Thursday, August 18, 2011

What you would DO with 10 minutes SAYS about you

Swing those legs up & get comfy
Armchair journey
Assessing values is tricky business and certainly not something in which I would claim to be an expert. Rather, I have an armchair interest in values because I am passionate about emotional and behavioral experiences with ourselves and with others which, of course, are driven by values, principles, and beliefs.

Stumbling towards a pattern 
Always on the look out for new material to feed my passion, I recently stumbled on a book which is quickly becoming a favorite. Harvard professor and psychologist Daniel Gilbert has had a fascination with illusion and making mistakes since he was a young boy, and fortunately for us he's taken a lifetime of research and published it in a book called Stumbling on Happiness. While I do want to talk more about what the book offers with examining the imperfections of imagination and illusion that cause us to have misconceptions about the future and misunderstand what satisfies us, this blog post I'll focus on the first sentence of the Forward section because of what it can reveal about us when answered. It says:

Stumbling on Happiness
"What would you do right now if you learned that you were going to die in ten minutes?"

I kicked the Q around with friends and family and each of us came up with very distinct responses which got me thinking. I wondered what shape our respective answers would take if we extended the timeline a couple of times and then looked at the response relative to how each person lives their daily lives. So I threw out:

"What would you do if you had 24 hours..." and then I said: "What would you do if you had six months?"

Curiously, while the amount of time changed, the fundamentals of our answers did not. We realized that buried in our responses was a common theme for each of us that represented a set of values.

Value surfing
A theme that emerged for one person was prayer, meditation, and one-on-one time with specific people. Another theme was time with immediate family. One person wanted to be alone. Finally, another person wanted to write emails/letters to specific people sharing their love, admiration, and belief in them.

As the amount of time was expanded, we added to our vision, but the principles remained the same. 
  • The meditative person wanted to pray & meditate while traveling with certain people. 
  • The family people wanted to travel with family. 
  • The loner wanted time with friends but wanted to keep their imminent departure a secret which none of the others wanted to do. 
  • The writer wanted to travel, journal, and make perspective and advice videos for the people being left behind.
This then led us to consider how and if aspects of these answers play out in our lives. The upside of this was the family people feel whole when they are with their family but feel a bit lost and lonely when they are not. When we looked at it relative to their day-to-day interests, activity, and behavior clearly family, tradition, and commitment are prime values for them. 

The loner is social in life but tends to be intensely private and withholds and even avoids sharing raw, personal things with others. Based on their day-to-day interests, activity, and behavior this person seems to value self-reliance, autonomy, and strength. 

The meditative is highly imaginative and creative and tends to value knowledge and peaceful co-existence so faith, joy, and knowledge were thought to be their core values. 

The writer, well, writes, and feels more confident communicating through writing about all sorts of things than talking so the values of communication, learning, and creativity seemed central to this person.

Situational windows
I looked at various sites out there that attempt to guide people with understanding their core values.  Honestly, I didn't love any of them so as is typical with me, I cherry picked ideas. One article I found suggested you spend time writing about your goals as a child, dreams, etc, but who has time? What could be more interesting and useful is an exercise like we did with posing a Q and building off that. 

Revealing Qs
I've used something called Table Topics. It contains provocative Qs that have proven to be great convo starters that then, when explored more deeply, can reveal underlying values, beliefs, and principles. Two Christmases ago I gave the original game to my Tokii colleagues which still gets used from time-to-time so it's helpful even in business.

Watching ourselves
I've mentioned a few times in blog posts about the concept of observing ego. Situational questions offer us another vehicle for observing ego with the added bonus of perspective from others when done as a shared experience. I find this to be much easier and enjoyable than the one-sided reflection exercises mentioned above. I'm not suggesting those kinds of activities don't have value, but I don't think they should be the only source of info.

Try it on
So how do you do it? Give it a try:
  • Pick a question like "How are you different from others?"
  • Take your answer; e.g., you might say, "I'm different because of xyz."
  • Then take "xyz" and ask how you do it. Explore the times you do it. Question how you feel when you do it. Think about the impact it has on others.
  • Finally, lift keywords out of your descriptions. It's there that the pattern emerges that will lead you to your values, beliefs, and principles.
  • You can use a values list like the one here to determine your keywords.
Here's a personal example following the process above:

Of course, you can't do an exercise like this in a vacuum. The keywords you lift should make sense relative to other things you do in your life. So go on, give it a try yourself. You might just learn something. ;-)

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