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Why your actions will never betray your values

May 29, 2023

 Put it to the test

My daughter came home from school the other day feeling annoyed. Very annoyed. We always have a cup of tea after school and catch up on the day’s events. This is precious time with my teenagers because post-school, they want to chill out and that involves scrolling on their phone, to check out what’s happening in the world and what their friends have got up to in the whole 60 minutes since they left school and got home. So, I relish that time when they want to tell me about their day.

On this particular day though, nothing was shifting one of my daughter’s grumpy moods. Exams. The devil’s work. But, they are a lighthouse in terms of they are something we can do nothing about, but only in terms of that they exist. Strictly speaking, for us individually, they are not a lighthouse because students don’t have to do them. I introduced this to my daughter – that she didn’t have to sit the exams. She looked at me as if I was completely potty. ‘Well of course I do. I’m not going to do well, but I still have to do the exams.’ Admonishing her about her poor self-talk was not something I would tackle at that juncture. Another time Kirsty, another time.

I opened up the discussion about ‘have to’ and ‘want to’ in terms of personal responsibility; I asked the question: ‘What do we have to do in in life (other than being born, bodily functions and eat and breathe if we want to stay alive)?’ Much debate ensued and it was really interesting to hear her answers. Ultimately, if we are willing to face the consequences, there is nothing we have to do.

What we choose to do is based on our emotional needs; we will always behave in a way that is consistent with our emotional needs. When we make a choice between two or more options, it’s always easiest for us emotionally compared with any other option at that time. In other words, we always choose the option with the consequences that are easiest for us to bear emotionally.

I’m going to throw this out there… If you are prepared to accept the consequences, no one can make you do anything. Other than being born/dying through illness or accident/bodily functions and so forth, you’ve always done what suited you, you’ve always taken the path of least resistance, you’ve always taken the easy way out, you’ve always acted in your own self-interest, you’ve always got your own way. You will always behave in a way that is consistent with your emotional needs.

During The Winning Edge course, we understandably get a lot of push back on this. Recently, a participant asked how we could say that someone ending a relationship and moving out, resulting in not living with their children, was taking the easy way out. So, it was explained as thus: staying in that relationship for that individual perhaps meant the arguing and unhappiness continued. And maybe they didn’t feel that was a good template for a relationship for their children. Perhaps they wanted their children to know that happiness and fulfilment is important. Another person might stay in the situation. They have different values. Not better ones, different ones. For that person, perhaps a family unit, come what may, is what is most important to them. There is no judgement here folks, this is all about different values for different people and the consequences which are most emotionally easiest for them.

A man of value

For emotional ease is dictated by our values. Martyrs die for their cause rather than give up the names of their comrades, or information that could help the enemy. They take the easy way out because they couldn’t live with the consequences – those are their deeply ingrained values. And we admire martyrs but crucially, it is their values that we admire because perhaps, we couldn’t do the same thing.

Emotional ease is different for two different people. Imagine you are on a seaside pier and it’s a blustery day. The waves are huge and no one, not even the most daring surfer, is in the water. Suddenly, you become aware of a toddler who doesn’t seem to be with their parents. Before you can do anything, they have scaled the railings and are in the water. If you jump in to save them, you’ve taken the easy way out. If you shout for help and throw them the lifebuoy, you’ve taken the easy way out. Why in both instances is this the case?

If you know you’re a strong swimmer and think you can navigate the waves and save the toddler’s life and think you could not live with yourself if you didn’t at least try, you’re taking the easy way out, according to what’s most important to you in that instance, which will be based on your values.

If you don’t jump in, maybe it’s because you know you’re a weak swimmer and that there’s a danger that you’ll both drown; you perhaps hope that if you don’t scale the railings to help, it might prompt someone who regards themselves as a strong swimmer to jump in and the child could be saved. Possibly you’re a single parent, and there stand your two children, who you couldn’t possibly risk them seeing their parent drown. Values, it always comes down to values which is why it is so important to work out what yours are. Your values will always inform your choices, even in those moments when it feels like an immediate decision is required, subconsciously, your values will lead your choices.

A real-life example of this is the story of Andrew Parker, a hero of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster which took place in on 6 March 1987. Parker was in a cafeteria area of the ship when it started sinking. A huge chasm appeared through the room and safety was across the other side. At over six feet tall, Parker knew if he laid down, he could become a human bridge and his wife and 12-year-old daughter could walk across him, and the three of them could hopefully make their way to safety. His wife and daughter crossed over him and upon standing up, Parker realised there were 20 more people trapped. Without thinking of any possible consequences, he laid down again so that those 20 could walk across him to find safety.  So, why would Andrew Parker do that? Some might say instinct but if that’s the case, why didn’t others around his height do it?  Parker did it because it aligned with his values. Everything you do you do for yourself or your values. At times like that, you do not make conscious choices. In high pressure situations our subconscious makes the decision, based on our values. So, we do it for ourselves.

Liberation for the nation

And we’ll tell lies to ourselves and to others about why we’re doing something, blaming outside forces, as if we have no choice, when all along, it’s our values which have come into play. A classic one is that we have to work late. When you choose to stay late at work, again, you’re taking the easy way out. Maybe you’re working hard to land a big client, perhaps you want to be noticed for a promotion, maybe you’re wanting to grow your new business and putting in the hours is what’s going to do it. But then there’s your family at home. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, but in that moment, what you are doing satisfies a value. And maybe getting that important client means a bonus and therefore a much-needed holiday for all; perhaps the promotion is part of a long-term plan to enable you to climb the ladder, earn more and buy the dream home. There will be a reason why working late is more important to you in that moment.

The thing is, too many people don’t know what’s important to them- they haven’t figured out what their values are and therefore negative stress is caused when then don’t know why they do what they do. Many people’s values are adopted form others who didn’t think about them either.

Very often we can live by our parents’ values and don’t realise they are not serving us well until something happens to nudge that into consciousness.

We once had a course participant who admitted that the penny had dropped. She was working three jobs – a full-time role, a part-time one to bring in a bit of extra cash, and a side hustle which was her passion project. She said she realised she had been working to her father’s rule of never turn down a job because you don’t know when the money might dry up. She missed her family because she was working so many hours each week, but this part of the course prompted her to check in with her values and she realised, they needed updating and needed to be her values, and no one else’s. After the course, she left her full-time role, threw herself into her passion project, and kept the part-time job to ensure the pennies were coming in.

The choice is yours

We don’t always have to like what we want to do, but we want to do it more than we don’t otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. It’s based on the consequences which are easiest to bear when there is a choice between two or more options. Sometimes, we only have the choice between two pretty rubbish options, but again, we will also behave in a way that is consistent with our emotional needs.

So, my daughter doesn’t have to sit her exams, but she knows there’ll be consequences if she doesn’t- the route to what she wants to pursue will take a lot longer without qualifications and I know she knows what she values most.  I know she’ll sit the exams and was just having a bit of a moan about them but, we’re back to the self-talk again – we feel a lot more empowered when we use language focusing on what we are choosing to do. Self-talk, that’s a whole other blog…

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If the concept of personal responsibility is something you’d love to explore further, or perhaps you have challenges with it, or maybe you feel your team would benefit from understanding The Winning Edge principles and concepts, check out The Winning Edge LIVE events because by attending, participants find out a different way of thinking about the way they think about what they think about, having a profound effect on the results they create for themselves in life, both on a professional and personal level.

I look forward to meeting you!

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