In her TED talk, How to make Hard Choices, philosopher Ruth Chang shares a new way of handling choices between two difficult options. “What makes a choice hard is the way the alternatives relate” she explains. “In a hard choice, one alternative is better in some ways, the other is better in other ways and neither of them is better than the other overall”.
The key to her argument is that when evaluating hard choices we are really evaluating our values. She posits that we incorrectly apply scientific thinking to values, “assuming that values, like justice, beauty, kindness are akin to the scientific quantities like length, mass and weight…”
Values are typically single abstract words like love, freedom, security, trust or joy. These words represent what’s important to us and will determine where we spend our time, our energy and our resources. I regularly use values in my work with clients. If you recall the Hierarchy of Change model that I wrote about in January, you’ll remember that changes made at the level of values and beliefs will automatically impact on your behaviours, your capabilities and your environment.
Most often our values are unconscious and were installed in the formative years of early childhood. Values are installed unconsciously through the strong influences of our family, our education and our culture. Unless we bring those values to conscious awareness, we are destined to evaluate our hard choices based on someone else’s outdated programming.
Once you uncover and claim your own values, you are then much better equipped to be able to make a decision when faced with a hard choice. Ruth Chang explains that hard choices occur when the options are “in the same league of value, while at the same time being very different in the kinds of values [they fulfill]”. For instance, if choosing between two career options, perhaps one as a graphic artist and the other as an investment banker, the graphic artist option fulfills the value of creativity and expression and the investment banking option fulfills the values of security and status. The key to making the hard choice is to know what values are most important to you. When we make these hard choices from our values we are setting ourselves up to enjoy the most satisfaction with the chosen option.
So when faced with a hard choice between two options, I encourage you to follow Chang’s advice: “Instead of looking for reasons out there, we should be looking for reasons in here.” Make your decision based on your values, on what’s most important to you, to build a life rich in satisfaction.
Image Credit: Grant MacDonald via Flickr