If you’re reading this blog, you and I probably have at least one goal in common. We both want to generally improve ourselves over time. We want to become the best version of ourselves, and we are actively pursuing that goal. As part of my personal mission, I include the phrase “self-mastery”, not in a restrictive sense, but more expansive. I want to work toward mastery in all facets of my life that I can control – physical development, emotional awareness and control, etc.
One of the ways that I’d like to explore improving myself over the next year, if it’s not too early to think about New Year’s Resolutions, is to improve my decision making. I was watching a daily inspirational video a couple days ago, and the speaker Matthew Kelly was asking his audience how they make decisions. He recommends relying on a personal philosophy, or what we might also call a creed or an “ethos”, to make critical decisions. Kelly leans on his Christian faith and the teachings of Jesus to guide his decision making process, which is obviously a great pre-packaged philosophy that we can choose as our own, and there is so much written on which choices are best to make as Christians.
Rather than using a plug-n-play approach to personal philosophy though, I would advocate for a bit more thought and reflection on what your personal ethos is. Or you might even start by trying to articulate – in your own words – what that philosophy is that you follow. I am Catholic, but have to admit that there are certain doctrines of the Catholic church that I don’t agree with wholeheartedly (or with any of my heart!) Adopting a more personally connected ethos, which includes the moral and ethical values of the Christian faith, as well as my own personal principles, will be more powerful for me and a more honest guide for my decisions.
An ethos can be described as what you believe at your core. What you stand for. As the saying goes, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. So this is important work! A good exercise to start might be to write down a list of values that mean the most to you. If you know what your major long-term goals are, especially around who you want to become in this life, then this should be a part of your ethos too. Take some time to expand upon these values and your goals in order to create a few bulleted action phrases that are both direct and very meaningful to you.
Here is my example, with my initially identified values bolded so you can see where I started from:
- Pursue Self-mastery with an attitude of Service
- Provide for and protect my Family
- Take Responsibility for my actions and those of my teammates
- Persevere through adversity, and NEVER QUIT
- Pursue Truth, Love, and Simplicity
Once you have a personal ethos that you’re ready to take on the world with, it’s time to take it for a spin and use it to make decisions. So every time you have a decision to make, take this ethos out of your back pocket and read it out loud and… just kidding. It’s surely not feasible to directly refer to this word-for-word every time you are faced with a decision. You might not even realize you are making a decision sometimes, or if you know you are you might not have more than a split-second to take an “ethos time out”.
I feel that the best way to incorporate your ethos into your decision-making process, whether it is conscious or subconscious, is to review and recommit to your ethos each day when you wake up as part of your morning ritual. If it is meaningful to you, and each of the parts of your ethos are a hill you’re willing to die on, then reviewing it each morning will be a motivating way to refresh your mental state and refocus you on what you’re going to do that day and how you’re going to do it.
No one is going to make a good decision – or the best decision possible – EVERY time they are faced with a mental fork in the road. To use a baseball analogy, nobody is batting 1.000. I’m sure even Jesus grounded out to short a couple times in his life, although he definitely was leading the league in GDBA (Good Decision Batting Average) for most of the years 20-35 AD. He definitely never struck out. But while we may not share his infallibility, we can at least give ourselves the best chance possible to improve that batting average, wherever it may be right now.
In the consulting world, and indeed in CrossFit, we talk about measuring to improve. If you want to improve something, start measuring it. All of a sudden, because you are paying attention to that metric, it magically starts improving because you are taking action to improve it before the next measurement time!
To measure our GDBA, we could take a brief moment at the end of the day to review our ethos one more time, and then look back at our day and reflect on any big decisions we made. Did we decide in line with our ethos? This can create a daily batting average, but more importantly it allows us to pat ourselves on the back where we made aligned decisions, and reflect on lessons learned where we did not. Why weren’t we acting in alignment with our ethos? How can we improve on that the next time that decision point or situation comes up?
A huge part of this revolves around creating that personal philosophy, or ethos, that can act as our decision-making protocol. If you have any trouble with this exercise or want to work through it together, please reach out, I’d love to help you nail this down. And if anyone hits a decision home-run, let me know that too!