How they can help us save time and energy during periods of stress

On average, people make about 60,000 decisions a day. 200-300 of them are conscious. Making decisions is a cognitively draining process. If it wasn’t enough parents are responsible for making loads of decisions affect other peoples’ lives as well. Talk about decision fatigue and a load of responsibility!

Values ​​are decision-making tools that act as a built-in compass to help us choose efficiently without having to weigh the pros and cons of every option. They help us prioritise what is important, valuable, right or wrong, or what is appreciated in life. Our personal values, to a large extent, ​​are shaped by the values of the different social groups we belong to.

You can think of these groups as several concentric circles.

The outer circle represents the society and culture we identify with. An example of a value held in Swedish culture is a commitment to gender equality. And another from the United States – the importance of individuality. The smaller circles within this are other groups we belong to such as our communities, associations, schools, workplaces, places of worship, friends and family. Maybe your family values for example, self-reliance, inclusion or spending time together. At the very core of it all we belong to ourselves and we have values that are individual to us. Perhaps values like being friendly, productive or helpful are important to you.

Many times our values align and strengthen one another, or at least co-exist in harmony like a personal value of generosity and a societal value of freedom of choice. But not always. Sometimes values clash with one another. For example the Western standard of living and preventing climate change often put us in a bind. Few people are willing to voluntarily sacrifice the amenities our societies value, however many feel a personal responsibility to helping curb climate change. This clash causes stress for the individual causing an inner conflict on a very personal level. Consciously or subconsciously this makes our daily decisions more difficult and we tend to cary around feelings of shame or guilt.

Also sometimes the values ​​of the larger groups we belong to simply do not benefit us personally, yet we comply without considering whether we have a choice in the matter. It may not feel like it, but we do always have a choice. And often the consequences of choosing to prioritise one value over another aren’t as severe as we imagine they will be. It’s often the fear of social consequences that keep us from prioritising, updating or changing our values.

Trying to shoulder the burdon of conforming to several conflicting values drains us and often leaves us feeling like we are constantly falling short. Parents, especially new parents, have an especially heavy decision-making burdon as they are responsible for making critical decisions that effect the whole family. Add to that upholding a commitment to a set of conflicting values is just too much to handle under an extended period of time.

What can we do to get ourselves out of that situation? Remember most of the time our values do the job of guiding our decisions subconsciously. But we can become more aware of what (and who’s) values are steering our decisions if we start to get more curious about them and where exactly our conflicting values lie. We can make a conscious effort to prioritise the values closest to our personal core over those which are further away (for a while at least).

The values we hold at our core tend to give us the most reward, boost our energy, help us feel good about ourselves, and often promote our overall health. Zeroing in on our core values for a while can help us regain the mental energy needed to attend to conflicting values. It’s ok to have a fluid set of values that change over time. Our situations in life change, our families change, our jobs change, the world around us is constantly changing, why shouldn’t our values also change?

It can be scary to actively choose to let go of values that don’t resonate with our core, but the results are rarely rejection from our social groups or social isolation. On the contrary, we tend to respect people who stand up for what they believe to be important. I often see that once people try leaning into their own personal core values more they rarely suffer from letting others go.

The quality of our lives depends on the quality of the decisions we make. It’s worth the effort to invest in upgrading our most important decision-making aid we have – our values system.

Curious about working with your values? Here are som tips to get started:

You can start with a few questions to help you understand your values better:

  • Can you recall a time you had a really difficult decision to make. One where in the end you felt really good about the decision you made? What values were at play that helped you make that decision?
  • Have you ever felt alienated by a group of people? What is it that makes you feel different from the people in this group? What do they value that you don’t? What values do you have that aren’t relevant to them?
  • Think about all things you do during your day the benefit other people and not necessarily yourself? What value compels you to do that? And for who’s sake do you do it? Yourself, someone else in your family, your friends perhaps or just to fit in to what society expects of you?

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