Towards values-based decision making

Towards values-based decision making

Towards values-based decision making

How do you make decisions?

Do you use logic and rational thinking? Or do you place more emphasis on feelings – yours and those of others? Where do your instincts, your values and your intuition fit in?

Making decisions, particularly ones we feel have deep or far-reaching consequences, can be challenging, complex and fraught with unanswered questions and angst.

It’s something people often wish to explore in coaching: Is this the right organisation for me? What’s my next career step? How can I resolve this complex situation? How can I be happier and more fulfilled? There’s a fear often of ‘getting it wrong,’ so the status quo remains along with decision paralysis and overwhelm. It all feels too onerous, too much. Values-based decision-making can help.

Understanding patterns

Taking a step back to discover how we make decisions and to understand more about our own processes can equip us with the tools we need to help us now and each time we reach a decision point in the future.

Personal values

An exploration of personal values can really improve awareness of what is going on below the surface, beyond what is rational and logical.

Knowing more about our values can tell us something about the incongruence we might feel when making decisions – when on one level, we know something is right, but on another, there’s a niggle or a discomfort we can’t quite put our finger on.

How we make decision

The Barrett Values Centre holds that there are 6 modes of decision-making.

Level 1 – Instinct based decision-making

Decisions are made at a physical, instinctive level as a survival instinct, where action precedes thought. This is the basis of our fight, flight or freeze response and exists within us at the level of our DNA; it is our species history as humans.

As Richard Barrett explains, when we take instinct-based decisions, “we are not consciously in control of our words, actions, and behaviours. They are in control of us”

Level 2 – subconscious belief based decision-making.

Here, action precedes thought as at Level1, but rather than based on a species history, they’re based on personal history

Decision are made based on emotions we have experienced before which are triggered again by a current situation. For example, in the past, we may have felt frustration or anger, happiness or joy in a situation and those emotions are informing what we unconsciously decide to do now.

“The only way we can get back into conscious control of your actions is either to release or bottle-up your emotions. Releasing helps us to return to rationality. Bottling-up builds up the pressure.”

Because action precedes thought, there is no time to involve others in this type of decision-making; it’s very personal.

Level 3 – conscious belief based decision-making

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” —Viktor Frankl

When we pause and reflect between an event and our response to it, we build in time for reflection and the potential to discuss the situation with others. We can use logic to make decisions which best meet our needs, beyond our instincts and unconscious emotions.

In this level of decision-making, thinking precedes action. This thinking is based on what we know from our personal history and the beliefs we have developed as a result. This is important and quite different to level 4, values-based decision-making.

Level 4 – values-based decision-making

“Values-based decision-making allows us to create a future that resonates deeply with who we really are. It creates conditions that allow authenticity and integrity to flourish” – Richard Barrett

When we bring awareness to the beliefs we have generated from our past experience (e.g. in our teenage years, we may have come to believe ‘I’m not a creative person’) we can choose to challenge them and let go of the ones which no longer serve us.

This in turn enables us to make decisions based not on what we believe and retain from the past, but on the future we want to create and our personal values (e.g. creativity is important to me and I will make decisions informed by my need for creativity).

Our decisions become based on the values we believe will best meet our needs e.g. if we value authenticity we will make values-based decisions which allow us to experience authenticity in our lives.

If you would like to explore your values in more depth, download my Exploring Values work sheet here.

Level 5 – intuition-based decision-making

“In intuition-based decision-making there is no conscious or subconscious attempt at making meaning; and there is no focus on the past or the future. You accept what is, without judgment”

This level comes with self-actualisation.

As Richard Barrett explain, “the intuitive decision arises out of your presence in the current moment….When we are totally present to a situation without judgment, we create the conditions that allow our minds to tap into the collective mind-space, and our intuition informs us of what wants or needs to emerge”.

Level 6 decision-making – inspiration based decision-making.

This could also be called a ‘eureka’ moment which pushes us towards something and stays with us until we act on it. It is directive and moves us forward (as different to intuition-based decision-making which is about a state of flow).

In summary

Understanding how levels of decision-making have evolved to protect us as humans not only physically but emotionally and holistically, can help us discover which mode of decision-making is at play in a given situation and whether this is working for us.

As we grow in maturity and can navigate greater complexity, our capacity for different levels of decision-making grows. Working with our values and cultivating presence and non-judgement are part of the journey towards making decisions which serve not only ourselves but our communities and the wider collective.

A personal activity to consider

Take a few moments to tun-in to your senses. You may wish to do a body scan, take three big breaths in and breath out fully, or take a mindfulness practice. You may wish to do this exercise outdoors, breathing in fresh air and being attuned to all of your senses and an awareness of outdoor spaciousness.

When you are relaxed and present, think of a time when you’ve made a decision you know to have been good.

  • What happened? How quickly or slowly did you make the decision?
  • What did you know in your head, in your body, in your heart and your gut?
  • What beliefs and assumptions were present and how did you know?
  • What emotions did you notice?
  • What values were at play?
  • Who else was involved?
  • How present and clear was your intuition?
  • To what extent were you driven by inspiration?
  • And is there anything else…?

And what about a decision which you would have made differently with hindsight?

  • What was different?
  • What were you head, heart and gut telling you?
  • What beliefs and assumptions were present and how did you know?
  • What emotions did you notice?
  • What values were at play?
  • Who else was involved?
  • How present and clear was your intuition?
  • To what extent were you driven by inspiration?
  • And is there anything else…?


  • What do you know now about how you make decisions?
  • What will you choose to take forward into future situations?



Barrett Values Centre: Modes of Decision-making: