Defining Values Emails

AskMoxie January 31, 20013: Defining Concepts

“Round, like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel”

 —Windmills of Your Mind

Hiya, Lovey,

Thanks for coming to my series on clarifying your priorities as a person to define your core values as a parent. I know you’re hot to hear about figuring out yourself, but unfortunately the first two weeks are not going to be much about you. Instead, they’ll be setting up the language and concepts I’m going to use to help you figure out some stuff about yourself. (That’s really exciting to me, but maybe not so exciting to you. I get it.)

The framework I’m using is from the study of Economics, but once you get it, it starts to apply to every situation in your life. If you already know the concept, start thinking about it whenever you remember to, with whatever’s in front of you. If you don’t know it yet, read through as many times as you need to. It’s one of those things that can make zero sense until suddenly it clicks.

If you read it through and still don’t understand, never fear. Next Friday’s email is going to expand on it more by giving a lot of examples, so you’ll get it.

Bounded Set vs. Centered Set

A bounded set is something that’s set up so that there’s a boundary, and everything inside the boundary is In and everything outside the boundary is Out. Graphically, it looks like this, a boundary drawn (like a circle or oval or irregular closed shape) with some items inside the boundary and some outside:

(Excuse my crappy drawing skills.)

In a Bounded Set, anything that fulfills a certain requirement is in one category, and everything else is not. It’s totally binary, except hierarchical. Binary means it’s either 1 or 0, yes or no. In a bounded set, in is desirable and out is undesirable. Either you’re good or you’re bad. Either you’re smart or you’re stupid. Either you belong or you don’t. Either you’re inside or you’re outside.

The Bounded Set relies on the actual boundary–the line–to set up the structure of things. That line is either a group of qualifications you meet (or don’t meet), a test you pass (or fail), a physical structure you’re inside (or locked out of), a set of beliefs you have (or don’t), or some other physical or figurative boundary.

The reason people fall into or stick with Bounded Set beliefs is that the boundary line provides structure and a feeling of security. Of course, it’s also very limiting because there are only two options (in or out) and no room for growth or change.

Examples of Bounded Set thinking:

I am married and marriage provides security and safety for me and my kids.

I am on a career track.

People who believe X are correct/good and people who do not are incorrect/bad.

I need to parent my children the right way.

I can’t eat sugar.

I should…


A centered set is something that’s set up so there’s something valuable at the center, and everything is going toward that center. There’s no In or Out, just On The Way. It looks like this, with a central point and then items going toward that point at various locations on the way to that point:

In a Centered Set, there’s something–usually a relationship or ideal–that everyone is moving toward, so there are infinite paths and infinite possibilities. Instead of good or bad, you’re working toward being the best version of yourself. You’re working to learn more and become more skilled and wiser. You’re developing relationships or becoming more a part of the group. A building is just a set of walls and you can move freely from inside to outside and back without it changing who you are.

The Centered Set focuses on clarifying what the center is. A relationship you want to have, a quality (trust, love, honesty, reliability, consistency, excellence) you want to develop, skills you want to increase, or something else you see as central and worthwhile. Once this center is defined, then the only directive is to be moving toward that center in some fashion–directly or indirectly, slowly or at a moderate pace or quickly, alone or with others, steadily or with breaks. It is very difficult to fail, unless you give up forever. Centered Set thinking can be very scary, because there’s no boundary to orient you–you have to decide for yourself what’s important, what’s at the center FOR YOU, and then how to get there.

Examples of Centered Set thinking:

I am in a relationship based on trust and we use the trust between us to address anything that happens to us, together.

I work doing tasks I enjoy using my skills with people who value me.

Everyone has different experience and we can learn from each other, even if we don’t end up agreeing.

I made decisions about how I’m going to parent my kids based on what I want them to learn about themselves and the world, and based on the relationship I want to have with them.

If I eat sugar it will make me feel bad the next morning, so I assess whether eating it feels worth it right now or not.

