Can you easily identify your top 3-5 values? If you asked me this a few years ago, I don’t know that I would have a good answer for you. However, today, my values are often in the forefront of my mind and I use them to help direct my life and decision-making. Knowing my values—not my parents’, not my community’s, not my culture’s, but mine—has changed my life. It has allowed me to be more understanding and self-compassionate, more constructively introspective, and more calm in the face of disagreements. I want to share three ways that understanding your values can aid in your recovery and why you should identify them if you do not know them already.

1. Peace

Have you ever compared yourself to someone because they just seemed to act or think differently than you? What if instead of assuming that they were doing it right and you were doing it wrong, you recognized that you may just value different things? Growing up my sister was always described as a “peacemaker.” She was able to be calm and bring harmony to conflict. I…did not always do this very well. I used to always think that I wasn’t as good as my sister because I wasn’t as much of a peacemaker. As I learned more about my values and how they direct my life, I realized that I really value fairness and self-respect. I was not always a “peacemaker” because I was trying to figure out how we could make things fair and I wanted to demonstrate self-respect by standing up for myself. When we look at this situation in this way, we understand that both self-respect and harmony are worthy and needed values, they just show up differently.

In eating recovery, understanding your values allows you to have peace when other people think or act differently than you. When others engage in behavior that you do not understand or that may even be triggering to you, you can recognize that they are coming from a different set of values. Neither of you needs to be better than the other, you are both just trying to live a life in-line with the things you care about. Recognizing this feels much more peaceful than trying to compare or stratify your values against someone else’s. Your job is to stay true to your own values—values that should line up with healthy patterns of recovery.

2. Motivation

My husband and I started out as close friends. When I began to realize that we needed to have more frank conversations about our feelings for one another, I was nervous to bring it up. Much to my chagrin, one of my primary values is “wholeheartedness.” As I was journaling one night, I remember writing that if I really valued wholeheartedness and vulnerability, I needed to talk with him and let him know how I felt. I did so, and although it didn’t always go perfectly smoothly at first, I am so grateful I was able to lean into my values and allow them to give me motivation to make difficult choices. That value and that choice has had monumental payoffs for me.

Knowing your values can help you stay motivated in eating recovery. Do you value connection? Following your meal plan can be a way for you to be more present and connected with those around you. Do you value peace? Eating recovery is bumpy but the messy middle will lead to more peace on the other side. Do you value fun? It’s much easier to have fun when you are nourished and not anxious about someone’s unexpected plans. Knowing your values gives you motivation to keep on the difficult path of recovery and connects you to higher purpose. 

3. Flexible Structure

This is about the time of year where the failed “New Year’s Resolution” jokes start. I often see issues with New Year’s Resolutions because they are inflexible and unrealistic. Values can serve as guideposts for your life and decisions while leaving room for flexibility. There is only one way to “workout for one hour everyday following a specific routine,” while there are many ways to live more in line with your value of “connection.” You know the story of the three little bears? Values are like Baby Bear’s bed. Not too soft (structured), not too rigid or unyielding (flexible). Your values can give you goals and aspirations in recovery while providing lots of self-compassion and understanding along the way.

Are you ready to dive in? Take a look at the handout by Brene Brown in her “Dare to Lead” work. Take time to scan the handout and circle 20-30 values that really resonate or stand out to you. Remember: all of the values listed are worthy and incredible, you’re just picking the ones that jump out to you the most. These do not have to be values that you personify perfectly. These are values that you care about and hope to work towards. Next, narrow down your list to 10 values. To do this, you might look through and see if there are any values that are similar in meaning and pick the one that hits home the most. You may ask yourself, “is this something I value or something I think I ‘should’ value?” Next, narrow down your list to just 5 values. You may look through the definitions of these values and see if that gives you more information or context. Which of these values actually guides your life and decisions? Finally, pick just three values that you really want to focus on.

Find Brené Brown’s PDF version of the listed values here