Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Change Your Values To Change Your Priorities


Values Drive Priorities Which In Turn Influence The Underlying Values

Chapter 1: My Corporate Idolatry Part 6

My insight on Yom Kippur set off a chain of dominos.  Once I recognized my Corporate Idolatry, I saw the world in this new way and there was no going back.

In the past, I had unsuccessfully tried to make changes in my priorities.  It didn’t last.  Over time I went back to the same behaviors.

This time, I went a step further, and changed my values.  My family and my health had to come before the company, and low and behold the priorities in my life changed.  It didn’t happen overnight, but over time it added up to some pretty big things.  Even when I was working close to one hundred hours a week, I ate breakfast and dinner with my family every day.  It was a line in the sand, a boundary I never crossed, and its nature as an absolute rule served as a model for the additional changes to come.

I made a conscious choice to work fewer hours.  Instead of thinking in a negative way, beating myself up to work less, I focused on the positive.

My health is important.  I need to stop working by 9:30, so I have time to wind down and get to sleep.

Then it became I need to stop working by 9, so my wife and I can spend some time together. 

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, choosing an action that reinforces a value is a virtuous cycle, because the action itself reinforces the value, making it easier to take a similar action the next time. I will discuss this at greater length latter in the book.

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Forget New Year’s Resolutions – Make Decisions Instead

New Year’s Resolutions are soooo 20th Century.

Last year,  I wrote about eight people who sent me a sentence or two about the year that was ending.  It became clear that their year was colored by the choices they made in the face of challenging circumstances.

They did not make resolutions, they made decisions.

A resolution is a promise about the future, a declaration of intent to do things differently.

A decision is a choice that is made in the present.

New Year’s Resolutions are popular because they come from the desire we all share to improve our lives. It’s part of our culture, and the new year is a natural time to take stock, and contemplate change. I’ve made plenty of New Year’s Resolutions, but most of them were forgotten or ignored by the end of January.  And now I understand why.

For most of my adult life, the company was my highest priority.  But the resolutions I made dealt with surface issues, and did not address my underlying values.  For example:

  • I need to get in shape, so I will go to the gym.
  • I work too much, so this year I’m going to spend more time with my family.
  • I don’t have any time for myself, so I’m going to start a new hobby.

But when it came time for me to make a decision on a day to day basis, the company was my highest priority, so I skipped the gym, was late for dinner, and never came near a hobby.  In general, the decisions we make reflect our underlying values. The decisions we make also serve to reinforce our values.  So, my company first value system perpetuated itself.

Real change came when I changed my values, to put my health and my family ahead of the company.  New values brought new priorities, and as a consequence I made different decisions.  For example,  I decided that it would be ok for me to come into the office an hour later twice a week to give me time to go to the gym.  It worked – I got in better shape and felt better as a result.  I should say it wasn’t without consequences –I didn’t lose my job or anything, but I took a little heat, and had to work to keep that time free.  But it was ok, because the company was not as important to me as my health.

So my advice is to skip the resolutions this year.  Instead, make a decision that puts you or another person ahead of the company.  Make it right now.