I f I do x, y will happen. If I do z, k will happen. Knowing that, what outcome do I want? Which option do I choose to get my desired result?


You can see the differences if you think about them visually:

Marrying because it provides safety and thinking that the structure of marriage will keep you together vs. focusing on the relationship and making decisions that will bring the two of you together.

Choosing a career that has a structured path so that as long as you fulfill the requirements at each step you move forward vs. choosing work that is meaningful to you even if it isn’t on an established, set path.

Labeling beliefs good or bad vs. focusing on learning and increasing our insight about the world and how we interpret it.


The differences between bounded set thinking vs. centered set thinking not only explain some of your own ways of seeing yourself and your choices, but they explain the behaviors and mindsets of organizations.

This coming week, try to 1) Identify some bounded set ideas/behaviors in yourself and some centered set ideas/behaviors (in any area of your life), and

2) Identify some bounded set ideas/behaviors and centered set ideas/behaviors in other people, groups, and organizations that you interact with or are aware of.


Next week we’ll work a little more on the differences and ramifications of these two ways of seeing the world, and more examples.


AskMoxie email February 7, 2014: More ways of thinking about the framework

“I never was a sinner–tell me what else can I do
Second best is what you get ’til you learn to bend the rules
And time respects no person–what you lift up must fall
They’re waiting outside to claim my tumblin’ walls”

 —Crumblin’ Down, John Mellencamp

Hiya, Lovey,

Thank you! I got an avalanche of emails thanking me for the bounded set vs. centered set concept email last week. If you missed the email click here to read it before you read the rest of this.

One of the emails was from reader Ruth, who said, “I remember learning the same theory by a different name (for community development purposes) a few years ago and I thought you may like the terminology:  ‘walls’ versus ‘wells’.  Some of the imagery that comes with those symbols is quite beautiful and helpful.”

I really like walls vs. wells. The same concept is expressed in all sorts of different disciplines, so if you don’t like the centered set/bounded set terminology try something else and see if it makes sense. In self-help language, it’s “being defined by patriarchal structures” vs. “finding the essence of yourself and your values.” In business language it’s “external validation” vs. “defining your own goals.” If you know it by another name, will you email me and tell me how you’ve heard it before?

I was getting to it on my own before my economist friend told me about the full idea, and had verbalized it to myself as the difference between security and trust. Security means that something is protecting you and keeping you safe. Trust means that something inside of you (or between you, if there’s another person involved), that keeps you safe. This idea is also really similar to (but not the same as) the concept of “the essence of the thing” vs. “what the thing represents.” And, it’s similar to the idea that “the map is not the terrain,” which has been useful to me in stepping back to examine the idea that the map I have in my head isn’t the actual place, it’s just a representation of the place that gives me structure to attach to.

But back to the actual ideas: I think many of us grow up with a bounded set mentality that if we do a certain set of things then we’re In. Getting good grades, finding a career path with set expectations and milestones, getting married because it’s the next step. Basically anything that seems to provide safety because of the institution or the structure. So we tend to make decisions based on the structure of things or on desiring external validation or just to avoid external disapproval. The problem is that anything you choose because of the structure runs the risk of not fitting you at some point as you change. You end up constricted and confined, like you’re in that trash compactor in Star Wars with the walls closing in on you, or so small, rattling around in a big empty building.

A centered set mentality focuses on the essence of the thing. Learning the things you’re interested in, doing work that is meaningful to you, having a relationship based on trust (whether you get married or not). Those things are ultimately more satisfying, and grow with you, but it takes some patience to resist the temptation of the external validation you get from gravitating toward the structure.

Here’s the tricky thing: You can’t tell just by looking if something’s a result of centered set thinking or bounded set thinking. (You can tell by how it feels, but I’ll get to that.) In a centered set mentality, you can have all the same things you have in a bounded set mentality (like a marriage and a career), but they come from the inside (the relationship, doing what you love) and work outward, instead of the other way around. You are creating a life you enjoy because the center is valuable to you, instead of just creating a life that looks the way you think it should look without having a center to hold it together.

