Applying your values to make high-quality decisions
Our lives pivot on the decisions we make. If we can make better decisions, we can unlock better outcomes. Using your values in your decision making is key to making better quality decisions.
Now, I say “better quality” decisions, rather than “good” decisions because values won’t stop you from making mistakes. Values help you make decisions that stand up to scrutiny from yourself and others.
Maybe it didn’t work out, but it won’t be because you failed to make a decision or evaluate your options. And when things don’t work out, you’ll will be able to trace back why you made the choices you made and perhaps how you can adjust to get a more satisfying outcome next time.
And when things do go well, linking the decision to your values also builds your satisfaction with the outcome: you’ll value it more. Values, choice-driven succes can’t be brushed off as ‘just luck’. And you will relish the moment more because it aligns with the things that mean the most to you.
What’s your big decision?
For me I have a big decision to make on how I spend my time due to the COVID-19. My organisation has moved us to a reduced working week program, and for me, this will mean only working four days a week. How do I spend my fifth working day? I now have 8 hours of quality time to invest in something meaningful, so ‘watch more Netflix’ is not the decision I want to make here.
You too may be deciding what to do with extra time the COVID-19 situation has afforded you. Or perhaps you’re seeking new opportunities because of opportunities lost due to government health orders or closing businesses.
On the other hand, if you’re reading this after 2020 or even during, there may be no big, inciting incident. Perhaps there is a decision you’ve been avoiding making, or a change you’re wanting to make.
Exercise 1: Take 2 minutes to write out a decision that’s on your mind. Frankly, I doubt you’ll need that time as the best decision to work with is the one that is top of mind right now.
A quick note on mental shortcuts
We develop a lot of mental shortcuts for making decisions during our life. These might be positive shortcuts such as, don’t spend the money on non-essential things. Or negative ones such as, when I have spare time I’m going to scroll social media and watch TV.
But, the knee jerk decisions we make based on these mental shortcuts may not always lead to the best decision. For example, sometimes spending the money on the non-essential is an investment in your future. Maybe that evening of binging a new Netflix documentary gives you the rest you need.
This is where consciously evaluating a broad range of options with no pre-filtering helps you pick a course of action that aligns with your values at a deeper level.
Repeating this process on multiple decisions will also help recalibrate your mental shortcuts, which can help with the smaller scale decisions.
Generate your options
To avoid shortcutting the decision process, let’s list as many options as you can think of. Don’t filter your options at this point, even if they seem silly. For really big decisions, you may also want to chat to your partner, a mentor, colleagues or friends that know you really well to get some options from different perspectives.
You don’t need to get too stuck on the logistics or practicality of these options either. We’ll address that in a minute. And also, once you’ve aligned your choice with your values, that will give you the fuel you need to make the choice you make possible.
Exercise 2a: You can invest as much time in option generation as you want. If you’re just wanting to test run this process now, set a timer for 5 minutes, grab a sheet of physical or vitual paper, and write as many options as you can in that space of time.
Exercise 2b: If you need some time to articulate some more complex options or check in with your network, put some time in your calendar for calling your network and then set aside 20 minutes in the next fortnight to write out your options. You may even want to do both options and then do some affinity mapping to group your network’s suggestions with ideas of your own that have similar themes or focal points.
Filtering your options
Decision making in some was is just a process of filtering options until just one remains, or until you have a prioritised Plan A, B, C and so on.
We’re going to apply three filters here, and the order you apply them is important.
Filter 1: How strongly does each option align to my values?
If you can’t articulate your values at this point, take 7 minutes to read my article about how to identify your values.
Here’s a sample of five values that I hold close, which are relevant to my decision example above:
Helping people reach their potential
Tranquility (this is a word I use to describe the quality of not panicking and taking a long term view of events and circumstances)
Now, don’t use my list. This process is powerful because it connects your decision with your values. You might hold similar values to me but you should express them in words and phrases that mean something to you.
