Day 29 – Values

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On Day 24, we wrote about ambivalence – our tendency to ‘sit on the fence’ when it comes to making a behaviour change.

We sit on the fence because we can simultaneously hold conflicting views both about the reasons why it is desirable to make a change (e.g. to reduce or stop drinking) and undesirable to carry on as we are (e.g. drinking at pre-Sober Sprint / MOB levels), as well as the reasons why we might actually prefer to leave things the way they are – either because it feels too difficult to change or because there are still things we think we enjoy about the existing behaviour.

Hopefully you have had the opportunity to do the decision balance sheet exercise (PDF here) and explore the pros and cons of changing and of staying the same (the same being your pre-Sober Sprint / MOB drinking, change being either staying stopped or cutting down on your drinking post-Sober Sprint / MOB).

This exercise alone might have helped you decide what goals you want to set for yourself longer-term, but if it hasn’t, today’s post works on resolving ambivalence at a deeper level – that of your personal values.

Finding the Discrepancy between your Values and your Behaviour

In motivational interviewing, one way people are encouraged to resolve their ambivalence about behaviour change is to reflect upon what their personal values are, and question whether their current behaviour is aligned to those values and who they want to be (or see themselves being) as a person.

For instance, somebody who holds ‘being a good parent’ as one of their top personal values, will be encouraged to reflect upon how their current drinking fits with that core value. Even if their parenting is absolutely fine, does their drinking allow them to be as good a parent as they want to be? Could they have more energy to do things with their children, or more money to treat their children to days out, more patience with them when they are doing their homework, or generally be more ‘present’, if they drank less?

Creating More Moments of Meaning

Learning what your personal values are, and reminding yourself of them, can help you make behavioural changes – such as quitting or cutting down on booze – because in doing so you are able to connect situations and feelings that are difficult, stressful, uncomfortable, or challenging with something larger and more meaningful.

For example, if you can link your decision and desire to drink moderately or not at all with your core values of, for instance, being someone who is capable and organised, having a happy loving family, or being healthy and physically fit, then you will find it much easier to resist small urges and cravings, use alternative coping strategies, or deal with the occasional feeling that you are ‘missing out’ etc. As Professor Kelly McGonigal writes about the importance of values “small things that might otherwise have seemed irritating became moments of meaning.”

Core Values Exercise

Every year James Clear (who blogs about behavioural psychology, habit formation and performance improvement) conducts a personal ‘Integrity Report’ – which lists what his core values are and how he has lived and worked by those values during the previous year, as well as making an honest appraisal of areas where he feels he has not fully lived up to his values. You can read his Integrity Reports here.

You might not want to do something quite as comprehensive as this yourself, but the following exercise will help you to consider (a) what your own core personal values are, and (b) whether you are able to fully express or live up to these values when you are drinking at your pre-Sober Sprint / MOB levels. In turn, this can help you decide what you want life post-Sober Sprint / MOB to look like.  

This worksheet contains a list of 80+ core personal values that are used in a classic Motivational Interviewing exercise. Use this sheet to:

  1. Select 5-10 key core personal values that are most important to you.
  2. Arrange your core values in order from the most to the least important.
  3. Review your pre-Sober Sprint / MOB drinking levels and the consequences of your drinking. Were you able to fully express or live by your core values when you were drinking like this?  
  4. Review what you were like, and what your life was like during the Sober Sprint / MOB, when you weren’t drinking. How have you been able to live up to your core values during the Sober Sprint / MOB?

This short video again talks more on this topic.

Your actions for today

  • Complete the core values exercise (using this worksheet) as described above.

Coming up

Tomorrow, we look at the reasons why alcohol can make us, let’s say, less than optimally fit…

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