature and humans exist “only through continual self-transformation”, and that a “satisfying conversation is neither rigidly programmed nor chaotic; somewhere between perfect order and total surprise we look for a creative tension, a progressive and mutual deepening of insight, a sense that were are getting somewhere worthwhile”. Unfortunately, humans love stability. We feel more secure if we believe that things will not change. Our scientific and managerial processes are based on the assumption that there are clear ‘facts’, simple cause and effect relationships, and a ‘best’ way to do everything. And much of our behaviour towards nature is more like a proclamation than a conversation – we stride into the landscape, declare our viewpoint, our desires and our expectations, and then leave again without pausing to discover the effect on our listeners.

By contrast, an ecological conversation, like many conversations with people that we do not know well, starts with a few cautious questions. Talbott suggests that every “experimental gardening technique, every new industrial process, every different kind of bird feeder is a question put to nature”. I have, for example, already described my ‘conversation’ with my garden. Due to our ignorance, our question may cause trouble, but it is this ignorance that we are trying to remedy through our conversation. More sensitive questions emerge through our deepening understanding of the ‘person’ with whom we converse. As a result, our conversation is creative, inventive, producing new possibilities for interaction that did not exist before. Talbott also notes that conversation always takes place between individuals, not abstractions or stereotypes. We cannot converse with an abstract ‘industrialist’ or ‘environmentalist’ but only with a specific individual who will not conform precisely to any label. Similarly, we cannot converse with a ‘wetland’ or a ‘threatened species’ but only with the very particular locality or individual animal or plant with which we engage. This is why movements such as Transition Towns and Slow Food must be grassroots movements. They can only develop successfully by engaging in ecological conversations with the immediate, and unique, locality within which they are embedded.

The life coaching process is also a conversation. It is a conversation between two unique individuals through which we both deepen our knowledge and produce creative insights that move us both forward. The client moves towards a more creative, more fulfilled and more sustainable life, while the coach progressively develops a more effective and more insightful coaching process.

The Slow Coach

Get in the slow lane for a fuller, more creative, more sustainable life. Let The Slow Coach take you there.

Robert Ashton on The Slow Coach

"Every week I meet people setting out to offer life coaching. Only once have I encountered a life coach with the intellectual agility, insight and strength of character to impress me."