February 25, 2012

Values vs. Shoulds

Our values speak volumes when it comes to understanding our behaviour. I work with many people who "want to want to change" (thank you Gerry for this wonderful quote) only to beat themselves up when they don't succeed. The idea of change; of losing weight; of eating better; of becoming an exerciser is romantic enough, but our values get in the way of such a change....and there ain't nothin' wrong with that.

My suggestion to anyone looking to make a change is create a list such as this, an honest one, and see if your desired change fits in. Or if not, how can you couple it with one of your values. If you value family time and don't want to take time to exercise alone, add them into your exercise program.
I took a long time to finish grad school (ending just when they were threatening to kick me out) because of my interest in research. I participated in as much research as I could (as a research assistant...not the subject...just in case you were wondering if I bark at the moon now or something) to learn as much as I could about my subject area. We gathered data relating to why people don't exercise when they intend to and what gets in the way of their physical activity plans. It wasn't until looking over the data did I start wondering if our values aren't the ones that "get in the way" of our best laid plans. So we did another study.

Sure enough our findings suggested (and more research supports) if you value your sleep time more than getting up and working out AND you are trying to get up and work out....guess what? It won't happen (or it will be very hard and it won't happen for long). Our values drive our behaviour. So what is one to do if they value their family time over workout time? Do it with the family? The key is to try and merge values with behaviour as much as possible.

Doesn't work? Then get real with yourself and "honor" your values instead of fighting against them.  Most people want to want to become an "exerciser" but struggle with fitting exercise in; complaining of no time. The "no time" excuse is a sure sign of a value and a should are battling each other (and the should always wins)...and there's nothing wrong with that. It is all about awareness. With awareness comes understanding and by understanding why you may not take to exercise like your crazy-ass neighbour (who can jump out of bed at the crack of dawn to jog a few before work) you may stop beating up yourself for "failing" to do it yourself. 

The first question I ask my clients is why they want to change so we can get the "want to want to" out of the way. By gaining a better understanding of the motivates behind the desired change (along with getting to understand individual values) I can create a more effective change program...one that leads to actual change. It's no wonder that the average weight loss, exercise, or health change program fails.

Cool eh?  ...at least I think so.


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