We all have values. You know, those standards we try to live according to. They are the areas we give importance to. There are tons of them: independence, health, creativity, self-acceptance, God's will, growth, knowledge, strength, stability, adventure, kindness, world peace, reliability and so on.   Have you thought about what your values are? Here are a few things to consider. 

Where to Start? 

It can be hard to think off the top of your head what it is that you value. Luckily, thanks to the internet, there are lists and lists of values already laid out. The Personal Value Care Sort exercise (W.R. Miller, J. C’de Baca, D.B. Matthews, P.L. Wilbourne, University of New Mexico, 2001) is great for helping sort through your values by putting them in one of the following three categories: very important to me, important to me or not important to me. What l like about this exercise is that it demonstrates how not all values are ranked the same in terms of importance. This knowledge can help in times when values compete.  More on that in a bit. I always find it interesting that everyone's columns are filled differently. After completing the exercise, was there anything that surprised you? Were there some values of importance to you that you have been neglecting? Was there a time in your life when you were more aligned? If yes, what was different? 

Our emotions are important sources of information. They are trying to communicate something to us. Next time, when you’re feeling guilty, unsettled or angry, stop and think if there is a value that’s been breached. This can help to identify what it is that’s of importance to you. Do you feel unsettled when running late? It could mean you value punctuality or reliability. Angry when someone keeps doing things for you that you think is reasonable to do for yourself? Maybe you value independence. 

Sometimes They Compete and/or Contradict.

Humans hold many different values, and sometimes, two values that are both important, compete. For example, one may value health (sleep) as well as reliability. For many, sleep is often sacrificed in order to get an assignment or presentation done on time. Some may find ways to honour both (working ahead, delegating, etc). While others may take the hit grade wise in order to stay rested.

It is also possible to hold contradictory values, which can lead to cognitive dissonance (mental discomfort by holding two contradictory values). This is where DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) does a great job in advocating that two opposing things can be equally true.  Just because your values are contradictory does not mean they (or you) are wrong. It is completely possible to value being social while also valuing solitude. When cognitive dissonance is present, try practicing radical acceptance, reminding yourself that "you are doing the best you can” and "it is what it is". 

What’s Getting in the Way of Living According to Your Values?

Sometimes acting according to one’s values is hard! There are many influences and factors that play into why one does or doesn’t do this. Having a sense of awareness to the barriers present is an important step as it then allows you the opportunity to come up with a different approach or plan. 

It can be helpful to think about how someone who is living according to value “X” would act, behave, think, carry themselves, engage, etc. Then, attempt to do the same. “Act as if” or “mimic” these behaviours until it becomes more natural or normal. If you value self-acceptance, people are likely showing themselves compassion and kindness (in words and actions). Start doing the same. It can also be helpful to have your values written down or typed out for you to see throughout the day. 

Sometimes They Aren't the Same as Other’s.

Relationships can be difficult when the players within it hold different values. Of course, us humans, like snowflakes, are made up of differing values and beliefs. This doesn't mean we can't be in relationship with someone who doesn't value what we value, however, it does mean we will need to learn how to navigate these differences. Usually, we can learn a lot from these differences. Other times, the differences are too great and can be deal breakers within the relationship (such as if one person values monogamy whereas another person is wanting an open relationship). Having a third party, such as a therapist, can be helpful when trying to navigate these differences. 

They Can Act as Anchors Admits Change/Uncertainty.

Life can feel pretty uncertain at times. There are many seasons of change that occur, some that leave us feeling untethered. The neat thing about values is that they go with you wherever you go. Yes, values can change over the course of time or experiences, however they are pretty constant pieces of ourselves. You typically don’t wake up one morning, all of a sudden, hating the value of fairness or creativity. Learn to trust this part of you and do your best to act according to them, especially in times of uncertainty. 

We Feel Better When We Live According to Them.

Think about the times you acted in a way that was consistent with your values. Now recall a time when you didn’t. How did you feel? Likely, there’s a difference. If honesty is of high importance to you, it makes sense that you would feel unsettled after we told a lie. Keep this in mind, especially when it's tough to do so. Play the tape/situation forward and imagine how you'd react/feel by following or not following your values.   


Progress? That' Not What the Scale Says!

First of all, if you're stepping on a scale... get off it (click here to read why scales aren't a helpful or healthy).   Just like the number on the scale isn't an accurate measurement of health, so is it with progress. Pretty counter-cultural right? We've been so brain washed to think that the only thing that matters is how much weight you've gained or lost. Forget the healthy lifestyle... forget the long term change or its sustainability.  There is a tendency to solely focus on the number, instead of all the other benefits of working towards a healthier relationship with food, weight, exercise, etc.  Whatever the number on the scale, or if you've stopped weighing yourself already, you can still see the benefits of building a healthier lifestyle as the following examples show*: 

Emotions - When you get back to eating 3 balanced meals and a few snacks per day, you will likely notice a difference with your emotions/mood.  Ever notice when you don't eat enough how you become more agitated than normal? Or, when you've eaten too much, feelings of guilt or shame emerge? A sign of progress is when emotions and food/weight are not so closely linked.  In the beginning stages, as you learn to trust normalized eating, set-point, and a healthy exercise routine, you may experience uncomfortable or distressing emotions. By using skills learned in therapy and following a healthy meal plan and exercise routine, you can learn to tolerate and cope with such difficult emotions, if not experience an elevation in mood.

Energy Level & Stamina - Just as mood improves, as does your energy level.  By giving your body the proper type and amount of fuel during the day, you will have more energy throughout it. You won't be in a food coma, nor be completely exhausted. You may even notice that you can exercise for longer periods of time, and/or know when to finish so you don't overdue it out of compulsively or 'need'. 

Sleep - Sleep can also be interferred with when one does not get the right type and/or amount of food/exercise. You won't wake up to feelings of hunger or indigestion from eating too little or too much of something. You will also get a better quality of sleep when you move your body throughout the day, instead of being immobile. A better quality of sleep is another sign of progress. 

Flexibility - Rigidity around food and exercise is quite common in those who struggle with food/weight/exercise issues. A sign of progress is when you catch yourself adjusting to those moments when 'life gets in the way' without having a melt down. You won't follow rules like, "I'll just double up on exercise tomorrow" when the gym closes unexpectedly or if you've eaten more than you wanted at a birthday party. You will experience flexibility mentally and emotionally as you build a healthier lifestyle. 

Balance - This is a big one.  What I mean by balance is looking at your life holistically, and making sure you are paying attention to each aspect of it.  For example, are you spending time with your friends? Connecting spiritually? Physically getting enough exercise? Emotionally are you getting your needs met? What about mentally? Another sign of progress is making sure you aren't spread too thin and are using a variety of supports to help sustain your holistic health.  

Medical Issues - Building a healthy relationship with food/weight/exercise can also effect things like cholesterol levels, blood pressure and so on. 

The above are excellent ways in concretely seeing both benefits and movements as you work towards building and then maintaining a healthy lifestyle.... much more informative than just a number wouldn't you say?

*Keep in mind that other illnesses/diagnosis can effect the above.  It is important to consult your medical and health team whenever you make changes regarding your health and wellness. This list is not exhaustive.