Values vs. Shoulds

Our values speak volumes when it comes to understanding our behaviour. Many people want to change only to beat themselves up in the end because it didn’t stick. The idea of change; of losing weight; of eating better; of becoming an exerciser is romantic enough, but our values tend to get in the way of such a change. Unfortunately, we end up blaming ourselves, our jobs, our circumstance, our laziness, or our love of chips instead of understanding what is truly motivating us. Our ‘shoulds’ are being trumped by our values… and there is nothing wrong with that.

As a behaviour change specialist, I find most people begin their change process without a plan of action or without reflecting on what they value in their lives. Does this matter? It most certainly does! Our values influence every action and reaction we make. If we value our time watching our favourite show, we are less likely to lace up for a walk. If we value our sleep, we may not find it easy to jump out of bed in the early morning to run. Conversely, if one values the feelings of health and increased energy, they will not allow anything to get in the way of their workouts. Personally, as I get older, I’m moving away from valuing my workouts and more towards valuing a glass of red wine with good company (the wisdom that comes with age or a growing love affair with fermented fruit?). It is neither good or bad… it just is.

Most people want to want to become an “exerciser” but struggle with fitting exercise in; complaining of no time. The “no time” excuse is the number one for lack of exercise and a sure sign that a value and a “should” are internally battling each other. A successful plan for change begins with self-awareness. By becoming more aware of your values, you may become more understanding of your behaviour (or at least why you can’t find the time to go to that fitness class you’ve been meaning to attend). This also may stop the self flagellation and negative self talk which, let’s be honest, is worse for your health than skipping out on exercise or ‘driving thru’ versus cooking dinner.

So is it possible to find a balance between our values and our goals in our pursuit of better health? I think so. If you value your favourite TV show, place your treadmill in front of a TV. If you value time with family, get the family involved in the change too; if you love your sleep, schedule fitness during the lunch hour. In the end, the most important question to ask yourself before embarking on a new lifestyle regime (or any change for that matter) is, “what do I value?” and, “how will I incorporate my values into my action plan for change?” After that, the rest is just icing on the cake… so to speak.

Kathi Cameron is a health writer and popular speaker on topics related to health promotion and realistic health behaviour change. She holds a masters degree in Exercise and Health Psychology.