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"When we do what we have to do, we are compliant. When we do what we choose to do, we are committed." -- Marshall Goldsmith
In a world where we are constantly bombarded with decision making, how often are we judging and how often are we choosing?
Choices and reasoned judgments are not the same thing. When you make a judgment, you apply your mind and its ability to evaluate alternatives. Depending on what you want, you pick what you want. For example, in deciding what to do on a Saturday evening, you may decide to stay in rather than go out with friends because you have been spending a lot of time away from home and you want to be with your family. This is a judgment. You consider several factors: how much time you’ve been working, your energy level, what you need to do on Sunday. You look at the pros and cons of staying in or going out and if, for example, your children have school projects, you haven’t had a family night for several months, you’ve noticed a mood change in your daughter, your husband seems distant. You are torn, though, because your friends are having a big celebration and your decision might change.
Ninety percent of the time judgments work fine. The ability to use our logical judgments to pick between alternatives is a wonderful human tool. But in some areas judgments don’t work very well, and in still other situations, they absolutely cannot work.
One area they absolutely cannot work is in the area of values. Here’s why: Judgments necessarily involve applying evaluative metrics to alternative action plans. For example, in the judgment we just described, one of the metrics was your children have school projects. We have a “good mom” yardstick. This is true of any evaluative situation. Once you pick which yardstick to use, picking the best alternative is a mere intellectual judgment.
But what about the yardstick itself? How was that picked? If picking the yardstick is itself a judgment (and sometimes it is), that means there is yet another yardstick. This happens when one purpose is a means to another purpose. For example, you might use the “being a good mom” as a measure, not because it is an end in itself, but because being a good mom means your children will grow up to be happy adults. But how was that yardstick picked? Was “being a good mom” itself a judgment? It could be, but if it is, there is still some other yardstick that was applied to “being a good mom” because judgment by definition, involves applying an evaluative yardstick to two or more alternatives.
This could go on forever. In the end, judgments cannot tell you what yardstick to pick, because judgment requires applying an evaluative metric. That works find, but only after you’ve picked one.
Valuing, however, gives us a place to stop. Values are not judgments. Values are intentional qualities that join together a string of moments into a meaningful path. They are what moments are about, but they are never possessed as objects, they are qualities of unfolding actions. They are verbs and adverbs; not nouns and adjectives; they are something you do or a quality of something you do, not something you have. They never end.
Values are choices. Choices are selections between alternatives that may be made in the presence of reasons (if your mind gives you any, which it usually does, since minds chatter about everything), but this selection is not for those reasons in the sense that it is not explained by, justified by, or linked to them. A choice is not linked to an evaluative verbal yardstick. Said another way, choice is a defused selection among alternatives. It is different than judgment, which is a verbally guided selection among alternatives.
Evaluations are a matter of applying our values and then making judgments based on those values (did you notice the word value in evaluation?). If values were judgments, it would mean that we’d have to evaluate our values, but against which values would we evaluate them?
Are you dizzy from this thinking yet? There’s a good reason: minds don’t like choices. Minds know how to apply evaluative yardsticks; in fact, it is the very essence of what these relational abilities evolved to do. But minds cannot pick the ultimate directions that make all this decision making meaningful.
Valuing, however, gives us a place to stop. Values are not judgments. Values are chosen life directions. Values are choices. Choices are selections between alternatives that may be made in the presence of reasons (if your mind gives you any, which it usually does, since minds chatter about everything), but this selection is not for those reasons in the sense that it is not explained by, justified by, or linked to them. A choice is not linked to an evaluative verbal yardstick. Putting it another way, choice is a defused selection among alternatives. It is different than judgment, which is a verbally guided selection among alternatives.
Defining what matters to you and actively choosing to pursue that direction is what this article is about. Choosing what you value and pursuing that path can make your life rich and meaningful, even in the face of great adversity.
To live a valued life is to act in the service of what you value. It was Bob Dylan who wrote, “you’ve got to serve somebody.” The question is Who (or what) will you serve? If you can really be about whatever you choose, how do you know what you want to do? What should your compass point be in this seemingly endless sea of options?
The word “values” comes from a Latin root that means “worthy and strong”. It carries an implication of action, which is why that same root leads to the world “wield”. It connotes actually using what is important and strong. Values define not only what you want to pursue from day to day but what you want your life to be about. In some sense, what’s at stake here is a matter of life and death, or at least the difference between a vital life and a deadened life.
As a coach, I believe that right now, at this very moment, you have all the tools you need to make meaningful and inspiring life choices for yourself. You not only have the opportunity, but the actual ability to live in the service of what you value. This doesn’t mean that circumstances will allow you to achieve all your goals; this is not about a guaranteed outcome. And, it doesn’t mean that you have all the skills you need right at them moment to accomplish your stated goals. But it does mean you have what you need to choose a direction.
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