A few weeks ago, a long-time client and friend called with an urgent request.
One of his former vendors was in trouble, and he wanted to know if I could help.
Sam was a good, hardworking man who at some point had begun to move away from the core values in his life. Driven by an inability to express his feelings and connect with people in meaningful ways, he had begun having extra-marital affairs and had gotten heavily involved in drugs.
He lost everything–his marriage, his family, and all his creature comforts.
Sam was a classic “riches to rags” story.
This man who had once commanded the respect of so many came into my office broken. He explained how nothing mattered, how he had no reason to live and was wondering aloud why he was even talking to me. He spoke of the shame and embarrassment he felt living on public assistance, with no means of transportation and no prospects of employment.
And then he began to cry….
As I go through my day working with people individually and in organizations, I am often struck not only by their stories and struggles but also by the motivations behind their behavior.
Which leads us to this month’s offering and a question. As you go through your day, what is motivating you–values or feelings and emotions?
The answer to that question not only determines the kind of day you’re having but might very well speak to the kind of life you’re leading.
Feelings and values—there is quite a difference as we will see:
A Feeling-Driven Day
A day driven by feelings and emotions might look something like this:
On the way to work someone cuts you off in traffic. You give the driver a piece of your mind.
As you arrive at work, you pass your administrative assistant. You like her so you exchange pleasantries. The office down the hall belongs to your boss who you don’t like so you ignore him.
By mid-morning, two important phone calls have not been returned and you are losing patience. You reflect on how overworked and underappreciated you are and your already negative mood worsens.
Mercifully, the day finally ends after an afternoon that basically mirrors the morning.
You arrive home and are in no mood to be bothered by the kids. Instead you decide to walk the dog. At least he understands enough to leave you alone.
Dinner, some television, bed and the cycle begins again.
You have just experienced a feeling-driven day. Your emotions were brought on by your reactions to the situations you faced. Most of your feelings were temporary. You focused on specific events, and your thoughts were basically self-centered.
Ironically, had the traffic been light, had the phone calls been returned and had you felt appreciated, you might very well have had a completely different day.
Rather than control the day, you let the day control you.
Now let’s look at a value-driven day.
A Value-Driven Day
A day driven by values might turn out quite differently:
On the way to work someone cuts you off in traffic. You don’t value insulting strangers so you slow down and let the driver keep going.
As you arrive at work you pass your administrative assistant. You like her so you exchange pleasantries. The office down the hall belongs to your boss who you don’t particularly care for, but you don’t believe in ignoring people so you say “good morning.” He grunts without looking up from his desk.
By mid morning two important phone calls have not been returned. You value all the benefits that come with staying calm so you decide to focus on other job responsibilities where you can have success. Though others have commented that you must feel overworked and underappreciated, you choose to focus on what is good about your job and the parts you enjoy.
Predictably, the afternoon is better as your positive thoughts permit you to see what you have accomplished not what you were not able to do.
You arrive home happy to be with your family. You decide to walk the dog. You feel it is important to get exercise and fresh air.
Dinner, some television, bed and the cycle begins again.
You have just experienced a value-driven day. Your behavior was motivated not by temporary events but by some of your core values—patience, gratitude, kindness and thoughtfulness. Most of your feelings were temporary. You focused on the bigger picture, and your thoughts were basically other-centered.
Had the traffic been light, had the phone calls been returned and had others shown more appreciation, your day would have still been basically the same.
You had chosen to act rather than be acted upon.
Making the Choice
People often explain their actions with phrases like “That’s just the way I am.” Your eye color and the length of your little toe may be “just the way you are” but behavior, I point out, is a choice.
Deciding to focus your behavior on values over feelings and emotions is also a choice.
The key to changing your behavior and changing your outcomes is to change your self-talk and focus.
Valuing abundance, for example, doesn’t mean you don’t experience scarcity; it simply means you choose to focus on what you have rather than dwell on what is missing.
Focusing on people’s strengths and choosing to value those attributes doesn’t mean those individuals don’t have weaknesses; it simply means that’s not what you choose to focus on.
You can choose to be a slave to your emotions and react your way through life, or you can choose to be the master of your temporary feelings and base your decisions on your what you truly value.
The choice is yours.
PS- Sam has chosen to once again begin basing his decisions on values over feelings and is reclaiming his life. He is working part-time, is once again a contributing member of society, and regularly attends NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings.