There is a quote by Peter Senge that says, “How do you know what people value? Well, you watch what they buy.”
The truth is that what we value we spend money on. Whether it is to upgrade our TV package or when to buy a new computer, we are looking at the value we would receive from spending the money.
But I think there is more to the quote than a surface level look at it. The reality is that we spend our money many times out of habit rather than value. When we buy a cup of coffee in the morning we usually don’t sit there and weigh the value we receive versus the money we spend, at least not in a logical, thought-out way. We buy based on quick thoughts, rationalization, branding, emotions. willpower, habits, etc. all combined together. These elements all interconnect to create the system that is in place to buy something.
Also we can expand this beyond our money. We can adapt this for time, emotions, energy, thoughts etc. How much of these things we spend relates to the value we receive, but also relates to those other factors such as willpower, habits, etc.
But most of us don’t really stop to think about how all of these factors interconnect. We don’t dive into what “value” means. Does value from a car come from the recognition from peers that the car is high-end? Does it come from safety? Does it come from reliability?
Since there are complex systems involved in this, let’s take a different approach to evaluating this situation. There could certainly be a full book just evaluating the various systems elements that interact.
Let’s instead look at goals and improvement. When we set a goal and want to improve, we have to have enough understanding of the various systems elements to find the right places to make changes.
I see this all the time with individuals that want to start a business. They want the security of their current job but the freedom associated with owning a business. Or they want to indulge in foods they enjoy eating but want to lose weight and get healthy.
In these situations we can see that it isn’t just about “value”. There isn’t a rational approach. We don’t measure the calories we are “spending” and compare that to our health.
So if you spend your time at your job instead of starting a business does that mean that you value security and don’t value freedom? Or is it that this represents a complex system with many factors contributing to your decision to stay employed or not?
One way to get value from Senge’s quote is to start to evaluate your life and compare what you do (spend money on, spend time on, spend calories on etc) with what you want. Are those in alignment?
In most cases we will find that they are not in alignment. We say we want certain things but are not willing to change the systems and habits associated with those things.
We want to earn more money at work but don’t want to do any additional work or have any additional responsibility. We want to be healthy without giving up the cheeseburgers and beer. We want freedom but don’t want to give up our safe job.
While many new age authors would use this as a jumping off point to say that you should be doing the opposite of what you are doing. They would say quit your job, never eat another cheeseburger or sacrifice everything so you can get ahead. I hate this way of thinking. Life is paradoxical and this way of thinking is too black and white, too linear.
Instead of jumping to the opposite, look at the system and start to make systematic changes. What small system changes can we make that become leverage points down the line if we keep doing them? How we can take small steps towards the goals we have and improve over time? Hastily jumping to the other side will just trade the pros and cons of the current situation for pros and cons of the other situation.
Instead focus on using systems and habits to improve. Find ways to gain control of your habitual responses and structure your routines to give you the most value. By doing this you can effectively begin to move in the right direction and the more you improve the systems and habits the quicker you will be moving towards the achievement of your goals.