How to Guide Your Decision Making With Your Value System

Faced with innumerable decisions we need a system to filter out the ‘wheat from the chaff’. What’s most important to you and what can you let go? Fortunately, you already have such a system. It’s called your value system. Each of us live by a set of principles shaped by our society and culture but with our own particular spin. Our values help us to focus on the essentials. Life is a bit like a supermarket. There are the budget supermarkets that have just one of everything on the shelves and there are the major supermarkets that have ten of everything on the shelf? Do we really need to choose between ten brands of ketchup when the contents are pretty much the same? The Pareto Principle states that 20% of our efforts yield 80% of the results. If we focus on the core 20% we get more time to relax, provided of course you don’t agonize over the choices for a relaxing activity.

When I work with (life) coaching clients we focus on core values and how goals support these. It’s fairly obvious to anyone who knows me that curiosity and learning are amongst my top values. Equality and ethics are also important to me. That’s how I got to slim down my list of shopping brands. There are just some that I refuse to buy because of what I consider to be their company’s unethical practices. So take a while to consider what  are your top ten values, the guiding principles in your life. When you have made a list of ten, cross out the bottom five and concentrate on the top five. When faced with decisions and goals, ask yourself: ‘Will doing this support my values?’ Obviously there will be exceptions. Any system needs to be flexible. However it will give you a focus if you stick to these core values 80% of the time.

Another tool I use is the ‘Absolutely Yes or No Rule’. This will help to maintain your focus. If when faced with a choice if the answer is not ‘absolutely yes’ then it is automatically ‘no’. This is particularly useful if you find it hard to say ‘no’ to people. However make sure you don’t say ‘no’ just because you find the task a little daunting. Instead ask: ‘Is this a new experience?’ ‘Will I learn anything new from it?’ Again be flexible and stick to the rule a least 80% of the time.

If you sit quietly for a moment and bring your attention fully back into the room you will begin to notice sights, sounds and sensations that you routinely blank out. This is because we cannot possibly pay attention to every tiny bit of information that comes our way. Therefore our attention is selective. We focus on the important stuff and blank out the noise. Using our value system can help us to do that when faced with too many decisions and a limited amount of time. So what are your values in life and how will you let them lead your decision making?

(In conversation with Annie Othen, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, 4/1/13)



That’s Just The Way I Am! (& Problem Solving)

If the doors of our perception were to be cleansed, everything would appear to us as it is, infinite

– William Blake

Sit still for a moment and listen. What can you hear? Scan the environment for sounds. It could be the fan of your computer or the dull hum of traffic noise. Now that you’ve switched your attention to them, you can hear them. Moments before, you had been screening them out. Now focus on your other senses and find out what else you’ve been screening out.

You see, we can’t pay attention to every tiny bit of information that comes our way. If we did, our heads would have to be huge. Instead, in the interests of cognitive economy, we operate a filtering system that screens out a great deal of the information in our environment  So. you just have to pay attention to the ‘good stuff’. In reality we have a self-limited view of the world. Now this is great for keeping us focused on ‘the good stuff’ but it can also mean we miss opportunities and different ways of viewing the world.

Novelty and Consistency
So, it’s just as well that we have a drive for novelty that balances our need for consistency. Getting these competing drives in balance is crucial. Too much consistency and we need consider anything new and too much novelty and we lose all sense of consistency.

All too often routine consistency wins out and when faced with a problem we are inclined to keep trying the same old thing over and over again, just like the fly that keeps head butting the window to get outside. It ignores the open window.

Perceptual Filters
As anthropologist Ruth Benedict says ‘No one sees the world with pristine eyes’. Rather each of us sees the world in a slightly different way through a series of filters that colour our perceptions. Factors such as gender, culture, ethnicity, age, sexuality, peer groups, upbringing, environment and education all have an impact on how we view the world. To this list we can add mood swings, different situations, time of day, whether we are tired, hungry or thirsty, likes and dislikes, needs and values. We filter information on the basis of personal relevance but that doesn’t mean that other information is not available to us. It is. We just screen it out.

Attention and Perception
All of these things also have an impact on what we pay attention to.  All of these filters are used to let through the relevant and screen out the irrelevant or novel. It becomes a closed system, a cycle where perception determines attention which in turn determines and reinforces perceptions. In this way we maintain our view of the world. If we allow our perceptions to narrowly define what we pay attention to, then we limit opportunities for learning and change often characterised by the phrase ‘Well that’s just the way I am’.

Problem Solving
To paraphrase Einstein ‘you can’t solve your problems with the same level of thinking that created them’. This means you need a fresh mindset. So review the categories that define ‘the way you are’ and then imagine approaching the problem from the perspective of someone totally different from you. Think about things as a different gender, race, ethnicity and so on. Think of a resourceful person you know or admire, real or fictional and ask how they would approach the problem. Approach problems at different times of the day. Also, break your daily routine. Go a different way to work, eat a different breakfast and so on. Set your alarm clock half an hour earlier. Small changes in routine can yield bigger changes in perspective. Most importantly of all, focus on solutions. Spend 20% of your time defining the problem and 80% of the time looking for solutions. Consider any solution no matter how implausible or silly. Just write down as many as you can from lots of different perspectives without censoring your thoughts. Review the solutions later.

Whenever you use the phrase ‘That’s just the way I am’ you are denying access to an enormous capacity for resourcefulness.

[Explore your perceptual filters, values and strengths in ‘Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . .Swim Out To Meet It‘ ]