So I’m not at all saying you should reexamine everything you say or do because if you did it because it was what you thought you should do it can’t be working for you. I am saying that there are an awful lot of us who’ve felt unhappy or even mild discomfort and thought something was wrong but then have told ourselves we were doing what we’re “supposed to be doing” so if must be fine.

THAT is what I’m trying to get us to look at. If you feel like something’s wrong, then it is. That doesn’t mean it’s all wrong, though. You can have built an amazing career but then be in the middle of it feeling like you don’t want what it’s turned out to be. That’s because you thought that the career (and safety and structure of the career) is what you wanted, but once you’re in it it doesn’t fit you. Once you realize that, you do NOT have to quit and do some opposite thing, though. You can figure out what your core values are and how the elements of your career (what you actually do, who you work with, how much money you make, the respect you get, satisfaction, etc.) fit with your values. And then figure out how those elements don’t. Once you know that, you can sketch out a plan to keep the things that fit and shed the things that don’t, until you make a work life that fits you instead of a cookie cutter career that doesn’t fit you.

If your marriage feels bad, figure out what parts feel bad. You can be in love with your spouse and really want to be with them, but if some of the structural constraints you’ve accepted as part of Marriage don’t fit you, then it’s going to feel bad. What parts of Marriage (the institution and cultural phenomenon) fit with your values? What parts don’t? Can you get rid of the assumptions that came with the concept of marriage for you but that don’t serve you and your spouse and your actual relationship? Can you keep the trust and the two of you together, but leave behind some of the stuff that is just cultural? On the other hand, if there isn’t any center of you two together, and it’s all just structure, you are going to have to make some decisions.

All this is is a way of reframing the decisions and interactions you’re having for your life and on a daily basis. Use whatever language to think of it that serves you. You can use it to think about problems you’re having in relationships with friends/family members/kids/partner (the “wells/walls” language might be super-useful for thinking about relationships). You can use it to make decisions either for yourself or together with someone else (thinking about what would get you both closer to individual or joint values). You can use it to think about planning a vacation or deciding what to do next work-wise or whether you care about something or are happy just to flip a coin.

Next week we’re going to start using this structure to help you refine your idea of yourself. This week, keep thinking about the distinction between an externally-bound way of being vs. and internally-pulled way of being, and noticing how you’ve been thinking about yourself and making decisions.


AskMoxie email February 14, 2014: Your delicious center

“How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?
The world may never know…”

 —That cartoon owl in the Tootsie Pop commercial

Hiya, Lovey,

I love the reactions I’ve been getting from you all about the bounded set/centered set (wells/walls) framework. If you missed the first couple of emails in this series, read them here, then come back and read this email.

Reader (and novelist) Marta wrote: “For those of us who are Christian, I had a thought about walls/wells.  One of my favorite stories from the Christian Bible is of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well — where he crossed all sorts of cultural/religious boundaries to talk to a woman, to talk to a Samaritan, in order to become living water to her.  For me, the Gospel boils down to exactly what you are talking about:  when rules/institutions/traditions come in conflict with relationship/love/integrity of self, Jesus commands us to choose the latter.  Throw off the purity codes and love one another.  Alas, this is so radical that even the church couldn’t hold onto it for more than a couple of centuries at best…..”

I thought that was interesting as I’ve thought a lot about the concept of “Law vs. Gospel” and realized it’s the same thing as walls/wells, and am wondering how many other religions have the same kind of questions that we’re supposed to ask ourselves and choices we need to make. If you recognized important concepts from your religion or faith structure, reply back and tell me what they are?

