Evaluating Your Own Decision Making

Today, I’ll put it to you.

What decisions have you been putting off making? Or, what decisions are you currently confronted with?

What values are at stake in this decision?

What do you want to value? How would certain actions add to, or take away from, that value (or set of values)?

Spend some time reflecting on what you want to prioritize in life and how your current options could play into those priorities.

Decisions Create Opportunities

Now, surely most of us have made decisions we knew to be out of accordance with our values. In fact we may even do this on a semi-regular basis. How do we explain this phenomenon according to this way of seeing?

One option is this: What we say we value doesn’t match what we actually value. Let’s be honest, sometimes we’re not honest with ourselves. When this is the case, it’s totally reasonable that we might act on a value different than what we say we value. I might say that I value being close to family more than making more money. If I get offered a job where I make 30% more money (but away from family), and I instantly take it, what am I communicating about what I value? I’m taking that money!!!

The other option is this: We aren’t being intentional enough about putting our practices into action. I’m guessing that we all want to be people who are able to live consistently, to value what we say we value, to prioritize whatever we deem to be “the right things” in life. Our decisions give us that opportunity. Sometimes there are confines, and sometimes the choices are less than ideal. Even in those cases we have the opportunity to choose to value something, even if it isn’t our “ideal.”

Demonstrating Your Values When Times Get Tough

We’re talking about decision-making. Get caught up, it’s too much to summarize.

Yesterday we talked about the fact that there are different levels of priority when it comes to our values. In the decision-making process, it’s a luxury when we can choose between preferences as opposed to choosing between needs. The example we worked through in the first few days dealt with a choice between taking a fictional job in California verses staying in my current job. That’s a decision that I am, theoretically, in control of. There are no external pressures forcing me to either leave or stay. If I leave, I do so freely. If I stay, I do so freely. This is because I have a job and a means of providing for my family either way. I can choose to value warmth and traffic, or I can choose to value stability and proximity to family. Either way, I’m (roughly) in control.

If I lose my job, the confines increase. I’m no longer making a low-stakes choice between two roughly equal, but opposite, outcomes. I need to find a job in a hurry in order to provide for my family. How do I demonstrate my values in such a case as this? What do we do when we have no desirable options? Using yesterday’s example, we can either stay put and be jobless or move to Arkansas, where the only relevant job offer comes from. I do not want to stay put because I value providing for my family and don’t want to lose my house and live on the street. I do not want to move because I value proximity to our extended family.

There’s a few things we can say here. One option is to get creative. Can you sell your home and temporarily move in with parents while you do an extended job search? Possibly. I could even get a less desirable job temporarily while I search. One option is to take the job and move and instantly start looking for jobs closer to the extended family. It’s okay to choose a temporary outcome in order to create the possibility for a long-term choice that matches our values.

The other option is to settle into different values than what we have previously said we prioritized. Let’s say we’re uncomfortable taking a job temporarily because we view that as being unfair to the new employer. Well, we’re choosing to value a certain kind of loyalty. We could also say that moving would be an act of valuing self-sufficiency. That’s not a huge value for me, but I could see why it might be for some. It would also be an act of valuing the immediacy of being able to provide for the family, which takes a great deal of anxiety off the table. In this case, we’d be valuing safety and security.

Each of these outcomes is perfectly acceptable, and values different things. It doesn’t necessarily matter which one we choose but, according to the way we’ve been looking at things, it matters that we know what we’re choosing so that we can live consistent lives.

Prioritizing Your Desires

We’re in the middle of a week-long (so far) series on decision making. Get caught up before reading today.

In the view of decision-making we’ve been presenting, our actions are what indicate our feelings (or our values). So, if I say my highest value is living close to family, for instance, and then move away from family the first chance I get, then I am indicating with my actions what my feelings truly are. In this case, I would be communicating that my highest value is not living close to family but something else altogether.

Now, how does this apply when there are lots of confines around the decision-making process? For instance, I say my highest value in life is staying close to family but I lose my job unexpectedly and have little to no savings, and so I must find a job quickly. Let’s say I can only find a job in Arkansas that allows me to return to work immediately. Am I communicating that I do not value family by leaving to take that job?

