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Don’t Let Problems Drive Your Decisions, Let Your Values Do So

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Don’t Let Problems Drive Your Decisions, Let Your Values Do So

Nearly every problem you face is temporary.

But these temporary problems cause immediate pain. And we often let this pain drive our choices and actions.

For example…

  • An employee suffering from the pain of not feeling important enough or powerful enough might take a terrible job with a fancy title.
  • An individual suffering from the pain of feeling unloved or unappreciated or misunderstood might try to resolve that pain by cheating on their spouse.
  • An entrepreneur suffering from the pain of a faltering small business might resort to using questionable marketing tactics to try to drive more sales.

…and so on.

This is how you make choices you wouldn’t normally make. When you let the problem drive your decisions, you make exceptions and “just this once” choices to resolve the pain, annoyance, or uncertainty that you’re feeling in the moment.

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How can we avoid this pitfall and make better long-term choices while still resolving short-term pain?

Here’s an approach I’ve been trying recently. See if it works for you…

Let Your Values Drive Your Choices

One of the solutions I’ve been trying out is to let my values drive my choices. That doesn’t mean I ignore other aspects of my decision making process. I simply add my values into the mix.

For example, if I’m working on a problem in my business, rather than just asking, “Will this make money?”

I can ask, “Is this in alignment with my values?” And then, “Will this make money?”

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If I say no to either, then I look for another option.

The idea behind this method is that if we live and work in alignment with our values, then we’re more likely to live a life we are proud of rather than one we regret.

The Power of a Constraint You Believe In

Every decision is made within some type of constraint. Maybe it’s how much knowledge you have. Maybe it’s how much money you have. Maybe it’s how many resources you have. Why not what values you have?

Making better choices is often a matter of choosing better constraints. By limiting your options to those that fit your values, you are taking an important step to ensuring that your behavior matches your beliefs. (Plus, constraints will boost your creativity.)

Know your principles and you can choose your methods.

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How to Put This Into Practice

Most people never take the time to think about their values, write them down, and clarify them. Maybe it sounds too simple or unnecessary.

For what it’s worth, my 2014 Integrity Report was the first time that I sat down to clarify my values and tie them directly to my work.

You are welcome to use that report as a template for discovering your own values and aligning them with your work and life.

The Bottom Line

He that always gives way to others will end in having no principles of his own.
—Aesop

If you never sit down to think about your values, then you’ll be more likely to make decisions based on whatever information is in front of you at the time. That can be a recipe for regret down the road.

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Life is complex and we are all faced with moments in our personal and professional lives that require us to make a choice without as much information as we need. The default assumption is that we need more knowledge or research in these situations, but often we just need a clear understanding of our values.

If you don’t know what you stand for and where you’re headed, then it’s far too easy to get off course, to waste your time doing something you don’t need to be doing, or to make an exception (“just this once”) that leads you down a dangerous path. There are brilliant men and women with decent hearts and families they care dearly about spending a long time in jail right now because they made business decisions that were based on the pain they felt and not the values they believed in.

Let your values drive your decisions.

Featured photo credit: Lauren Macdonald via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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