Now: if you’ve been reading these emails and thinking “Whoa, I’ve been doing a lot of bounded set thinking,” good. I think a lot of us have, and I have some thoughts about how the walls/wells structure intersects with our own boundaries. But that feels a little heavy for this week, especially for today (Valentine’s Day), which brings along a lot of expectations.

I am not putting any expectations or hard self-examination on anyone today.

Instead, I’m going to invite you to think about the center of the centered set for you.

I like to think of the center as the non-negotiables. The things we absolutely want to move toward–even if we’re not close to them yet–and that are going to be our life’s work. We are going to have all kinds of other decisions to make, all kinds of other great experiences and thoughts and feelings, but these are the ideas and value and concepts that are the essence of who we are and want to be.

Today is when you start verbalizing what you want in your center.

If you have kids, the assumption is that a good relationship with your kids is in your center, but defining what a “good relationship” with your kids is requires a different process. So for now just add “good relationship with my kids” to your center as a placeholder and we’ll work on defining that in a week or two.

So think about the other things you want in your center. I’ll tell you what I have in my center as an example to help get you thinking. My core values are freedom, transparency, honesty, and connection. I do work that uses structure and analysis to help people and groups understand and define themselves and move forward with self-knowledge.

Start thinking about the things that you always go toward. Things that, when violated, make you feel upset or itchy or trapped.

Think about the jobs you’ve had that you loved and those you didn’t like, and what the differences were between them. Think about situations that have made you feel like you were really yourself, and situations that have made you feel like you were trying to be someone you’re not.

Think about what the most intense version of yourself goes toward.

You might be able to write down the things that are in your center easily, within a few minutes. You might be stumped. Or you might have a clear idea of one or two bout feel there are more there that you’re not getting to yet.

That’s all good. Today’s assignment is to start thinking. Write it down when it comes to you. Revisit it in a couple of days and see if what you wrote down still feels like it fits.

Next week we’ll talk about defining a “good relationship” with your kids. (Hint: Your “good relationship” with your kids is different from my “good relationship” with my kids, and that’s excellent.)


AskMoxie February 28, 2014: Your delicious center

“The cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little Boy Blue and the Man in the Moon”

 —Cat’s in the Cradle, Harry Chapin

Hiya, Lovey,

Two weeks ago we talked about deciding what was in your center, based on the framework we set up in the first two emails in this series. If you missed the first couple of emails in this series, read them here, then come back and read this email.

At the end of the last email I sent, I said we’d be working next on defining a “good relationship” with your kids. (I ended up skipping sending this email last week, because my kids were on Winter Break and we went ice skating instead of doing any work last Friday. I still think that was part of a good relationship with my kids, despite discovering that I really hate ice skating. Anyway.)

For those of us who are parents, having a good relationship with our children is often the most important thing in our lives, but it can be hard to feel like we’re really working in that direction, because a “good relationship” is so undefined. Do you ever read books or blogs about super-happy families or perfect parents and look at how they relate to their kids and feel like you want that? Or, like you DON’T want that? (And then maybe feel guilty because either you’re not on your way to that relationship, or because you don’t want that relationship but think you should because it’s on a blog?)

That’s what we’re talking about today in this email–determining what a “good relationship with your kids” means to you. Here we go:

Admit and accept that people have different needs. It’s completely ok to be someone who likes going to parties and talking to people, and it’s completely ok to hate going to parties and talking to people. It’s ok to like Brussels sprouts and to not like Brussels sprouts. It ok to need a lot of emotional intensity, and it’s also ok not to need emotional intensity. If you think your friend’s marriage seems too close and micromanaging, as long as it works for her it’s ok for her to love it and for you to hate it. That’s why there are chocolate jimmies AND rainbow sprinkles in the world.

Accept that that means that a good relationship with your kids might not look anything like anything you’ve ever read about on a blog or seen on tv. Or it might. It might look a lot like your parents’ relationships with you, or it might look completely different, or it might have some elements the same but not others.

