Dealing with Values Conflicts

by Rob Archer

Right from the start, the ACT model made sense to me.  It made so many things clearer in my head.

Apart from the bit about values…

That bit left me confused, but I let it go, thinking it would all work out.

But it never did.  I still get stuck on values.  My mind loves the idea that I have a set of values, and it jumps at the chance to know EXACTLY what I SHOULD be doing.  Finally!

Next thing I know I’m treating values like they are a real thing.  I conflate values (how I do things) with decisions (what I do).  I mix up values (how I want to be) with my own needs.   I look to values to tell me what the ‘right’ answer is, and when I get stuck, I blame values conflicts.

I don’t think it’s just me.  Values are brilliant for bringing vitality and purpose to life, especially when options are limited.  But in coaching we are often dealing with people with too many choices.  Values can add to this sense of overwhelm, at least in my experience.

Yet at the same time, I feel like values have changed my life. They just do it in a way which is really subtle and which sometimes slips through my grasp.

How I understand values, when I understand values

The other day  my two-year old daughter told me her name was ‘Orla Archer’ and I simply burst with pride.  The words caught in my heart.  Orla Archer.

Up to the age of about 7 or 8 I was called Robert Davies.  Then my Step Dad arrived, married my Mum and on the day of the wedding they asked me whether I wanted to be called Robert Davies or Robert Archer.  I was never in any doubt.

Since then I’ve always been proud of that name, but til now I’ve never really thought about why.  Now I think it was all about choices.  I chose the name for a start, but from roughly that time onwards I began to choose other things.  I chose the best stuff; like sport, The Beatles and Liverpool FC.  And I chose organisation, determination, anger and softness.  I became extremely self-reliant.

As Robert Davies I’d never really chosen anything for myself; I was pushed back into survival mode so often.  But from ‘Archer’ onwards, I started to choose things.

Crucially, I didn’t state in advance what my values were. If anyone had asked me whether I was ‘living my values’ I’d not have had a clue.  And it certainly didn’t make my life any easier.

But looking back, this choosing seems like the beginning of the essential ‘Archer-ness’ that feels like the best of me, even today.

This is how I understand values.

Values help with hard choices

Values, therefore, are different from decisions, and from ethics and morals.  With values it is the choice that is key.

This reminds me of my favourite all-time talk on values by Ruth Chang.  Chang argues that values are about ‘hard choices’, where there is no right answer.

It’s tough when there’s no right answers!  But at the same time it is liberating, because this is our one chance in life to properly choose stuff….

Dealing with Values Conflicts

This series of posts was originally inspired by an enquiry from a reader called Ryan, so let’s bring this back to his question:

  1. In post 1 I argued Ryan’s real priority is to make a decision.  Values can inform that decision, but they are not the decision.
  2. In post 2 Rachel suggested Ryan could ‘enough’ his values in the meantime, which certainly resonated with me.
  3. In this post, I reflect that I still get stuck on values, but I do better when I treat them as simply moment to moment choices, especially applied to hard choices.

My experience of ‘enoughing’ my values has been that if you string enough enoughs together you start to feel differently about Your Self.

I call this the My Way test.  At some point in my career change, when I had finally begun to take tough decisions and choosing my response to hard choices, the words of My Way moved from some cheesy song I occasionally massacred after too much wine, to something that started sending shivers up my spine when out running:

But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way

Doo be doo be doo.

Good luck, Ryan.

From Rob (Archer)


Career Change, Developing Coaches - ACT Training, Executive Coaching, Getting Unstuck coaching

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