Stuck in a double-bind: When values collide

When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Working with Soldiers, I got to see how they were often bombarded with competing prioritize and how they sorted through the noise to stay focused and productive.

When having Soldier clarify their values, it was common to have a value relating to work (mission first) and a value relating to family (family first). Having two core values of family first and mission first creates some challenges. You can’t have them both come first all the time. It creates an impossible standard; something has to give. When faced with an impossible standard, we sometimes stall until a decision is made for us. When the decision is made for us, it can breed resentment and victimhood.

For example, say you have a core value of spending quality time with you family, and you also have a core value of fueling your best performance by getting 7 hours of sleep a night. You’re watching your favorite show with your family one night and you’re faced with the choice of staying up late to watch another episode (supporting the value of time with family) and heading to bed (supporting the value of you getting enough sleep). If you choose to watch another episode, you are sacrificing sleep. If you choose to go to bed, you are sacrificing family time.

This can feel like a no-win situation. Either way you choose, you are sacrificing something important to you. If you delay making a decision, auto-play will kick in and the next episode will start. If auto-play makes the decision for you, you go to bed late, you wake up groggy, and you will be cranky the next day because you didn’t get enough sleep. Throughout the episode you may even be grumbling to yourself about how frustrated you will be the next day. You didn’t get sleep, and you didn’t enjoy the time with your family. You might be resentful towards your family or towards the show you’re watching for interfering with your sleep.

When we make the choice, we act with integrity and intention and accept the consequences of our choice. Intentionality (making deliberate choices) flips the script. You know something has to give, so you mindfully make the best choice. Then you accept the consequences from your decision. You take ownership over the choices you make--and the choices you don't make.

For example, say you make the choice to watch another episode and spend that time with your family. With this decision, you know you are sacrificing sleep, so you make some additional decisions about what you expect of yourself the next day. Maybe you do a shorter workout or push a few things from your to do list to a different day because you aren’t able to bring your best. Maybe you find a way to squeeze in a nap.

Say you make the choice to go to bed on time. With this decision, you are sacrificing time with your family. You are protecting your ability to bring your best effort the next day, but you didn’t spend as much quality time with your family. Maybe you find another way to spend more time with them another time (do a shorter workout or work it out to stay up late another night).

The goal with this isn’t to choose one particular value over the other all of the time. The goal with this is to maintain your power to make the right decision for you. This helps you maintain healthy boundaries. This helps you maintain a balance of give and take when your values compete with each other.

Which of your values seem to compete? How can you be more deliberate and intentional in the choices that you make to balance this?


Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead: Brave work. Tough conversations. Whole hearts. New York: Random House.

Rubin, G. (2015). Better than before: Mastering the habits of our everyday lives. New York: Random House.

#values #conflict #collide #standards #nowin #integrity #priority

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