Personal Values and
Decision Making

What are they?

To discuss personal values and decision making, we need to be clear about what we mean. I've already given a definition of decision making.

The dictionary definition of value is 'A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable.'

Values are a major motivating force for people because they categorise how people attach meaning, worth and importance to things. When a person's values are matched, they feel complete and satisfied. If values are not met, there is a sense of dissatisfaction, unease or incongruity. This is something to bear in mind during persuasion and negotiation.

Examples of values are health, pleasure, recognition, safety, integrity, achievement and honesty. These are all quite subjective terms, which means that they may mean different things to different people. Or even different things to the same person at different times.

How are they related?

So how are personal values and decision making related? Our personal values very much determine our goals and outcomes in life. The goals we choose are the outer expression of our personal values. And decision making is similarly based upon our core values. For a start, even choosing your goals is a decision!

A person's values will determine how they perceive any particular situation. Someone who values 'safety' will approach a situation checking for safety versus danger. A person who values 'excitement' will have a different perspective on the same situation and will be expecting to have different kinds of experiences.

So you understand how personal values and decision making drive each other. The values determine the outcomes we set and our decisions are made to achieve them. The decision making is organized to ensure the personal values are matched.

How can we use them?

So how can we benefit from this interaction between personal values and decision making? Well firstly, if you want to know what your personal values are, you only need to think about some of the decisions you have made. What was important to you at the time? What other factors did you consider? Of all these factors, which was most important? Least important?

Sometimes it's easier for other people to point out to you what they think your values are. It may be helpful to you to ask others about your personal values and decision making. Why? Because when you know what you're personal values are, your decision making becomes infinitely easier.

Know yourself!

A person's identity and personality is 'held together', you could say, by their values and beliefs. And we know your personal values and decision making are intimately connected. Knowing how to make decisions that satisfy your personal values means that your sense of self is strengthened by every decision. As opposed to making decisions that somehow weaken or fragment who you are. (See the section on mind control for more about this.)

"It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your
values are."

- Roy Disney

Consider how this might happen in a group, where different people hold different values that are at odds with each other. Or even the same value, but expressed differently. Unless there's a fundamental shift, any decision will mean that somebody's values are not being met. A useful strategy here (or indeed in any team building) is to get each member to identify with particular shared values. Defining shared values is a powerful method to generate cohesion in groups.

Similarly, knowing your own values means that should there ever be a conflict, it's possible to reorganize your values to allow you to make an effective decision.

What are YOUR values?

A quick exercise to determine your own hierarchy of values is to pick a simple activity that you do frequently, such as brushing your teeth, brushing your hair or putting on socks.

Ask yourself 'What would have to happen so I did not do (the activity)?'

Then ask 'If that happened, what would have to happen so I did (the activity) anyway?'

Then 'If that happened, what would have to happen so I didn't do (the activity)?'

Repeat questions 2 and 3 until you can go no further.

This will give you a list of your own personal values in the order of importance to you.

Do you know what your core values are?

Many people are only vaguely aware of what their values are, although values work at a deep level as motivators for us. Being fully aware of our values is a means of protecting ourselves from manipulation by others and of increasing our skills in decision making.

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