We all have laudable goals. We want to exercise more. We want to eat better. We want to lose weight. We want to manage our temper.
Then life intervenes. You wake up early for sunrise yoga, journal some thankful thoughts, and have a healthy breakfast. Lunch was missed due to a project deadline. Then comes the mid-afternoon crash, and you start eating old Halloween candy that you found in your kid’s secret drawer. By evening, our resolutions are in tatters, yelling at everyone to get to bed and then feeling guilty for doing so. Because you can’t sleep as a result of sugar overload and doomscrolling, you culminate the night with eating a sleeve of Oreos while watching Schitt’s Creek in the dark. You swear that you’ll do better tomorrow.
Wait? Is this just me?
It’s the often the same at work. We decide that we want to take control over our calendars and be less reactive. The day starts off and we get a quiet hour for planning. Then the e-mail blitz comes along, and by the end of the day our good intentions have been steamrolled.
Where is the disconnect? Why is it so hard to get momentum on what we know are good choices? Why do we revert back to old or unhelpful habits? The challenge before us is making our behaviors and habits support our values.
Identifying Your Values
Identifying your values creates self-awareness that helps us make good decisions and become more aligned with what is most important in our lives. Because what is important to us fuels our behaviors. If you find yourself in constant conflict (e.g,. working too much, eating too much, binge watching TV too much, scrolling too much), you may have strayed too far from your values.
We have to look inward and ask ourselves if what we are doing are supporting our values. Being able to answer this requires perspective and honesty, especially since we are great storytellers and rationalizers. We may think our habits are aligned with our priorities, but that may not be the case.
For instance, I may say that I value healthy living. But when I look back at dinners over the last week, they are all spent at the drive-through with fast food because we're so busy with activities. I tell myself that I don’t have time to cook a healthy meal. But really, it’s about planning or better choices. The salad bar at the grocery store is just as fast as burgers and fries. Similarly, I say I value spending time with my family. But, I often find myself checking email in the evening rather than suggesting we play a game or go on a walk together. In these cases, my behaviors aren’t supporting my values.
Knowing What’s Truly Important
If our behaviors don’t support our values, then we need to determine if it’s really a value. One way to get an objective answer is to look at how we’re spending our time and money. They tell the true story. The calendar and wallet don't lie.
Since I’m clearly oversharing, here’s another example from my personal life. I love spending time with friends. I love fests, walks with neighbors, team sports, girls’ nights out. My value here is connection. Often, when connecting, I'll have a few (or more) drinks. But, if I say I truly value healthy living, my habit of drinking was undermining this value, as those nights often results in less sleep, junk food, and sometimes, poor life choices.
Understanding this took a lot of introspection and even deeper than one value of healthy living. I had to decide if I really valued my values. I eventually understood that I could still connect with people and be sober. Stopping drinking, which would make me more present and rested, would also let me better connect with my family, friends, and colleagues.
Using Visualization to Harness Your Habits
I found the practice of visualization very powerful for me. I use it to address the temptation to drink. I enjoy golfing, and everyone in my group typically has a few drinks while playing. I knew I might feel left out if I abstained. I asked myself, “What do I do to have to set myself up for success?” I visualized myself ordering club soda at the bar. By doing this, I was preparing myself for the moment when I would feel social pressure to have a beer. I took this very seriously and didn't kid myself. I visualized myself declining a drink again and again and ordering a club soda instead. I'm happy to share that it worked.
I faced another test recently. My husband and I went to a personal chef dinner party that featured a delicious meal of Italian dishes and a wine pairing menu. I visualized how I would respond when the chef came to fill my empty wine glass. I also prepared myself to answer questions people would ask about why I wasn't drinking. And I visualized myself having an amazing time despite not imbibing. Instead of Pinot Noir, I had an amazing concoction of San Pellegrino and cherry juice – so tasty. If I didn't stay true to my value of healthy living, I would have let my habit of having a drink take control. Then I would have had six or seven glasses of wine, woke up with a headache, missed yoga class, and avoided my family.
Our ability to wait and self-regulate is essential if we're to align our habits with our values. The famous marshmallow experiment is a good example. (“The child is given the option of waiting a bit to get their favorite treat, or if not waiting for it, receiving a less-desired treat. The minutes or seconds a child waits measures their ability to delay gratification.”) You probably know that the ability to delay gratification corresponds to successful outcomes.
Sometimes we will successfully resist eating the marshmallow. Sometimes we will give in and gobble it up. If that happens, don’t let it derail any progress that’s been made. Visualize success and try again. Perhaps get support with a coach, a therapist, or a group. Create mechanisms to support you so you can support what’s most important to you.
We also have to cultivate the attitude that we are in charge of our lives. We can decide how to manage our calendar. We can decide how we want to connect with others. We can decide how we want to show up in our personal and professional lives. And if we deviate from our ideal, just remember that we're human. Give yourself some grace.
When Values and Habits Align
Dinner at the charity event that night was a tremendously empowering experience. I felt proud of myself and my choices. I had a wonderful time with my husband. I thought that if I could do it this one time, I could do it again (and again and again). In fact, today marks 60 days without an alcoholic beverage, and I don’t miss it.
I hope you find this inspiring if you're wrestling with a situation where your habits aren't supporting your values. You can always start fresh today. Or tomorrow (if you already ate Oreos).