Clarifying Your Values: How do you want to live?

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

Most of us want to make changes to our physiques. Some of the most common reasons for dieting are to lose weight, look better, and build confidence[1]. Although there’s nothing wrong with wanting to change our bodies, it is easy to forget that we are human beings, not just ornaments to look at. Whilst we work towards our physique goals, it’s helpful to think about who we want to be and how we want to live, not just how we want to look.

Easier said than done, I know.

Most of us feel pressure to look a certain way, whether that comes from our friends, our family, or the hot bodies we compare ourselves to on Instagram. It’s easy to fall into the trap of changing ourselves because we don’t like how we look. We’re tempted to believe that if we just achieved our ideal body, we’d be confident about ourselves and finally stop comparing ourselves to others.

If these are the only reasons we can focus on when working on our physique goals, it means we’re changing from a pretty negative place. It doesn’t tell us much about the kind of person we want to be, it just tells us what feelings we want to avoid.

Studies have shown that being motivated in one’s dietary choices by mood or by weight control leads to pretty poor outcomes [2], [3], [4] even though this is usually a big part of the reason behind why we want to change. You might be thinking ‘Yeah but I still don’t like how I look and I still want to diet and drop fat’. That’s okay. I’m not suggesting that we can all magically change our thinking overnight, but we can certainly think about some more positive reasons to change in addition to your current motivations. The more reasons you have to make a change, the more likely you are to be successful.

This is where values come in.

Have you ever stopped to think about what is really important to you? The type of person you want to be?

Our sense of self is an important part of who we are but most of us have never really thought about this in detail. When we think of ourselves, it’s easy to focus solely on our bodies since that’s what we can see in the mirror. Yet we have so much more to offer the world than simply how we look. What else have you got going for you?

Values are statements about how you want to behave or act on an ongoing basis; how you want to treat yourself, others, the world around you [5], [6]. They are not about what you want to get, have, achieve or complete. Values are distinct from goals, in that they cannot be ‘checked off’ a list. Values establish the direction you want your life to head

and goals serve as markers to help you navigate and let you know whether you’re still

on course. Being rigidly attached to our goals may create issues if the function of the goal changes, such as when 'training hard' becomes less about challenging ourselves and more about punishing ourselves for the food we've eaten, for example. Values are more flexible and allow us to pivot when necessary.

Other characteristics of values:

- They are freely chosen and have not been imposed on you.

– They are ongoing rather than fixed.

– They guide you rather than constrain you.

– They allow you to get closer to the way you want to live your life.

– They bring you freedom from social comparisons.

– They foster self-acceptance, which is crucial to mental health. [7]

We all have values but we are not always fully aware of them and often we act on autopilot. Sometimes we end up doing, saying or thinking things that aren’t in alignment with how we really want to be.

As Camus put it: “If we believe in nothing, if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance.

Getting clear on your values is the first step to paving a more meaningful direction. You can use this list to help you think about your own values:

You can also ask yourself: How do you want people to remember you? When you die, do you really want your body to be the first thing, or the only thing, for people to remember about you? Or do you want people to think of you as someone who was generous, passionate, adventurous, dedicated to their goals…and maybe just so happened to have a nice body too?

Pick 3-5 values that are most important to you at this point in time and think about how your health and fitness goals support these values. Some of my personal values include courage, adventure, intention, strength and vulnerability. By taking care of my health, I have the strength and the energy to face challenges, go on adventures and do things that scare me.