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Using values to inform your decisions

Last Modified: 5/22/2020

values and decision making

This post was written by Dr. Courtney Washington, Psy.D, CSAYC, HSPP, clinical training director, and Laura Oyer, PhD, HSSP, psychologist, Park Center, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute.

We are living in a world that is changing rapidly. On a daily basis we are faced with new information that could potentially alter the decisions we make about what is best for our families and ourselves. It’s important to try to align these choices with our personal values.

What are personal values?

Simply defined, personal values are the things that are important to us. They are leading principles that motivate us and ideally guide our choices. Values are like a compass, providing us direction. We can never be true north, but we can be more north today than we were yesterday. Values can also help us clarify what gives our life meaning or purpose.

The first step to living a value-driven life is to determine what matters to you. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as reflecting on what makes you feel joy, making lists or ranking what matters most in your life or by noticing trends and themes within your life.

Some questions you could ask yourself to explore your values might include:

  • What’s important to me?
  • What do I want to stand for in my life?
  • What sort of personal strengths and qualities do I want to cultivate?
  • How do I want to behave in my relationships?

Unsure of what values are at the top of your list? Try this link from The Good Project to help you narrow down your top four values.

Another resource is provided by The Character Institute. They offer a survey to help you find your greatest strengths. In the early 2000s, social scientists discovered a common language of 24 personality strengths that all people possess to varying degrees. These strengths fall into six categories:

  • Wisdom
  • Courage
  • Humanity
  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Transcendence

The survey provides an understanding of your unique combination of strengths. These strengths, along with your character, can help in determining how to align decision-making with your values. It’s available for both youth and adults.

Let’s look at an example. Knowing that my top character strength is bravery helps me understand the value that I place on speaking up for what’s right and acting on my convictions, even if it’s unpopular. My second strongest character strength, love, highlights the value I place on connection to others and meaningful relationships.

How do values inform our decision-making?

Knowing what’s important and considering these factors when making decisions are key. For example, knowing that I value bravery and love could impact how I determine to spend time with my spouse. While we enjoy dining out as a date night to reconnect, my convictions and value of bravery tell me that dining out may not be in my or the community’s best interest, considering the current climate. In this sense, my values may be conflicting. This is further complicated by the community value I place on supporting local businesses. The goal would be to make the decision that best balances these values without negating the others. So, my spouse and I may choose to get take-out from a local eatery and dine in the park providing a compromise of the values that are important to us. 

Over the next few weeks and months, we will have to continue to make daily decisions that we likely didn’t have to consider several months ago. Decisions like:

  • Wearing a mask
  • Going back to work in-person
  • Taking my child/children to daycare
  • Going out to eat at a restaurant
  • Attending a sporting event
  • Traveling to see family
  • Going on vacation

Pausing to reflect on your values can help you make these choices, feel more confident in your decisions and live a value-driven life.

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