I would say no. Here’s why. There are different levels of priority for our values in life. Being able to put food on the table for my immediate family is a higher priority than our proximity to family. I’d rather be able to keep a roof over our heads in Arkansas than live on the streets in Virginia near my family. That means sacrificing some desires that are of a lower-order priority. Issues of survival are always going to take precedence over preferences.

More on this tomorrow.

The Responsibility of Decision Making

If we are free to choose our values, and therefore completely consciously responsible for whatever decision we make, then decision-making is both a skill and a huge responsibility. We’re confronted not just with the decision itself, which is the surface-level part of the process, we’re also confronted with the question of what we’re going to choose to value.

We often assume we already have our values sorted out somewhere inside of us and, with enough soul-searching, we can find them. This is certainly true on one level. We all value things whether we know it or not and often act in accordance with those values without any kind of consideration at all. But, when we’re making a conscious choice to do something (or not do something) we get to choose what we are /going/ to value.

We all have regrets, right? We all have decisions we wish we could go back and re-make. That is, unless we’ve just come to a place of radical acceptance and let that stuff go (which is a good thing). The beauty of this way of looking at things is that we can choose a new set of values to act out of so that we’re not acting out of the values of the things we’ve previously regretted. That is the responsibility. We’re responsible for making decisions in accordance with what we /want/ to value, not just what we think we already value.

I’m going to pause here. All this typing is making me tired.

Taking Radical Ownership Over Our Decisions

We’ve spent the prior four days talking about decision-making, and pushing back on a really common stereotype of the decision-making process. Why, might we ask, are we pushing back on a more conventional understanding of decision-making? (By “more conventional,” I mean, the view that says we way our feelings about the options available to us and choose the stronger feeling.)

To me, it’s a question of taking radical ownership over our decisions. For instance, if decisions are solely the product of determining which feeling is the strongest, have we really owned the outcome, or do we simply get to “blame” our feelings for our choice? If we frame our decisions in terms of what we already value, or desire, or feel, then we’re letting go of the opportunity to choose what we value, desire, and feel. It’s as if our values, desires, or feelings happen to us, rather than being things that we choose (or things that we do).

If I’m trying to decide between starting life afresh in California or staying put, then I want to make sure I’m acting in accordance with my values and desires. What is the best way to do that? To choose, fresh, as if for the first time, my values. For me, in my life, I want to prioritize family above all else, both my family, Brittany’s family, and Norah’s birth family. In order for me to value those family units in the way that I want, then I need to stay nearby. Therefore, I choose to stay nearby. I choose the value (being near family) and, therefore, I choose the outcome of prioritizing that value (not moving to California or any other such place). In so doing, I exercise great freedom.

Choosing Your Values

If we only determine our values through the act of making choices, then how do we make decisions? How is this of any use? Doesn’t this only make things more complicated?

It certainly has that potential, I’ll admit. But, at the same time, I think this could be a useful way of looking at the decision-making process. Here’s what this way of seeing does for us: It gives us freedom. We don’t need to spend hours deliberating and trying to discern the perfect outcome, or the best possible outcome, or the “right” outcome. We can decide which outcome is correct by making a conscious choice to value certain things.

I keep returning to a made up example of having to choose between moving to California verses staying in Virginia. Rather than weighing which outcome I feel strongest about, I give myself permission to choose values. Let’s say I choose to value warm weather. Let’s say I choose to value proximity to the ocean. Let’s say I choose to value being close to friends from graduate school. There are all sorts of things I can choose to value. The reverse is also true. I can choose to value staying close to family, or a lower cost of living, or stability, or staying close to Norah’s birth family.

The point is this: I can choose what to value and I do so by making a decision. This frees us from getting trapped in a cycle of revving up our anxiety trying to determine what we value based on feelings. It’s okay to admit that we may not know what we value. It’s freeing to assume we can choose it.

Decision Creates Our Desires

This is the third day of a series. Get caught up if you need to!

From yesterday: According to Sartre’s way of seeing, I only know how I feel about something once I’ve decided how I’m going to act on it. This means we have great freedom and great responsibility when making decisions.

I often feel paralyzed when I’m trying to search my feelings and determine how important one set of feelings are in comparison to another set of feelings. It would be nice if there was some way to measure them. Now, if Sartre is right, when it comes to making decisions between two opposite outcomes, we have no desires or values until we make the decision. The decision itself is what creates our desires and values.

