How Clarifying Your Top Values Leads to Better Decision Making

by Coach Gabriella Dennery MD and Coach Jill Farmer | Physician Coaching, Podcast

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“We walk with our values everyday, but oftentimes we don’t realize what they are. So name them, put them on a sheet of paper, stick them in a journal, put them where you can see them, remind yourself. And when you’re making that tough decision, when you have to let’s say move across the country, when kids are starting back in school finally and all the sudden there’s a new opportunity that comes, what do you do? What do you decide? Your values will be a major aspect of that decision.” – Coach Gabriella Dennery MD 

In today’s episode, Coaches Gabriella and Jill walk us through how to make decisions based on our values and they explain how important that is in helping us thrive. Have you gone through the exercise of identifying and naming your personal values? Can you narrow them down to the three to five that are the most important to you? That is one of the tips the Coaches recommend to do first. Getting clear on your personal values will help you walk with them daily and make your decisions based on those values instead of outside influences such as people pleasing. Who hasn’t been there? Please join us to learn more about clarifying your values and making decisions based on those. 

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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran

Please enjoy the full transcript below

Jill: We walk with sub values every day, but oftentimes, we don’t realize what they are. So, name them, put them on a sheet of paper, stick them in a journal, put them where you can see them, remind yourself. When you’re making that tough decision when you have to, let’s say move across country, kids are starting back in school, finally, and all of a sudden, there’s a new opportunity that comes, what do you do? What do you decide? Your values will be a major aspect of that decision.


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Jill: Hello, and welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Jill Farmer, one of your cohosts, being joined today by Dr. Gabriella Dennery, MD, another cohost and lead coach at DocWorking. Today, we’re going to be talking about making decisions from your values and why that matters. Gabriella, when we say making decisions from our values, what are we really talking about?


Gabriella: We’re talking about those three to five things we walk with every day. Integrity, honesty, clarity, what the examples of values, service is another example, getting promoted, career aspirations, that’s another value or what’s important to you. Really, basically identify what is important to you as a human being, in your relationships, in your interactions, at work at home. And a lot of times all this is interconnected. So, it’s not that you’re carrying a set of values at work, and then another set of values at home. For the most part, it’s the same or very similar list, to be able to identify them when a person is at their crossroad moment and having to make some potentially life altering decisions. What’s the foundation for that decision? And that’s really what values are, they help in making those decisions. I’m not saying easier, but clearer. And that’s what is probably the most important thing. What do you think, Jill?


Jill: I love that. A lot of what I base understanding values on is the work of Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania who spent about the last 30 years studying the science of success, which is for mentally healthy people, how to help them thrive. And he and his work, sometimes commingles the terms values with character strengths, and I like that, thinking about them in those two ways. Some people are like, “Okay, well, I think values are important, but how am I supposed to figure out what I value?” Gabriella teaches in the DocWorking stat course that we have as part of our DocWorking THRIVE subscription, a really good technique for that, which is simply to take a list of values, and you can just Google it and find values. Scan that list and notice the ones, at first when you scan it, put a star by the 10 that you’re like, “Yeah, that matters to me, that’s important to me.” And then you might go through one more time and circle the three to five that really stand out to you. And those are going to tell you what values really mattered to you in a way that can help you steer your ship, if you will, a little more effectively. 


When someone says, “Well, why do I have to pick three to five values?” What would you say to them about that, Gabriella? To me, those are the ones that are important enough that they’re going to have a bigger lever, because they are character strengths, that are going to mean something to you, and that you probably have some more mastery, or you’re more adept at using. What do you think about that?


Gabriella: I agree 100%, that those are the fundamental why such a shortlist, because the other reason is, as you go through a list of 75, let’s say and you pick 10, and out of 10, you pick three or five, it’s going to be harder to get to that three to five number as you go through, but then you get the idea, or you spend the time thinking about what is really important to me. And that’s super important. You give yourself permission time to really sit with that. What is at my most fundamental?


