Rethinking Resolutions: Choose VALUES For the Year Ahead
By Susan Schrott DCSW, LCSW, CEDS, CYT
As an eating disorder specialist, I spend a lot of time listening to people share the negative thoughts and beliefs that run through their mind. These thoughts drive feelings of low self-esteem, distorted body image, and harmful and self-destructive behaviors that put them at risk for serious and life-threatening medical problems. I find myself asking, when you look back on your life, do you want to think, “wow I lived my life in service of how thin I was?”
Without exception, I always receive the same response; my clients know in their heart that being thin has nothing to do with their values or their definition of a fulfilling life.
Unfortunately, many of my clients confuse thoughts fueled by their eating disorder with values, which drive their eating disorder rather than heal them. The more they feed these unrelenting cycles, the more they – unconsciously – allow them to proliferate.
Eating disorder thoughts and behaviors keep clients stuck in a narrow mindset that drives ongoing pain and suffering. Like an abusive relationship, this cycle is reinforced by harmful behaviors such as purging, binging, restricting, self-harm, and over-exercising. Hopelessness and co-existing conditions, such as anxiety and depression, put the sympathetic nervous system in overdrive and create an environment where the body is in a constant state of fear.
Fear is the most prevailing emotion my clients describe. Fear of not being good enough, not being smart or successful enough, not being thin enough, loveable enough, or worthy enough. This feeling of fear activates a sense of emotional paralysis and palpable anxiety.
So, how does connecting with your values create the opportunity to defuse from these intensely held fears? Learning to pause, breathe, think, identify, and choose positive values as the guiding voice to recovery helps clients connect with what and whom they truly care about. This, in turn, supports their ability to choose a values-based action in the midst of challenging and uncomfortable feelings.
Here are some simple steps to help you get started:
• Start by sitting quietly and just breathe. Observe how your stomach moves every time you breathe in and breathe out. For some people, this will be easier than for others. That’s okay. Just observe whatever these sensations.
• Instead of acting on negative thoughts, observe them for what they are: thoughts. What thoughts and beliefs are dominating your mind? There are no right or wrong thoughts; they are simply words strung together. Imagine your thoughts are like clouds that pass through the sky or waves that rise and fall in intensity until they hit the shore. Simply notice your thoughts and watch them pass.
• Allow yourself to accept your reactions and feelings, whatever they may be, without judgment. Your reactions are – just like thoughts – nothing more than words that come and go inside your mind with some being more distressing than others. Try to accept them without feeling the need to change them. Know that they won’t last forever, will dissipate, and can be observed rather than internalized.
• Align your thoughts with your values. It is in this mindful place that you can finally begin to think about whom and what you care about. Look deep inside your heart and connect with those people, passions, and beliefs that bring love, joy, and meaning to your life.
• Remember that your values are unique to you. For some people, values include family members and close friends, or four-legged friends like a cat or dog. For other people, it means being involved in their community or reaching out to those in need. Do you have a passion for art, music, science, literature, or nature? These might be some of your core values.
Connecting with your values creates the space to untangle yourself from negative feelings and behaviors and move toward actions that bring joy and meaning into your life. Here are some ideas to help you move toward your values:
• Call a friend
• Hug a pet
• Study a new language
• Explore a different culture
• Take an art class or paint or draw at home
• Sing or dance
• Read a book
• Try yoga or meditation
• Spend time in nature
• Write a letter to someone you love
• Keep a gratitude journal
• Volunteer at your local community center or place of workshop
An eating disorder doesn’t develop overnight. Encourage clients to be patient and compassionate with themselves as they learn to incorporate these new ways of thinking and values-based actions into their lives. Recovery is the result of small steps practiced consistently. Know that even one small action towards identified values builds confidence, self-esteem, and an even greater willingness to commit to living a life with gratitude, health, and purpose.