What is a preference?
What is a priority?
Common definitions would indicate that a preference is something we like more than something else, and a priority is something we think is more important than something else.
Already, it is easy to see that a preference and a priority are not always the same.
Sometimes they are the same. It is great when this happens. For instance, my preference is to keep my body healthy. After 15 years battling an eating disorder, this is also my continual priority.
But other times, they are not the same. An example – my preference is to sleep in late every day. But my priority is to earn rent money, which sometimes means getting up early.
It can be problematic if we don’t learn to tell the difference between a preference and a priority.
Especially in matters of recovery, in relationships, in our career or our studies, if preferences and priorities clash, we have to know which comes first – and why each sometimes wins the top dog position.
We have to be very aware of our own preferences, and our own priorities, know why they are important to us, and know which trumps what.
Let’s take an example that often comes up in my mentoring work with individuals who are recovering from eating disorders.
With people who are still battling an eating disorder, often a stated preference is to maintain a body that is thinner than what would be healthy for them. But there are often other preferences as well – to get better, to be there for their children or spouses, to finish school, to do well in their job, to help others.
The trick here is to identify which one of these items is also a priority. Sometimes preferences and priorities can peacefully co-exist, and other times they cannot even be in the same solar system together.
So if, for instance, their preference is to maintain an unhealthily thin body, but their priority is to be there for their children, and history to date has indicated that these two do not play well together, then a clear case for priorities to trump preferences has arisen.
In the same way, if your preference is to be fairly treated with courtesy and respect, but your priority to date has been to continue to work in a company where you are poorly treated by your boss, then here, preferences trump priorities.
Sometimes, just understanding that “if I want A, I cannot also have B” is enough to chart a clear course towards a goal you may have previously regarded as impossible.
Today’s Takeaway: How clear are you on your preferences, your priorities, and where the two are compatible or incompatible? What can you learn from paying more attention to your preferences and priorities?
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Last reviewed: 27 Dec 2011