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

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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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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