Exercise 3: Write out a list of at least 5 values that are relevant to your decision. If you already have a list of values, pick 5 or more values that are most relevant to your decision.
If your options are in a list, copy this list to a spreadsheet and include a column for each of your values. Rate each option against the values. Use a binary rating (e.g. it does or it doesn’t) or a three point scale (high alignment, medium alignment, low alignment). Then order your list from highest values alignment to lowest.
If your options are on sticky notes, take 5 different coloured dots or pens and assign to each of your values. Mark each sticky note with the colours of the values they meet. Again use a binary or three point scale. For example, put an empty circle for low, half circle for medium and full circle for high alignment. Order or group your sticky notes from highest values alignment to lowest.
Filter 2: Which options get me most excited (and what does this tell me about my values)?
I actually think this is one of the most important tests, particularly if it is done with intentionality, paying real attention to your decision making. However, I’ve put this after the value filter. If you have defined your values well, you may discover options that don’t seem exciting initially become more exciting when you understand how they link to your values.
Exercise 4: Really try and use a binary scale here. It either excites you or it doesn’t.
If your options are in a list, highlight the rows on your spreadsheet if they excite you.
If your options are on sticky notes, draw a line across your board and move the sticky notes above the line if they excite you and below the line if they don’t. (Keep the values alignment order within the group above the line.)
BONUS exercise: Look at the overlap of your highest value aligned ideas with the ideas that excite you. Are they similar or very different? If they’re very different, you may want to take some time to reassess your values or reflect on why the other ideas excite you more. If you think perhaps you haven’t defined your values well enough, try some exercises from my article on identifying your values.
If you’re confident your values are well defined, try a journalling exercise to understand your excitement around the non-values aligned ideas. Set a timer for 3 minutes and write about how your life will be changed positively with the idea that excites you. Then set another 3 minute timer, and write about what could go wrong or what you might have to give up to make that idea happen. Reflect on each list or story and consider if there are underlying connections to your values or if your excitement level has changed.
Filter 3: Which options can I rule out based on practicality?
This is the last filter by design, because when you identify a course of action that aligns with your values, you may work harder than you initially thought possible to make it happen. However, we can’t avoid the practicality question altogether because all of us face real constraints — things we’re physically capable of, limits to the finances we have available, etc.
Exercise 5: This time we can use a three point scale: ‘doable’, ‘not-doable’ and ‘work towards’. If you have the resources to take a course of action right now, rate this idea as ‘doable’.
If you need some time, training or savings to make an idea possible, rate these as ‘work towards’. Be honest with this category. It might be possible to save up enough to go on that trip, take that course or buy that new gear, but are you actually going to do those things if they became possible?
If something isn’t possible now, or you don’t believe you’ll be motivated enough to work toward it, rank ‘not-doable’.
If your options are in a list, hide the rows on your spreadsheet if they are classed as ‘not-doable’. Move the ‘doable’ ones above the ‘work-towards’ ideas, maintaining the values alignment order.
If your options are on sticky notes, separate the space above your excitement line into three segments and move the sticky notes into ‘doable’, ‘work towards’ and ‘not-doable’ segments. Keep the values alignment order.
Making your decision
At the end of the five exercises in this article, you will have a prioritised list of options, with maybe 2–3 options that are highly values aligned and classed as ‘doable’. You can pick from these based on whichever is also highlighted as something that excites your, or based on the highest values alignment.
Exercise 6: Make your decision! Pick a course of action, make a plan around it, book it into your calendar or slot it into your routine, and start hustling.
Keep in mind
As with any decision, don’t expect this to be a set and forget. Your course of action may adjust as you execute your plan. Smaller decisions will come up. New or unaticipated obstacles may emerge.
Keep going back to your values to navigate these decision points or supercharge your determination to get past the obstacles.
If you’re launching a new project, pivoting an old one or refreshing your habits right now, subscribe for a little freebie to help with this process:
And let me know in the comments whether you think this process is useful.