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Habits and values are two sides of the same coin, with our values steering our habits, and our habits creating our values. With these being so entwined, how can we go about change?
Learn the role of your values and beliefs and how you can use your habits to live according to your values and thereby change any limiting beliefs that are no longer serving you.
We often talk about how to build new habits but we someimes forget that habits can’t exist in isolation. To maintain a habit long term, it nees to be in line with our values.
Do Our Values Really Impact What We Do?
We all have values and even if it’s not something we think about all the time, they are guiding who we are, what we do, and what we think about ourselves. Not seeing the relevance yet? Let me give you an example:
Imagine you decide to go on a fast because you feel you need to loose weight, you have read in a magazine that it’s a good thing to do to kick-start your weight loss and your friend swears by it. It’s going to be hard. Really hard.
Will you make it 1 day?
Probably not. And if you did manage it, you are probably feeling exhausted from using so much will power and deprived for not having been “allowed” to have all the things you wanted.
Now instead say that you are fasting for religious reasons. Many religions include an annual fast like Lent and Ramadan. Will you be more likely to stick to your fast? Will you feel deprived? Probably not, because your fast is rooted in your values rather than being something you think you should do.
What are My Values?
For the purpose of this discussion, your values is anything you instinctively believe or think about the world or about yourself. These values will then influence your behaviors and your habits.
Some of these values we have chosen for ourselves, like choosing to be vegetarian when everyone around us is a meat eater. Or to take the train rather than fly to a holiday because we care about the environment.
Other values may be more difficult to identify in ourselves as they have been created by our environment and our experience rather than by conscious decisions, such as the example above about religious believes or what your parents installed in you as a child.
As we go through the process of change, we often run up against values that we didn’t know we had, and that may not serve us any longer – we call them limiting beliefs.
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t. You’re right.Henry Ford
I’m rubbish at languages (as I didn’t learn much French in my high school French class).
Being a health nut is silly (so I will not move more than absolutely necessary).
I’m a failure (because I haven’t achieved everything yet).
Nobody likes me (apart from my close friends and family).
I’m a quitter (as I keep setting unrealistic goals and then not follow through).
These are just a few example to get us started. It’s important to recognise that we all have limiting beliefs and that it’s only by recognising them and putting words on them that we can start looking at them more objectively. Do these beliefs beliefs still serve us, or is it time to try something new?
Testing our Limiting Beliefs
That first example, about being rubbish at languages, that was me in my teens. I took French in school for 3 years between 13-16 and when it was time to go on to high school my French teacher advised me not to continue studying French, as I was obviously not talented in languages.
That one comment stuck with me for years!
I was convinced that I was the worst at languages and that I had absolutely no talent at all. Now, I’m also very stubborn, so I decided to keep studying French and that I would succeed.
I made it my number one priority from that moment forward and it was the homework I did first, and the tests I studied the most for.
I did end up getting decent grades in French but it still reinforced what my first teacher had said. That I was bad at languages. If that hadn’t been true, I wouldn’t have had to study like a crazy person to get half decent grades!
Despite my obvious difficulties with languages I decided at 19 to go to Italy for a gap year before university, and much to my surprise I picked up the language quite quickly.
It turned out I wasn’t bad at languages, I was bad at learning languages in the way they were tough in school. Two completely different things!
Identifying Your Limiting Beliefs
We all have these limiting beliefs and they can be very difficult to identify, as we are completely sure they are the truth. But the next time you think you can’t do something because you are….
… too old
… too young
… not great at follow through
… not good enough
… not smart enough
… not enough of a people person
At this point stop for a while and consider if this is true, or if this is a limiting belief that may have served you well at some point but that it might be time to re-evaluate.
3 Steps to Change Your Life with Habits and Values
Habits and values are like the chicken and the egg as they reinforce each other. If you identify as a runner you are more likely to run, but at the same time, if you run regularly you are more likely to identify as a runner.
So what do we do with this information?
Create Awareness that Habits and Values goes Hand in Hand
Recognise that what you do will impact how you feel and think about yourself. That how you feel and think about yourself will impact what you do. Start to think about if this current cycle is serving you or if this is something you want to change.
Let’s say that you are overweight and identifies with someone who loves good food and good wine (who doesn’t!). You don’t want to be overweight but you feel it is inevitable because you love good food and good wine.
Normally you would just leave it at that, but if you stop and look around you will realise that there are people out there that are huge food lovers and that are not overweight. Instead of dismissing this with something like “they must have a super-metabolism”, you might recognise that this as a limiting believe that it is time to challenge.
Knowing that You can Change Your Values and Limiting Beliefs by Changing Your Habits
We should never deprive ourselves, but we should identify habits that could bring us more in line with our overall values. Is there any small changes that we can make to take us one step closer to that?
To be a great food lover can cover a variety of eating habits.
Do you love all of those habits?
Is everything you eat and drink things that you “can’t be without”?
When I went through this exercise one of the first small changes I did was quitting milk in coffee. I read about so many people saying that after a week or two, good coffee was equally good without the milk. I decided to give it two weeks and if I didn’t love coffee as much afterwards as before quitting milk I would go back.My coffee is still black.
With my coffee consumption, the milk did add up to roughly the calories of a bag of crisps every week. Just quitting milk in my coffee wouldn’t stop me being overweight, but it did something much more important. It showed me that I can make healthier choices that does not sacrifice my identify as a lover of good food.
It showed me that if I keep finding all the small things I could change, I would one day be able to identify as someone who loves good food (and good wine!) but that does not identify as overweight.
Trust that by Changing your Values You Can Change Your Habits.
As this is a chicken and egg kind of story, it’s equally important to challenge your values to help change your habits. By learning and taking active decisions about your values, it will be much easier to create habits that aligns with those values.
When I was overweight and identifying as someone who loved food, the truth was that I didn’t know my own values around food. I struggled with if eating “well” meant eating locally sourced food, eating vegetarian, eating low fat, eating low carb and was fish really good or bad?
By going on a journey to learn more (and for anyone interested to do the same I recommend starting with The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan) I made active choices about what I eat, which both strengthened by identity as a lover of good food, but that also made me value the health, environmental, and societal impact of food, which in turned impacted the habits I wanted to change.
Alligning our Habits, Values and Beliefs
This synergy between what we learn, our values, limiting beliefs and our habits is at the core of The Personal Management Cycle, giving us a framework to learn, experiment by changing small habits and then review how that turned out.
Not only “could I make the habit stick” but “is this change in line with my values”.
You can experiment what serves you and what does not, try, think, learn, and then try something slightly different.
The key, as always, is to not try to change everything overnight, but to identify a small thing that you can try to challenge your values, and find habits and ways of living that aligns with all your values, removing the internal conflict of being torn between different values and limiting beliefs.