The other thing a person realizes, and I’ve done this with several clients that once you go through the list and you get down to the smaller numbers, one value really reflects several. So, I guess you have one value, and there’s several sub values that can be incorporated under that umbrella. So, you’re not missing out on anything. You’re not saying, “Well, wait a minute, I shouldn’t be able to add this to my list, but I can’t because now I’m at five, and I have to restrict myself.” It’s like they combine in different ways, and they will reflect in different ways. But as you say, Jill, I’m in complete agreement that you want to have that three to five fundamental that you know that in the midst of a quick decision that you have to make right then and there, why is this decision important? If let’s say there’s a disagreement between an attending physician and the nurse about a patient’s care and you happen to be that nurse or that other health care provider who says, “No, I disagree.” Why? This is based on your values. It’s based on what’s important to you, what’s best for the patient, and how that gets reflected on those fundamental values. Integrity, safety, care, whatever that list may be for that individual person. 


We walk with sub values every day, but oftentimes, we don’t realize what they are. So, name them, put them on a sheet of paper, stick them in a journal, put them where you can see them, remind yourself. And when you’re making that tough decision when you have to, let’s move across country when the kids are starting back in school, finally, and all of a sudden, there’s a new opportunity that comes, what do you do? What do you decide? Your values will be a major aspect of that decision. How you approach that conversation with your family? How do you decide if it’s a yes or no for what reasons and to be clear on that reasons? And I like what Brené Brown, I’m reading there to leave at this point, and so she says very clearly, “Clarity is kindness,” and so making decisions based on values, based on what’s more important allows for clarity, and allows for kindness.


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Jill: You’ve really helped me to reconnect to this and to learn a lot more about this. And I know about myself, that there’s a default coping mechanism of often being a people pleaser, and making decisions based on what somebody else is going to like or not wanting them to be mad or not wanting them to be hurt or sad, or having really any emotion about anything I do that’s not positive. And so a lot of my decisions were filtered through other people’s values or needs or desires. And that was really a coping mechanism, and it also was out of integrity with me and myself. For me to be reminded of coming back to what are those top values and character strengths, things like, teamwork, curiosity, love, those are big ones for me, those are big values for me. When I get in a tricky situation, if I think, okay, how can I express curiosity and ask questions before I get angry or defensive or fawning just to make the other person happy, it really helps me, as you said, get clear. And it just takes me through situations with more integrity.


Sometimes it’s hard to stand for the things that matter to me in situations where those are conflicting with what somebody else wants. But it always makes things cleaner and clear on the other side, and I have kept myself out of a lot more messes when I used to just always make the decisions based on what other people thought. What do you have to say about why using values to make decisions is more effective than just always making decisions based on what everybody else wants?


Gabriella: Wow, I appreciate what you just said there, because it’s huge. Do I make a decision based on making other people happy? Or do I make a decision based on what makes me happy? When other people are involved. None of us live in a silo. None of us live in complete isolation. We are connected to other people, family, friends, people will know, people who grow to love, and all of sudden decisions are coming down the pike. This is not an easy thing to do. At the same time, I think my favorite question that I need to ask myself, if I go with the people pleaser decision, which I will often do that too, I’m a work in progress, can I look at myself in the mirror in the morning? The next day, if I go with the decision that is based on my values, passion, integrity, creativity, those would be my top three, and connection. So let me put up four. If I go down that road, even if it means disappointing, somebody else, can I look at myself in the mirror in the morning? And if the answer is yes, then now it’s values combined with courage to make the decision and to bring it forth. That second step, courage is another step. Especially as a recovering people pleaser, that’s not always the easiest step to take. However, starting with step one, being able to just be aware and be honest, even with myself about what’s going on. I agree with you 100%. It’s that kind of day, isn’t it, Jill?  [laughs] 


Jill: Yeah, we’ve been talking a lot about this idea. I think you also bring up something else, if I’m making decision, I want to really hold true to those three to five values that matter the most. Sometimes I have to put another value or character strength that maybe isn’t one of my top strengths into action. So, courage may not be my number one or one of my top three-character strengths or values, but if I want to hold true to being loving, and standing up for justice, and equity and the things that I really value, sometimes I got a strength and that courage muscle, which gives me some character strength somewhere else too. So, putting those values into action, as Martin Seligman calls it, via, it’s the pathway, often toward bigger integrity, and really, practically speaking, just a better life. We’re thriving, not just putting out fires and coping from one thing to the next. What are your final thoughts on this topic of using values in order to make challenging decisions?


