In this time of uncertainty, the frameworks that many of us use to make decisions may not be working or available. We often make decisions in relation to the schedules and expectations of work, school, extracurricular activities, and so on. Currently, the expectations and plans of many schools, workplaces, and other staples of everyday life are unclear. This has made planning for the future hard to navigate; however, times of uncertainty can offer clarity.
We may not be able to depend on the usual external frameworks, but we are able to rely more on our own value systems to create structure for our families. Our values help shape our decision-making in many direct and indirect ways. A family committed to health may use that to guide their grocery store purchases, or a student who values the environment may end up volunteering for community clean-up events. Scheduling our lives, school, and other activities may not return to normal any time soon, but rather than waiting for that time, we can use our values to create a new kind of normal.
Engage proactively with your new normal by deciding as a family what your non-negotiables are and use them as your planning framework.
What is a non-negotiable?
A non-negotiable is a family or individual value that you use to guide many of life’s complicated decisions! While values are often broad terms, such as security, education, loyalty, and connections, a non-negotiable may be a concrete activity that exemplifies a value. For example, if a broad value is “Family,” then a non-negotiable might be one-hour of distraction-free family time.
Why should you make decisions based on your non-negotiables?
Non-negotiables are a values-based approach to structuring our lives. For many of us, we hold core values dearly but rarely think to translate them into our everyday routines. Maybe “Nature” is a value, but where does that fit into one’s busy life? The disruption to many people’s plans this year gives us space to reflect and create a schedule grounded by our ideals. For the nature-lover who was always too busy, now might be the time to implement a 30-minute walk outside as a non-negotiable.
How do you decide what is non-negotiable?
- The first step is to identify some personal truths. Some people know what their core values are instantly, and some of us maybe have not dedicated time to naming them. There are many ways people identify their values. There are online value inventories or values lists and exercises. You can also think about your own life: Who are the people you admire and what it is about them that you admire? When were you presented with a difficult choice and why did you end up with the decision that you made? What is one thing you would love to be doing but haven’t been able to fit into your schedule?
- Next, it is time to share your values with the members in your family. Plan a family meeting where you can come together and name around five of your values. How many were shared between multiple family members? Were there any unique or surprising values named from other members? Decide which non-negotiables will be shared by the family and which will be individual. Some members may share similar values, such as Creativity, which would lend itself to being a family-shared non-negotiable. Divergent values are perfectly okay.
- Create a list of activities that fall under your values. These will become your non-negotiables. School, work, and extracurriculars usually do a lot of this legwork for us by providing different opportunities to translate values into actions or goals. Without that, we may need to dig deep and think of practical ways we can bring these values into our lives now. Going with the example above, if multiple members in a family value Creativity, then you can brainstorm activities that line-up with this value, like imaginative play time, learning about famous artworks, or even cake decorating. If the value is individual, you can write down ways you like to express this value in your life or things you wish you were doing more of that fall under this value. These items become non-negotiable because they should be the activities that guide your life and give it meaning. For example, choosing Financial Security as a core value may mean that you have a goal like saving $100 every month. This goal will be non-negotiable barring significance circumstances and may affect other decisions like foregoing buying new clothes for a few months. This list evolves through time, so there is no need to create an exhaustive list of non-negotiables on the first go. If you have about five values identified, you can start with one non-negotiable activity or goal for each of those.
- Write down your non-negotiables and visibly post it. If you were not already writing down the list of your top five values and relate non-negotiables, then do so now. You may want to draw out a creative list of your non-negotiables or simply keep a Word.doc file of them. Next, schedule these into a shared calendar. Plan your family’s month with these activities as the core of your routine. It can take time to get into a new routine, so check back in with yourself and your family in six to eight weeks to see how these non-negotiables are working themselves into your new life rhythm.
How can your non-negotiables help you make decisions moving forward?
Having a few non-negotiable items locked into our lives provides structure and maybe even a little comfort knowing we are not straying too far from what matters most. For example, if one non-negotiable is ongoing education, we may take solace in the fact that our children are still learning while the traditional school settings are closed, even if it is through a documentary or online article. For some of us, these non-negotiables may be enduring, such as making time to call extended family once a month.
Moving forward, we may need to spend some time re-connecting the dots when new opportunities arise. Our non-negotiables may change over time, and that is okay. However, making room in our schedule for the things we value may help us feel more confident about the decisions we have made and how we used our time. While we cannot always predict what obstacles life will throw our way, we may always use a values-based approach to structure our lives in times of uncertainty.
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