I won't lie. I am a world-record holder in changing my mind, and the undisputed heavyweight champion of indecision. I agonize endlessly over choices, flip-flop back and forth a million times, and end up causing myself—and those close to me—much undue stress and uncertainty.
For example, should I move to another city or stay where I am? Switch careers? Rent or buy a house? Go on a date with that ultra-wealthy, supermodel? Adopt a dozen pet eels?
Some of these questions likely have no clear, objective answer.
However, I have recently stumbled across a life-changing idea that promises to radically reshape my decision-making process—and hopefully yours as well—when it comes to formerly stubborn, complex dilemmas.
The idea comes from philosophy, and is called the incommensurability of values.
What in blue blazes does that mean?
In plain language, this means that values aren't like scientific or mathematical problems. You can't just measure them out, count them up and come up with an equation of greater than (<), equal to (=) or less than (>).
Because, values don't work that way. They are subjective, and always will be—to some degree at least.
For as long as I can remember, I have been looking for external, objective reasons to justify my choices. There has always been a neatness, a solidity to those reasons that felt compelling—not only to myself, but to others, when I used them to persuade and influence others to my way of thinking.
The real trick to making those momentous, life-altering decisions is to realize that we can —and do — come up with our own reasons in support of the choices that align with our values.
As Ruth Chang remarks, we can "become the authors of our own lives". When decisions seem difficult, we can list our values, create connections between them and our potential alternatives, and use our agency to decide who we want to be.
For example, my core values are courage, compassion, community, patience, and hard work.
I can run a choice—let's say between becoming a stockbroker or a writer—past the filter of my values, and the choice not only becomes easier, but becomes integrated into my identity.
What hard choice(s) are you currently struggling with? How can you decide on/use your values to clarify which alternative works best for you!
And definitely check out Ruth Chang's Ted Talk if you haven't yet. It is where I first encountered the idea of incommensurability. Don't be concerned: it is accessible and inspiring!