Nearly every problem we face in life is temporary.
These temporary problems, however, cause immediate pain, and we often let this pain drive our choices and actions. For example:
1. An employee suffering from the pain of not feeling important or powerful enough might take a terrible job with a fancy title.
2. An individual suffering from the pain of feeling unloved, unappreciated or misunderstood might try to resolve that pain by cheating on his or her spouse.
3. An entrepreneur suffering from the pain of a faltering small business might resort to using questionable marketing tactics to try to drive more sales.
This is how we make choices we wouldn’t normally make. When we let the problem drive our decisions, we make exceptions and “just this once” choices to resolve the pain, annoyance or uncertainty that we’re feeling in the moment.
How can we avoid this pitfall and make better long-term choices while still resolving short-term pain?
Here’s an approach I’ve been trying recently. See if it works for you:
Let Your Values Drive Your Choices
One of the solutions I’ve been trying out is to let my values drive my choices.
That doesn’t mean I ignore other aspects of my decision-making process; I simply add my values into the mix.
For example, if I’m working on a problem in my business, rather than just asking, “Will this make money?” I can ask, “Is this in alignment with my values?” And then, “Will this make money?”
If I say no to either, then I look for another option.
The idea behind this method is that if we live and work in alignment with our values, we’re more likely to live lives we are proud of rather than ones we regret.
The Power Of A Constraint You Believe In
Every decision is made within some type of constraint. Maybe it’s how much knowledge, how much money or how many resources you have.
Making better choices is often a matter of choosing better constraints.
By limiting your options to those that fit your values, you are taking an important step to ensure your behavior matches your beliefs. (Plus, constraints will boost your creativity.)
Know your principles and you can choose your methods.
How To Put This Into Practice
Most people never take the time to think about their values, write them down and clarify them. Maybe it sounds too simple or unnecessary.
For what it’s worth, my 2014 Integrity Report was the first time I sat down to clarify my values and tie them directly to my work.
You are welcome to use that report as a template for discovering your own values and aligning them with your work and life.
The Bottom Line
If you never sit down to think about your values, you’ll be more likely to make decisions based on whatever information is in front of you at the time.
That can be a recipe for regret down the road.
Life is complex, and we are all faced with moments in our personal and professional lives that require us to make choices without as much information as we need.
The default assumption is that we need more knowledge or research in these situations, but often we just need a clear understanding of our values.
If you don’t know what you stand for or where you’re headed, then it’s far too easy to get off course, to waste your time doing something you don’t need to be doing or to make a "just this once" exception that leads you down a dangerous path.
There are many brilliant men and women who have made decisions based on the pain they felt instead of the values they believed in.
Let your values drive your decisions.
James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.
This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.