So, in my example of choosing to take a job in California vs. staying in my current job (totally made up), I do not know what I truly value until after I’ve chosen. If I choose to go to California because I want warm weather year-round, then, at that moment, I have valued it more heavily than staying close to family. But, those values are not determined until I’ve acted.

If this is correct, trying to follow my heart by attempting to discern my values in advance of making a decision is kind of a waste of time, because it is not possible. We only know what we value in retrospect.

I’m trying to go through this slowly, because I know it’s going to seem very unusual.

More to come tomorrow.

Determining the Strength of Desire

We are on day two of a series. Feel free to catch up.

When making decisions, we often try to weigh or compare our feelings about the potential outcomes against each other. The desires that seem strongest will dictate our path…right? Isn’t that how it works? You weigh the two outcomes and follow your heart. What could be wrong with that?

Well, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with it. But let’s say you have a hard time determining what outcome you feel strongest about. The example I gave yesterday was like this: Say I have to choose between taking a job in California or staying in my current position at NSC. On the one hand, I value warm weather. On the other, I value being close to family. Whichever value I feel strongest about will guide me, yes? But let’s say I’m stuck in that process. What do I do?

Consider Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre suggests that our desires and values have no pre-determined weight. Instead, we determine the strength of our desires and values with our actions.

This is a very different way of thinking. It suggests that we cannot simply put our feelings about one choice on one side of a scale and our feelings about the opposite choice on the opposite side of the scale to see which is heavier. Sartre believes that we invent or create our values through freely choosing a certain outcome.

Now, this makes sense to me now that I’ve had some time to digest it. It makes sense because I often don’t know what I feel strongly about in advance. According to Sartre’s way of seeing, I only know how I feel about something once I’ve decided how I’m going to act on it. This means we have great freedom and great responsibility when making decisions.

More tomorrow.

How do you know what you want the most?

We’re going to spend a few days talking about decision-making. Buckle up.

We had a healthy debate in a recent service about the phrase, “Follow your heart.” This is often the advice that we give in a situation where a person is confronted with a difficult decision where a person must choose between two incommensurate outcomes.

For example, say I have to choose between accepting a job in California or staying put. I cannot do both, I have to choose between them. I ask my mother for advice and she tells me, “Follow your heart.”

What would it mean to follow my heart?

Well, I think what people generally mean when they say this is either a. /do the thing you desire most/. In this case, it’s a matter of doing the thing you feel strongest about. It could also be implying b. /the thing you value the most will create the strongest desire/. In other words, let’s say I value warm weather the most, therefore I desire to move to California. That’s a values-based choice that is manifested in my feelings.

The question is, how do you know, in advance, which thing you want the most? How do you prove the strength of desire when making a choice?

As you love yourself

We raised our children in a large church; much of it we dearly loved. We were very involved.  We rarely missed a Sunday - morning or evening. We had meetings every Wednesday night. Committees were often Tuesday and/or Thursday evenings.  It was in some ways a gruelling schedule; a fact I never realized at the time because all my friends were doing it too. In those days I daydreamed about finding an island where I could practice my spiritual disciplines in peace and quiet.  Over time, I realized that I was taking an extreme position. Instead of taking responsibility for my schedule, I was looking for a way to escape.



If we spend to much time devoting ourselves to our  intimate and/or our community relationships without taking time to stay in touch and relationship with ourselves we are going to find ourselves acting out in the other two love arenas and losing touch with ourselves.  


Not understanding this, I often lamented our packed church calendar and our children’s busy social and sports obligations.  Honestly, it never occurred to me that as the parent I was responsible for setting the pace of our household. I suspect that this is because I was also unaware of my responsibility to monitor my own personal calendar.  


Too busy?  Aren’t we all?  No, actually, everyone is not.  Folks who understand the value and accept the responsibility of practicing good self-care are not too busy.  They balance their relational and social obligations along with what they learn they need to stay healthy as an individual.  


Today, I am unapologetically not too busy, even though I have a full calendar.  That is because my calendar includes regular time for self-care. Exercise. Quiet time.  Prayer and meditation. Therapy. Is my schedule ideal? No, but I am making progress. How about you?  What do you require, what are your daily practices that help you stay awake, aware and reasonably happy with yourself?