A good relationship with one of your children may look different from a good relationship with another of your children. It’s about the combination of the two of you that are actually in the relationship.

Now that you’ve established those two parameters, think about what you want your relationship to look like with your kids when they’re grown up. It’s tough to think about what a good relationship means when you have babies or very little children, because there are so many immediate decisions to be made and so many other distracting factors that obscure the actual qualities of the relationship. For example, you may consider fostering your children’s independence to be part of having a good relationship with them, but the sad fact is that a 2-year-old still needs help putting on shoes. So you can work incrementally toward that, but it’s hard to see the entire through line when your kids are little.

To work through that, think about your kids when they’re 25 or 30. What do you want your relationship to be with them then? What balance of intimacy and independence? How do you communicate? What do you share? If you’re coming up with vague things like “I want us to be close,” ask more questions to drill down to what “be close” actually means to you. Do you want to see them physically often, have them share details of their lives with you, ask you for help? Will you financially support them or have them live with you? Is it important to you that they go off and pursue goals and only later decide if they’ll return closer to home?

Thinking more specifically then helps you pull back and be general enough to fit into lives that will undoubtedly be different from the one you’re living today.

If it helps, this is what I hope my relationship is like with my kids when they’re adults:

We voluntarily spend time with each other (either in-person or using other means of communication), and they know that I am always happy to help them in any way they need it, and to listen to any life details they want to tell me, but that I respect their autonomy and am proud when they run their lives on their own. They feel safe with me and know that their ideas and feelings are safe with me, too. We have an easy connection that is strengthened by our individuality.

This comes from my own experiences as a person and with my own parents, and reflects my personal values and biases. Notice that safety of feelings is important for me, whereas it might not be something that even sticks out to you as something you’d think about. There are all kinds of other things I’d love to have happen (they send me pictures of their kids, if they have any, and come to my house for holidays, etc.) but I chose the things that are most important to me.

Note also that I have more expectations for what I can give to them and not many about what they should give to me. I have very specific feelings about that, too, so you may have more expectations of what your kids will do in your definition of the relationship you want.

You may also have different definitions for different children.

Think about some elements of a relationship: how you feel, how you communicate, and what you share, and how you share tasks. Considering each of these elements separately may help you come up with a relationship definition that works for you.

Once you’ve considered and written down what you’d like your relationship with your kids to be when they’re adults, think about whether that aligns with your other values and who you are as a person. (If you remember my examples of the values that are in my center, remember that I said honesty, transparency, connection, and freedom? That’s reflected in what I want my relationship with my kids to be.) If you tend to be a micromanager, the idea that your kids would be completely independent from you as adults seems a little funny. Conversely, if you value independent thought, it probably won’t work that your children consult you about major decisions as adults.  So check to see that your relationship definition statement makes sense with who you are. If you find a conflict, think about where the desire for that relationship comes from as a way of helping you figure out which end of the conflict is the true you.

Think about your ideal relationship definition. Write it down. Then come back and look at it in a few days and see if it still sounds like what you value.

Next week we’re going to talk about how working from a walls (bounded set) mentality intersects with too loose or too tight boundaries, and I bet we’ll all recognize some ideas we’ve had that have made us feel bad, and how to untangle ourselves from them.


AskMoxie March 10, 2014: The ugly intersection of the Good Girl expectation and bounded set thinking

“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you”

 —Stuck in The Middle, Stealer’s Wheel

Hiya, Lovey,

Eagle-eyed reader Renee let me know that I’ve been dating these emails 2013 for a full two months! Apologies, and I’ve switched to the correct year at the same time I switched to Daylight Saving Time.

Last week we talked about defining what a “good relationship” with your kids is and how to apply that to placing things deliberately in your center. If you missed the other emails in this series, read them here, then come back and read this email.