Gabriella: The final thought is, when a person is unclear, when I’m unclear, or I’m not sure I’m waffling or I’m going in that, “Oh, I don’t want to disappoint someone.” What happens is that that person, I’m not giving them their due, I’m assuming that decision for them, or assuming that responsibility for them. And I’m not giving them their proper respect. They’re an adult, they can handle it, they can stand up. It’s another form of, let’s get creative here, what’s Plan B, etc. They get to stand in their own agency, their own power, their own beingness, rather than me trying to soften the blow, or just soften the decision, which makes everything unclear and frustrating for everybody. It’s like, “Okay, let’s deal with this decision. Let’s make it clear.” And then what happens is that people rise up to the occasion, as well as the decision maker or everybody rises up to the occasion. So, however difficult the moment might be, what happens after that, I think becomes an incredible source of creativity, and respect and love and growth. And so, we have to look at the aftermath of the decision, not in terms of logical pros and cons that I do the right thing, that I adopt and do right thing, but really where it puts everybody else, even if it’s going through a rough patch, to get to that point and say, “You know what, this worked out,” because it usually does. I hope it makes sense.


Jill: It does. It works out better when we align with our values and stay in integrity, with our values, open minded and listen to where other people are expressing their values, and the results are just better. You said it beautifully. On behalf of Gabriella Dennery, MD, I’m Jill Farmer. Thank you for joining us for this Coach’s Corner episode of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.


[DocWorking Theme]


Amanda: Hi, this is Amanda Taran. I’m the producer of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Please don’t forget to like and subscribe, and thank you for listening.



Life Coach Gabriella Dennery, MD OMD is passionate about helping busy physicians rediscover the joy of their calling. She draws on her training as a physician, a musician, and an ordained non-denominational minister in addition to health & wellness and life coaching to offer professionals from all walks of life the benefit of her broad experience and deep insights.

You can find Gabriella as one of the co-creators of STAT: Quick Wins To Get Your Life Back.

The daughter of a psychiatrist mother and a neurosurgeon father, both from Haiti, Gabriella and her five siblings were expected to choose from five noble callings: Medicine, Dentistry, Engineering, Law, or Agronomy (caring for the delicate soil of Haiti).

Gabriella, an innately gifted healer and teacher, chose Medicine and graduated with honors from Howard University College of Medicine, “The Mecca.” Following her residency in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center, Gabriella moved to New York City to serve as an attending physician and clinical instructor in Harlem and later as medical director and attending physician at SUNY Downstate Bedford-Stuyvesant satellite clinic in Brooklyn.

Her greatest joy as a primary care physician was supporting her patients, shepherding them to Aha moments, and nurturing positive shifts in perspective that measurably improved their health and wellbeing–a strength that makes Gabriella so effective as a coach.

After more than ten years of practicing internal medicine, Gabriella chose to explore the integration of medicine, music, and ministry to promote better health of her fellow physicians by becoming a physician coach. She successfully coaches physicians to prevent and/or navigate through physician burnout, reach career and personal goals, clarify and take actionable steps to achieve their own personal vision, and is well known for helping doctors at all stages of their careers, from students to residents/fellows to practicing physicians. She maintains her work-life balance by playing percussion and violin, composing music, and enjoying a very fun and fulfilling marriage.

Jill Farmer is an experienced physician coach who has been helping doctors live their best lives, increase their success, and move through burnout for well over a decade.

She has delivered keynotes, programs, and training everywhere from Harvard Medical School to the American College of Cardiology.

She has personally coached hundreds of physicians, surgeons, and other busy professionals to help them be at their best—without burning themselves out. Her coaching has supported professionals at places like Mass General Brigham in Boston, Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University in Chicago and too many others to list.

Jill wrote the book on time management for busy people. Literally. It’s called “There’s Not Enough Time…and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” which debuted as a bestseller on Amazon. Her work has been featured everywhere from Inc. to Fitness Magazine to The Washington Post.

Nationally recognized as a “brilliant time optimizer and life maximizer,” Jill will cut straight to the heart of your stress to liberate you from its shackles. She has two young adult daughters. She lives with her husband and their poorly behaved dachshund in St. Louis, MO.

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