Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Second Step To A Balanced Life Is To Examine Your Values

Values Priorities Decisions Actions

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity

Over the last few posts, I’ve argued that time management cannot solve a work life balance issue because the root cause is a company first value system.

To illustrate the interplay of values and decisions shown in the figure to the left, I’ll tell you a before and after story of “David,” who had a stroke before the age of fifty because, in his own words  was working 100 hours a week because he“cared too much about a bunch of people and a small company that did not care about [him].”  Luckily for David, the stroke was not serious and he made a full recovery.  But this brush with death gave him pause, and led him to reexamine his basic values.

Prior to the stroke, David had a company first value system, meaning that he gave priority to things he thought could help the overall welfare of the company.  So he made it a priority to “never leave work unfinished.”  So in the moment, when it came time to take a break and head to the gym, he would decide to skip his workout to catch up.

David’s action created an example of cognitive dissonance, a conflict between the desire to be in shape and the desire to help the company.  The psychology research has shown that people will find a way to reduce this mental conflict, and since the action in the past cannot be changed, one way to reduce the conflict is to elevate the importance of the path taken.  In other words, staying on the computer reinforced the underlying value that the company comes first, meaning that in the future he would be more likely not only to skip the gym but do make other decisions that favored the company over people.  And indeed, David missed his wedding anniversary, kids birthdays, and didn’t go on a ski trip with friends because “the company needed me.”

But after his stroke, David’s priorities changed dramatically, and his life got much better.

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