I want to take a little side trip from talking about defining relationships with your kids to talk about something that always comes up when you get a little deeper into the idea of the walls vs. wells or bounded set vs. centered set way of thinking. It involves boundaries, which we may or may not be used to thinking and talking about. I love boundaries, and think most everything in life goes back to establishing and maintaining boundaries, but it took me awhile (and a lot of hurt) to get to that point.

My friend Randi Buckley, who does amazing work with helping people define and maintain their own healthy boundaries says that boundaries are just a way of expressing your kindness, to yourself and to others. I hadn’t thought about them in those terms before, but Randi has a way of making the process of defining and setting your own boundaries seem like a gift instead of like being a heavy. (If you’re interested in working on boundaries, she runs a free group on Facebook called “Healthy Boundaries for Kind People” and you will probably get a lot out of it.)

A boundary involves determining what you’re willing to do or allow and with whom, and then enforcing that so you aren’t pushed or lured or manipulated into doing things you don’t want to do. Too-rigid boundaries don’t allow you to connect, because you’re so busy defending rules. Too-weak boundaries make you prey to other people’s agendas and leave you vulnerable to being hurt because others aren’t watching out for your best interests.

If you grew up with a Good Girl mentality, which many of us did, you were probably trained NOT to enforce your boundaries but instead to smile and do what other people wanted you to do. That’s what this whole “Ban Bossy” thing now is about–teaching little girls to defend their own boundaries instead of being shamed into not having boundaries and doing what others want us to. (I do think there’s some confusion and that behaviors that are called “bossy” aren’t necessarily leadership, so replacing one word with another doesn’t fix the situation and can cause new problems, but that’s a whole different topic.) And I know that it’s very hard to get past this idea that if people aren’t happy with you you need to change what you’re doing, instead of wondering if maybe their not being happy with you is something about them and their needs.

Here’s the kick in the head, though: If you have had a Good Girl mentality PLUS have been working from a bounded set mentality this means that you have had boundaries that were too weak toward other people while simultaneously being too rigid toward yourself. So you expect perfection from yourself (so you can qualify to be “in” the bounded set) but you don’t allow yourself to defend yourself against other people and their expectations of you. You are constantly trying to please your perceptions of what you should be, an external ideal, and other people who have expectations and demands.

This sucks the life out of you. And you can never, ever win.

If this is sounding at all familiar, either for what’s happening now or what happened to you in the past, then I hope it’s comforting to see HOW it happens and how all those parts move together to create a big trap that you end up in without even knowing how you got there.

The good news is that you can get out. It’s two simple steps. (They’re simple, but both require constant ongoing work.)

One step is to work on your boundaries and make conscious decisions about determining what they are, and then enforcing them. (The more you enforce your boundaries the easier it gets. Waaaay easier. Almost fun sometimes. This is why the women you know who people call “bitches” are often really happy–because they’re not actually “bitches,” they’ve just gotten really good at saying “no.”)

The other step is to work on defining your center and then reframing how you look at things to be going toward a center instead of seeing situations as bounded. Once you have that initial insight it gets to be easy to see when you’re thinking one way or the other. Then you just have to develop the muscle memory to act in a way that takes you toward a center.

You know when you go to the eye doctor and they do that part of the exam in which they show you a chart with one lens and then another? “This? Or this?” (I imagine that they have inflection practice in eye doctor school to get the upswing and then downswing in their voices correct.) That’s what making decisions with a centered set paradigm is like. Because they almost never give you one lens that’s perfect and another one that’s totally blocked. (That would be the bounded set mentality: Good or Bad.) Instead, you have to figure out which one is better. Sometimes both are good–just figure out which one is better. Sometimes both are kind of fuzzy–just figure out which one is better. That’s how you make decisions that get you toward the center.

And now the side trip is over, so next week we’ll be back to talking about using what we have in our centers to make decisions, including and for our kids.


AskMoxie March 21, 2014: How going toward the center works in parenting decisions

“You guys know we’ve got the talent. We’ve just gotta work our asses off and trust our instincts–ALL of our instincts.”

