I came across a podcast recently and it got me thinking a lot about the topic of values and how getting clarification on them can help us to make better decisions, specifically in the realm of food, movement, and self-care.
What are values?
Values are the things we think are important in the way we live and work. Think of values as basically your own set of internal guiding principles for the way you want to live your life. We all have them, most of us just don’t give a whole lot of thought to them. Values are unlike goals or intentions we set for ourselves. They aren’t something to achieve or something to be checked off a list, but instead are core beliefs that guide us in every aspect of our life and the decisions that we make in regard to how we spend our time, money, and attention. They serve as a foundation for who we want to be and what is most important to us.
Our values are not set in stone. They change as we age and experience life. What we value at 20 is likely to shift by the time we are 40 and beyond. Some examples of things I personally value today are honesty, mindfulness, kindness, wellness, self-care, and spirituality. My personal values have changed and shifted as I have grown and had life experience.
Why is figuring out and aligning with our values important?
Clarifying and aligning with your own set of values is about figuring out what is important to you as an individual outside of what may be important to, say, your friend group, family members, or spouse. Many of us get stuck in the idea of “perfectionism” or what we “should” do based on an external set of rules made by others. We prioritize what others think and compare ourselves to how other people live basing our progress or sense of success or failure on how they are doing or whether or not we are pleasing them.
Knowing what you value is about better knowing yourself and what you stand for. Not having clarification on what our values are makes us vulnerable to the influence of media, pop culture, or our social environment. Defining and thinking through what you value, can give you a better understanding of what gives you passion and purpose allowing you to live more authentically and true to yourself.
I love the analogy of knowing and living by your own set of strong core values being like a strong foundation of your home. Every home needs a strong foundation, without it it is at risk of sinking into the ground. The same is true of your values. Just like the strong foundation of a home, your values provide the bedrock for your decisions, habits, and behaviors.
By looking inward and focusing in on what is important to you, you instead find a way to live that can bring you fulfillment and joy in personally meaningful ways. When your behavior and habits match your values that feels good – typically leaving you feeling a general contentedness. When habits and day to day behaviors don’t align with your personal values things tend to feel a little off or wrong.
How do values show up in different areas of our lives?
I had personal experience with this in my professional life. I have been a dietitian for over 20 years now and have worked in different areas of the field. There are many different avenues and paths that are possible in the field of nutrition/dietetics. It wasn’t until I started learning more and practicing from a non-diet perspective, one that focuses on behaviors and mental and physical well-being, not diets and the number on the scale, that I felt fully aligned with my work as a dietitian. This is because it lines up with what I personally value and what I feel is important and most helpful both to myself personally and the clients I work with. My overall approach shifted to helping people care for themselves in meaningful ways and in helping them understand that well-being doesn’t hinge on the scale. Over the last five years as I’ve expanded my knowledge and my abilities to help people from this perspective my level of fulfillment with the work that I do with clients has increased immeasurably.
Clarifying what your own specific values are can be helpful in all areas of our lives, but can be particularly applicable in the areas of food, movement, and the things we do to take care of ourselves. When it comes to this aspect of our life, we tend to be very goal oriented: we set our mind to reach a certain weight on the scale, eat a certain number of calories, fit into our jeans from 15 years ago, etc. These are very diet culture driven goals that typically only lead to temporary happiness, not long-term fulfillment and satisfaction.
There is nothing wrong with goals and goal setting when we want to make changes in our health, I work with clients to make small goals all the time. But when we can go a little deeper and connect with and define what is most important to us, we can tap into a way of living and caring for ourselves that is more worthwhile and therefore more sustainable over time.
When it comes to food and movement and the care of our bodies we especially tend to focus on comparison to others and come from an all-or-nothing, “I have to fix it at all costs” approach. When we make decisions in this realm, they are typically very externally driven by diet rules and expectations around what is “healthy” and what our body “should” look like, with very little attention being paid to what food or movement we actually enjoy and get satisfaction and contentment from. When we instead connect with our values and let them drive decisions in this area, we are less likely to be swayed by the next fad or diet and can learn to more confidently make decisions that leave us feeling good in our bodies.
Some strategies to help you figure out what your core values are.
Now that you have a better understanding of what values are and why they are important, let’s get to the work of helping you figure out what your personal core values are and helping you live more in line with them. The following are two different ways for you to explore your values and to help you align your decisions in various areas of your life with what is most meaningful and rewarding to you.
If you aren’t quite sure where to start in narrowing down what your own personal values are, this survey from the Barrett Values Centre can help. In this quick survey you are given a list of about 65 values, from which you select ten values/behaviors that most reflect who you are. From there you receive an informative and detailed report to help you learn more about yourself and become more aware of your values. My husband and I both completed our own and then discussed the results which was helpful. Studies suggest that talking about your values can help strengthen your connection to them. It only takes a few minutes. I highly recommend it. Take the quick survey here: Personal Values Assessment
Another option is to simply google “values list”. Brene Brown has a great one. Look over the list and see what resonates with you. Which words are meaningful and important in your life and how you live. You might end up with quite a few initially, maybe ten to twenty. From there, take a closer look and try to narrow your list down to maybe three to five that deeply resonate with you. Things that you feel that you couldn’t give up and that are deeply important to you. Consider how these values show up in your life by asking a few questions around them…
- How do you define this value and why is it important to you?
- How does this value show up in your life now?
- What is challenging about living this value now?
- What can you do to more fully include this value in your daily life?
Put your short list of core values somewhere you can see them. As you are going through your day, check in with your decisions or habits to see if they fit with your core values and if they line up with and support what is most important to you. For example, in relation to food and movement, if family or connection with others is one of your core values, does having rigid food rules that interfere with your ability to socialize stress free with friends and family seem like a good idea? Or if you value strength or vitality as a component of health, does calorie counting, not eating enough, cutting out whole food groups, and eating in a way that depletes your energy make sense to you?
Connecting with your values to better care for yourself
Often the things we focus on and spend our time, energy, or money on are not in alignment with what we find most important or that give us a feeling of purpose or happiness. Instead of doing things that enhance our lives, we spend our precious resources on things that are depleting and diminishing. When we are living in this way, out of alignment with our values, doesn’t it make perfect sense that we might feel disjointed or disconnected with how we are living? Taking the time to consider our values offers us an opportunity to reconsider, recalibrate and reconnect with the life we want to be leading. Learning more about and intentionally living in line with your values allows you to feel empowered to care for yourself in the ways that are most meaningful to the one and only you!
If this topic interests you and you would like to learn more. This is the podcast that that got me thinking about values and their impact on our lives.
More Than What You Eat with Rachel Goodman, RDN
Episode #60 Aligning Yourself with Your Values for Better Health & Happiness