Values are the key to decision making
In 2007, I was trying to solve a problem. I had been chewing tobacco for about 15 years and I had been planning to stop for about 10. I have to thank Mark Morgan from Colinsville, Alabama for getting me started. As a freshman in college, he stopped by with a 5th of his daddy’s moonshine and a can of Kodiak and said, “My name’s Mark – you wanna hang out?” Yes I do, Mark. For some reason, he always wore an Atlanta Braves hat with a fishhook on it. We called him “Bama”. I think he’s a preacher now.
I said I’d stop when I moved from North Carolina. Maybe when I leave the Army. When I get off the graveyard shift. Or maybe when my first child is born. OK - the second child. No matter what I tried, I wasn’t able to make it stick. I was frustrated with my lack of self-discipline and I hated that I had a dependency. And to be perfectly honest, it was super gross. Keeping track of which bottle to drink out of and which one to be sure NOT to drink out of is horrific. But as soon as I got in the car to drive from one plant to another, I needed the fix. Music on, windows down…and a chew. I knew it was one the grossest habits out there, but it was instant relaxation and energy. I was hooked.
I’m wondering who out there is struggling with something they want to get rid of. Or thinking about something they really want. I’ll share my story of how I started stepping into my values – and living a life of purpose. And I’ll share how this connects back to dropping the habit. This doesn’t mean I get it right all the time. But I think my story – and process – might help someone out there. Here goes…
I remember reading the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People at the time and I started to get into leadership development and personal growth. I had thoughts of paradigm shifts and category I activities floating through my mind. I tumbled down the rabbit hole of development. I remember reading Built to Last at the same time and I had the concept of Core Values for organizations rattling around in my head. The quote below caught my eye.
“Visionary companies tend to have only a few core values, usually between three and six…we should expect this, for only a few values can be truly core - values so fundamental and deeply held that they will change or be compromised seldom, if ever.”
I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I don’t recall the exact catalyst, but I decided that I needed to clarify my values. I wish I could remember the spark. It might have been the three doors speech or the birth of daughter number two. Or a picture I saw with a guy walking his daughter down the aisle with half a face. Or the right combination of juices and spices that got me percolating in just the right way. Whatever it was got me thinking about the choices I was making in life. They didn’t actually feel like choices. I was just doing the same thing every day. But I was waking up to something.
So, I sat down to figure out what I valued. It seems like a strange exercise, but there was something inside me longing to connect to a larger purpose. At first, I didn’t really know what values were. I knew I cared about integrity and love and achievement. But I didn’t know if what I cared about meant those were my values. I just started to make lists of all the things I cared about. I used a huge pile of sticky notes like I was facilitating an exercise in a training program. One per sticky. 5 minutes to brainstorm. Competition. Being a good father. Romance. Achieving goals. Career success. Having fun. Getting outdoors. Honesty. Learning. I just made a huge list of what I cared about.
And I started putting things in buckets. And I crossed a few things off until I had a list of 5-10 things that really meant something to me.
I still have the original list of values (pic below).
I wrote them out in a fancy interconnected way that I thought looked professional. Clearly printed them out on a dot matrix printer. Early smart art, for sure.
Then I started to define what it would mean to live a life in alignment with each of the values. A couple examples…
Health = regular exercise, eating right, balance work/life, have fun, regular doctor visits and no tobacco.
Environmental Responsibility = recycling, building an off-grid house (long term) and investing in renewable energy for the plant I was managing (through work)
After making the list of values, choices started coming easier to me. I realized that choices that once we tough became simple once I was clear what I valued (and in what order).
Out of the first list, there were 3 things of which I became certain:
I didn’t want to dip.
I didn’t want to invest time in watching TV shows – especially ones I had seen before.
I didn’t want to talk negatively about other people.
These choices had some significant consequences – both positive and negative. Some of the choices cost me relationships. But I needed to get clear on what I valued to give me direction and focus.
2007 was the first year I started setting goals. The goals were based on what it meant to live a life in alignment with my values. If I wanted to live a life dedicated to Family and be a great father, then I needed to attend the local father’s group and create a system to ensure I have 1:1 time with each daughter (now called out “Quarter Things” - still going strong 12 years later). It seemed pretty simple. Life started to move pretty fast at that point because the flywheel of growth started turning.
Over time I ended up looking at my values every year and setting goals. Here’s the revision from 2009 (pic below).
I made some tough choices that year. I was passionate about environmental responsibility, but I simply didn’t have the capacity to do it all. I also felt like family needed to be the central focus as I was about to have my 3rd daughter and things weren’t amazing at home. Each year I continued to set goals based on my values. The goals ranged from creating great holiday memories for the kids to qualifying for the Boston Marathon to redoing the kitchen and getting my Masters. Every year there were a new set of things I could adjust to live a more purposeful life.
And then in 2017, I took a fresh look at them again (pic below) – a sort of 10-year refresh. I left out some of the vision language (it’s quite personal) but left in the values as they stand today and the priorities I set for 2018. They’re still a work in progress and there are days I don’t live by them “enough”. I’m sure my family will attest to that. But it’s been an evolution
But I look for congruence. My goal is to have as small a gap as possible between what I say (espoused values) and how I behave (in use values).
So, coming back to those of you looking to get rid of something. Or those of you looking to step into a greater life.
Clarifying your values might be a good step to get the flywheel going. What you like to talk about? Where do you spend your money? Where do you invest your time? What do you believe? What really matters to you?
You might find it easy to start living your best life when these things are clear.
So how clear are your values? Maybe they’re the keys to decision making. Maybe they’re the keys to waking up…
- Mike Sweeney, www.sabercoaching.com
If you found this post valuable, please share it far and wide so others can benefit. If you’ve had a spark and want to spend some time clarifying your values, shoot me a note @ firstname.lastname@example.org.