 —Torrance Shipman, Bring It On

Hiya, Lovey,

The last email hit a nerve with a lot of people, and I got a few dozen emails that basically said “holy smokes!” (or , alternately, “oh, crap”). If you need to catch up on the emails in this series you can read them here, then come back and read this email.

By now you’ve been working on what you want to consciously have in your center, and what you want your relationship with your kids to look like when they’re older. My guess is that those things are going to overlap, so that the important things in your relationships with your kids are also going to be related to the values and qualities you chose for yourself. That’s you. You’re not as refined yet as you will be, but you’re on your way.

Write that down. Write it inside a circle so you know that that’s your center, what you’re going toward.

And now you can use that to make decisions about parenting (and everything else, frankly).

Essentially, everything you question can be run past the standard of what’s in your center.

(There are decisions you’ll make without questioning because they’re so obvious to you. Go with that. If it’s isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Unless you feel like you always do the wrong thing, in which case you should take a page from George Costanza and do the exact opposite of your gut instinct.)

When you have a decision to make that you’re thinking about (instead of just acting on), run it past the things in your center and ask yourself the following question:

Is it getting me closer to something in my center?

If yes, do it. If it’s getting you further away from something in your center, don’t do it. If it’s not going to get you closer or further from anything in your center, then it’s a non-important (in the long run) decision and you should do a normal cost-benefit analysis.

This is how it works in action. Let’s say the decision is whether to work to get your baby off a bottle at 12 months.

With my center, this is totally neutral. There is nothing in any of my values (transparency, honesty, connection, freedom) that is affected or affects whether my kid is off a bottle at a certain time, and doing it at 12 months or 24 months or 36 months won’t affect my relationship with my child even in the short run. However, HOW I choose to get my child off the bottle and how I feel about doing it does affect my relationship and does have something to do with my values of connection and honesty. So I’d think about how I want to wean my child from the bottle and what conditions will make me feel it’s the right time, and make that the focus of my decision, instead of focusing on that specific timeline.

With someone else’s center, the decisionmaking process might be different. If someone had a value of independence and part of the relationship they wanted with their kids was for their kids to be independent, that might figure in to whether they worked on switching off the bottle at 12 months. If they thought weaning from the bottle would promote independence, then they’d do it. If they thought not weaning would promote the child coming into independence on their own timeline, then they’d not wean at 12 months. But the decision would make more sense because it was guided by a value that parent had. (Or the parent could decide that the timeline of weaning from the bottle had nothing to do with independence, and just flip a coin or choose what the preferred.)

You see what I did there, though. There are always different ways to interpret any decision you’re confronted with. And there are many paths to get to what’s in your center. You have to pick the path that makes the most sense to you, and that you can make forward progress on.

Here’s another decision: Cloth or disposible diapers. It would be a real stretch to think that this decision will affect your relationship with your kid in any way. And unless a commitment to reusing things is in your center, it probably isn’t influenced by any of your values. So you basically get to pick which one you WANT to do, without having to justify it.

(It’s ok to do things just because you want to. And to just do it, and not even have to come up with a justification for it.)

Here’s another decision: Picking a school for your child. This one can get layered, but if you run all the aspects past your center as a guidepost, you can find the right answer for you. Everything from proximity of the school and how that affects your routine, to cost (if any) of the school, style of teaching, anything else special about the school, other kids or parents at the school, and how good a fit the school as an establishment is for your family.

Some of these things might conform to or violate your core values, or affect the relationship you want to have with your child. Some of them might have nothing to do with anything in your center, but you might have a clear preference. You might not have a clear preference for some of them. Use the things in your center (plus your child’s and your partner’s, if you have one) to help you make a decision that feels like a “yes, and” and not a “yes, but.”

This is already long enough, so I’m stopping now. Next week we’ll talk more about the nether region of making decisions that are not a clear “Yes, this conforms to the things in my center!” or a “No, this violates the things in my center!”


