We are often motivated to make a behavioral change because we want a bad feeling or a negative behavior to go away. If someone is drinking too much and getting into fights with their friends that they regret, maybe they will want to drink less or stop altogether. If someone is having panic attacks or finding they cannot travel due to fear of flying, maybe they will seek out a doctor who might help their anxiety go away. A desire to change often start with a desire for suffering, pain, or discomfort to be relieved.
Another way to start making a change is to target something that you want to see more of, not less of! From this vantage point, you are working towards building a life that you really want to live and there is a high chance that those negative feelings you’ve been dealing with (all that suffering, pain and discomfort) will dissipate naturally.
You can enter the change process from this angle by thinking about your values. Values are those things that you hold most deeply and that ideally guide your decisions and your actions. Everyone has different values in different arenas of life (for example, your values at home might be all about being a fun and loving parent or partner, whereas at work, your values might be about professionalism and efficiency) and when when you’re going against your values, you usually know it! Having a clear understanding of your own personal values can be very helpful as you start to identify behaviors that will help you live a valued life more regularly.
To help identify what your values are, think about the following categories and questions. If you don’t have answers for each category or each question, don’t worry about it, just move on to the next one. By thinking about how you would answer these questions for each category, you can identify some of the values that you hold as important in your life.
In the categories of: Parenting, Work Life, Family Relationships, Romantic Relationships, Friendship, Health, Finances. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What sort of person do you want to be?
- What sort of personal strengths and qualities do you want to cultivate?
- What you want to stand for?
- What do you want to do?
- How do you ideally want to behave?
Now that you’ve identified some of the values that matter to you, the next step is to think about what kind of things you can do to help increase how well you’re living the values you identified. For example, if in the Health category you noticed that you want to be a person who is physically fit, you might think about going to the gym, or joining a sports team. These are specific behaviors that you can increase that will help you engage in a lifestyle that is consistent with your values.
As you start this process however, it is important to pick behaviors that fit within your life AND are something you’re willing to do. For example, maybe you’ve gone to gyms in the past and you really hate them and know you won’t go. This does not mean you have to abandon your value! Let yourself brainstorm different ways to act in accordance with your value. Maybe it simply means taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking to work (or parking your car at other end of the parking lot). Maybe you can join a sport league or if you are a more private person, buy a yoga mat and download some on-line classes and start working out in your home. Both of these options might be both more appealing and an easier way to live your value (and, likely easier to maintain after you’ve started).
By thinking about your values and the behaviors and choices you can make that are consistent with them, you can take steps toward creating a life that is more fulfilling. It’s a great recipe for creating long-lasting change!