Purpose of post:
I hope that you are having a great first week of 2019!
If you’re like a lot of us, you may have made a list of things that you want to accomplish in this New Year. And, if you’re like a lot of us, you may have already broken some of those promises you’ve made to yourself. But, don’t despair! We’re only a few days in and my belief is that as long as there is breath in your body you can still have opportunities to make a better life for yourself. Don’t give up!
To be quite honest, I stopped making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago. I figured I wouldn’t keep them so what’s the point? In my not so humble opinion, making a new year’s resolution was simply another way to beat myself up and I am so over that! I mean really, we humans are rather good at finding ways to hate on ourselves and we can (and do), in turn, teach these self-deprecating behaviors to our children.
I like this quote about self-deprecation by Ashley Michelle:
“Self-deprecation is like a cancer that starts with one thought and soon infects every thought thereafter. It is defined as belittling and tending to undervalue oneself and one's abilities.”https://www.elitedaily.com/life/motivation/7-keys-purging-self-deprecation-steps-biggest-cheerleader/677854
Often, when we fail to follow-through on something we think we should be doing, we tend to label ourselves as failures. Too often this leads to other sabotaging behaviors. We say things like “Well, there goes my weight loss plan. I didn’t to the gym and I’ve had one brownie, may as well eat the rest. I’m such a slob.” What we believe about ourselves leads to behaviors, which in turn affect (for better or worse) what we believe about ourselves. (The belief/behavior cycle.)
I believe that we come by the tendency to berate or undervalue ourselves honestly. It’s been going on for centuries. We seem to be a people prone to being punitive. Spare the rod, spoil the child after all. I don’t want to get into a debate about corporal punishment, but I will say that somehow we have intertwined concepts of discipline with punishment. We think that if we are hard on ourselves or our children that it will somehow lead to improved behaviors. It rarely does, however. Being punitive tends to lend to loss of trust and respect at one end to self-hating behaviors such as cutting or addiction at the other.
Discipline is about setting healthy boundaries and guidance as well as understanding that behaviors have consequences. The core of discipline is to teach. Punishment on the other hand rarely teaches and if does teach, it’s about how not to get caught next time. It can also tear down respect or self-respect. Think about in this way: we have laws about speeding, but while many of us may not go at ridiculously high speeds (100 in a 25 mph zone for instance), we don’t typically stick to (respect) the posted speed limit either. And, this we do despite knowing or experiencing the penalties for speeding.
So, what does this have to do with New Year’s resolutions? Simply this: When we set resolutions, we can discourage ourselves when we fail to live up to them. We then become punitive or punishing towards ourselves and this hits against our self-esteem and can lead to other self-sabotaging behaviors. In other words, we lose respect for ourselves.
If we do keep our resolutions it can still have the devastating effect of causing us to believe that our worth is based upon what we do. If that becomes the case, there’s the possibility that trying to maintain the new behaviors will not last long. My argument is that if we are task oriented, when we fail to live up to that task or standard we lose heart. The reality is that hiccups and farts happen in life. Heck, sometimes its outright diarrhea (simply everything goes wrong). Breaking resolutions tend to reinforce negative beliefs we hold about ourselves, which makes it difficult to maintain healthy behaviors for the long term.
Values Based Living
So, am I saying to not set goals? Absolutely NOT!!! No, we need to set goals and make plans. The old saying is that those who fail to plan, plan to fail after all. Planning and goal setting are aspects of a disciplined life. However, planning, resolving to do something or setting goals need to be a part of something greater. That something is your Values.
Once of the principles taught in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is to know what your values are. Russ Harris writes:
“Deep in your heart, what do you want your life to be about?...What truly matters to you in the big picture?” (ACT Made Simple, 2009)
Harris points out that living based upon our values is about shaping our lives around what we believe is important and critical to living. For instance, if you value connection to family and friends you probably already live in such a way that indicates this by spending time with those you care about. If you value honesty, you probably are not a habitual liar and you tell the truth (in love) even if it might create a conflict.
Values-based living takes us away from being punitive, because it allows us to focus on what we consider important, not the little behaviors we think we should be doing to achieve our goals. When we focus on the little details we miss the greater picture. Think of it in this way: if we get very close to a painting all we may see are the brush strokes and possible scratches in the work. But, if we stand back and take the painting in full we will see a great work of art. You are a great work of art. You are not merely worth the sum of your parts nor is your worth based upon whether or not you complete tasks on your to do list. You are imperfect, but still perfect.
We when focus our attention on our values we shape our lives around those things. When we realize that we are shaping our lives around our values despite our mistakes, we tend to feel rather good about ourselves. When we feel good about ourselves, we tend to engage in behaviors that make us feel better about ourselves. And, when we do that we most likely end up treating others with the same graciousness.
Some suggestions for living a values-based life:
Keep in mind that life is fluid and changes all of the time. Once you determine what your values are, you can reassess and determine if that really is a value you hold. I think that people usually discover that their core values never change, but that their values can still be enhanced as they mature.
I pray peace and blessings to you in this New Year and that if you resolve to do anything that it will be to assess your values and be gentle with yourself as you move to shape your life thusly.