Decisions by Design

When you know your core values, you don’t need motivation.

Can I ask you a question? How do you make your decisions in life? Or more specifically, what’s the filter that you use to make your important choices? After all, it’s one thing to decide what movie you want to go to on a Saturday night, but another to decide to make a major career move and what the new career is meant to be.

Do you make decisions based on what you truly value, or what is important to others, or what makes you happy? For example, if spending time with your family is most important to you, then that would determine what you say yes to on any given weekend. Right? Or maybe your career and making a difference in your industry are what rocks your world, so every decision gets filtered through your work lens.

Most of us really struggle with empowered decision making because we haven’t clarified the filters we use to make our decisions. Mostly, we just react to what is in front of us, or we make decisions — like the college we end up attending, the job we end up taking or where we end up living — based on our past experience of what felt good or didn’t, or worst of all, based on someone else’s filters like our parents’ or friends’.

In fact, our brains are designed to make decisions based on past experiences and what we think will make us the safest. We look at the present and decide on what’s next or how to navigate through each moment based on what we survived and/or what could cause us more pleasure than pain. If something caused us pain in the past, then for the most part we decide to move towards the thing that we think might cause us less pain. It’s the classic analogy of touching a hot burner. Your hand hurt, so your brain remembers that the burner creates pain, and you don’t put your hand on the burner again (hopefully!).

We may also use what’s familiar — and therefore safe — as a filter. And some of us choose based on how our parents made their big decisions, or we rely on our partners to decide on the big stuff because that is what has become the habit in our relationship.

Values are the basis for fulfillment

Wouldn’t you think that we all would know what we value and so decide from a strong sense of self?

We don’t. And when we don’t know what is of core importance, we leave ourselves open to disappointment and potentially suffering. Getting clear about what is really important to us — our core values, our guiding principles — helps us access both our inner and outer fulfillment, and provides the power to make decisions, from the smallest to the most relevant. Discovering our values, and then living in alignment with them, creates the background for full self-expression and an entryway to true fulfillment and joy.

Many struggles that exist in our lives can be sourced back to a lack of clarity around exactly what our values are. It’s like having no “current location” to input into your GPS when you want to get somewhere. Just imagine for a moment getting into your car and not knowing where you are. Our values help us to determine our starting point.

Personally, I was on the path of authentic transformation (and a self-help book and workshop junkie) for over 30 years, and I had no idea that one of the biggest pieces of the life puzzle was getting crystal-clear about my core values. I remember sitting in a conference room around a big table as the department I ran went through a process of determining values. It was an idealized process. Big, lofty concepts like integrity, service and contribution were thrown around, but they had very little application when it came to our day-to-day running of our department or even more importantly, the day-to-day living of our lives.

No motivation required

The bottom line is that our resolutions won’t work, our goals won’t work, all of our well-intended planning in relation to those external (even imposed) goals won’t work, unless they come from an internal, intrinsic state of inspiration. The inspiration that comes from within is a function of discovering and then living our lives aligned to our values.

You should know that our values are as individual to us as snowflakes are unique. They can change based on the phases you go through in your life. What is important to us in our 20s may shift in our 30s and 40s. They are not social ideals — and the way we live our lives, even if not consciously, already reveals something about our values. Your values are what inspires you, and when you are living aligned to your values you don’t need to be motivated!

So here is a little more about motivation and why “being motivated” usually is not sustainable. Motivation relies on what is outside of you. Motivation means waiting to be inspired by someone or something else, like a resolution you impose on yourself. Inspiration comes from within and occurs in the higher-level executive function areas of the brain. In the state of inspiration, there is more certainty, vitality and focus. Essentially, it is an inside-to-outside game, and getting clear about our value system is the first step toward the awareness of the “inside game.”

Being clear about what our values are helps us to create a life by design instead of a life that occurs by accident! The quality of our lives is a function of the questions we ask ourselves. Grab your journal or a notepad and ask yourself the following 10 questions to begin the process of clarifying your values.

01 What lights you up?

02 What don’t you have to be reminded to do?

03 What gives you energy when you think about it and/or do it?

04 Where in your life are you totally reliable (and not because you are one of those over-responsible people)?

05 What would your friends say is important to you?

06 If I walked into your house, what would I notice first? (Such as family photos, the interior design, lots of technology, a yoga mat in the middle of the living room.)

07 What do you go on and on about even when your friends stop listening? (Come on, you know you do that… we all do!)

08 What do you want everyone in your life to understand about you?

09 What do you dream about creating and/or having in your life that actually shows up (much of the time)?

10 What would you jump out of bed at 2 a.m. to do without hesitation? (Emergencies don’t count here!)

You will find some consistency in your answers. Make a list of the words that show up the most. There is a hierarchy that you will see in what words show up, which will reveal your values. Common words and phrases that represent values are health and wellness, travel, family, friends, spiritual practice, work/career, love of animals or gardening. Find the top three that are most represented.