How Values Pre-decide for You

The Catholic Sisters smelled the stench coming from the apartment. When they knocked, an elderly woman timidly answered the door. Her toilet had broken and embarrassed to call for help, she had been relieving herself on the floor so that two rooms were filled with excrement.

After the Sisters cleaned up the place, the woman asked, “See, don’t you love me less?” to which they quickly replied, “See, don’t we love you more!” Love covered her shame when she felt most dirty.

What an amazing story of love applied! But this seems superhuman to go through with such a dirty task and be ready with a quick and sincere response. How did these Sisters do that?

By deciding their values ahead of time.

If you study Mother Teresa, you’ll find a values-centered way of living that guided her mission and work. Her values influenced the nuns who served with her, including the two Sisters in our story.

Ahead of time, they had decided what mattered most, so in the heat of the moment, they could behave as they intended. In this case, with extreme love.

That’s what values do for you – they help you pre-decide what’s important so when the moment comes, your internal work has already been done.

What is a value? There are many ways to define a “value."

I prefer this one:

“A value is a priority belief that drives your behavior preferences and decision making.”

Priority beliefs are:

  • Your non-negotiables
  • What you select as most important
  • Measured by rank or forced-choice
  • Special because if everything is important then nothing is

Your priority beliefs drive your behavior and decisions:

  • Explain the roots and reasons behind your “Gut” responses
  • Help to explain your preferences
  • Enable a “coherent” life that is aligned and authentic
  • Why brands carry weight in your psyche

By living according to your values, you can live what bestselling authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans call a "coherent life," a life that makes sense:

“A coherent life is one lived in such a way that you can clearly connect the dots between three things: who you are; what you believe; what you are doing…It simply means you are living in alignment with your values and have not sacrificed your integrity along the way.” (Designing Your Life)

Not only do values drive a coherent life, but it’s also pretty efficient to do the internal work ahead of time. This way, you don't have to trust yourself to make the right decision in the heat of the moment. (When given preference, the heart chooses what is easiest or most comfortable; it doesn’t choose to shovel human dung or be cheerful about it.)

But pre-deciding isn’t possible unless you first identify your core values. Methods for identifying values vary and you’ll want to be careful doing so.

In our work, we’ve suggested a values discovery process. There are nuances to naming values (for example, different values govern different parts of your life).

The Sisters didn’t choose to have extreme love the moment they saw excrement climbing the wall; instead they chose it beforehand by choosing their values. When the moment came, the choice had already been made – "we will love no matter the cost or discomfort." 

This is the wonder of values. If you want to live for what matters most, then take the time to identify your values. It will be time well spent.

(Story of nuns retold from "Mother Teresa" by Kathryn Spink)

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