AskMoxie April 17, 2014: Making decisions that are value-neutral

“It’s your thing
Do what you wanna do.
I can’t tell you
Who to sock it to.”

 —The Isley Brothers, It’s Your Thing

Hiya, Lovey,

This is going to be the penultimate email in this series about defining your own values and using those to guide your parenting. If you need to catch up on the emails in this series you can read them here, then come back and read this email.

Last time we talked about using the values and relationship goals you had in your center as a measuring stick to pass all your decisions past. We focused on asking the question “Does this get me closer to my center or farther away from my center?” and using that to tell us what decision to make.

Sometimes it’s easy to make the decision because there’s a very direct, clear-cut answer. Other times you have to follow the logic path of what each decision would lead to to see if there’s a connection to anything in your center. (This often happens when the different sides of a decision involve financial differences, so spending that money or not spending that money creates repercussions not necessarily directly related to the original decision per se, but those repercussions are connected to something in your center.)

But sometimes you have decisions to make that really have nothing to do with anything in your center, even tangentially. Which means there’s no measuring stick to help you decide what to do. You’re flying blind. There are plenty of decisionmaking models you could use, though, so let me suggest a few, and maybe one or two of them will resonate with you:

1. Go with your gut. One truism of test-taking is that your first instinct is usually correct. If you feel confident, you can use this to make decisions in your life. Bonus points for tracking how often your first instinct is the correct instinct and adjusting based on that.

2. Make a list or drawing. If you don’t have an objective measure (your center) to use to guide your decisions, you can create a comparative measure by making a list of pros and cons of each possible choice in the decision. The question then, of course, becomes what you privilege to make the actual choice? Simple number of pros vs. cons? Are some weighted more heavily than others? A pro/con list sometimes produces a clear choice, but often it’s just a step to bring some clarity to the process. Or you could make a drawing of all the different factors involved in the drawing, or a flow chart of possible outcomes of the decision. These are all ways of putting down the things you know, so you can see what you don’t know and need to account for before you can decide.

3. Flip a coin. If there’s no clear best option, flip a coin. Especially if the decision scenario lets you chance course, there’s really no penalty for just guessing.

4. Give the decision to someone else. If you really don’t know what to do, ask someone else to make the decision. This only works if you really don’t have a preference, and won’t blame the other person if things don’t work out the way you wanted them to. This is an especially good method if you can use it to give the decision to a child, so the child gets practice making decisions. But you have to be ok with whatever choice the child makes.

5. Do what you want to do. We spend so much of our lives trying to figure out what the best decision for everyone is, or what we should do. Sometimes it’s ok to just pick what you want to do, without any other reason.

6. Put off the decision. Do you have to decide now? If not, just decide when you’ll decide. Put that date in your calendar to remind you, and then move on.

7. Do what someone you admire did. If there’s someone you admire, who has a lot of the values you have, you could do what they did in a similar situation. (Conversely, if someone you admire made a decision that didn’t work out for them, learn from their experience and do something else.)

8. Crowdsource it. You can always ask for help either walking through or actually making the decision. When you ask for help you’ll either decide to go with what the others tell you, realize that their reasoning isn’t yours and make a different decision, or discover that you actually had a preference and go with that.

There are lots of other ways to make decisions, but these are a good set to consider and to use to help you clarify how you like making decisions. If you don’t feel good about the process of making decisions, it’s harder to feel good about your actual decision, so it’s worth it to figure out how you prefer to make decisions. (I like to make a list or drawing of all the issues at play, and then once I have them all laid out, go with my gut. This would be a really uncomfortable process for some people, which would make them feel unsure of the decision.)

Do you have any insights about how you like to make decisions? (And any resulting insights into how other people in your life like to make decisions, and how those interact?)

Next time, in the last email in this series, we’ll talk about anything you discovered about your center and structuring your life to go with that instead of against it.



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