Making Long-Term Choices: Let Your Values Drive Your Decisions
Nearly every problem we face is temporary, but they cause immediate pain. We often let this pain drive our choices and actions, resulting in decisions we wouldn’t normally make. This can lead to exceptions and “just this once” choices, which may temporarily resolve the pain, annoyance, or uncertainty we’re feeling, but with long-term consequences that we may end up regretting.
For example, an employee feeling unimportant or powerless may take a terrible job with a fancy title. An individual feeling unloved or unappreciated may try to resolve that pain by cheating on their spouse. An entrepreneur facing a faltering business may resort to using questionable marketing tactics to drive sales.
How can we avoid this pitfall and make better long-term choices while resolving our short-term pain? Here’s an approach to try: let your values drive your choices.
Let Your Values Drive Your Choices
Instead of just asking, “Will this make money?” when faced with a problem, try asking yourself, “Is this in alignment with my values?” and then, “Will this make money?” If the answer is no to either, then 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’re proud of rather than one we regret. This doesn’t mean ignoring other aspects of your decision-making process; it simply means adding your values into the mix.
The Power of a Constraint You Believe In
Every decision we make is within some type of constraint, whether it’s how much knowledge, money, or resources we have. Why not let our values be a constraint as well?
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. Also, constraints will boost your creativity, as they force us to think more creatively when we’re limited in our options.
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. But taking the time to clarify your values and align them with your work and life can make a huge difference in the choices you make and the life you live.
You can use James Clear’s 2014 Integrity Report as a template for discovering your own values and aligning them with your work and life.
The Bottom Line
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.
Life is complex, and we are all faced with moments in our personal and professional lives that require us to make choices without enough information. 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. It’s important to let your values drive your decisions and live a life you’re proud of, not one you regret.