Today’s post comes to us from Family-Endorsed Provider and Eating Disorder Specialist, Susan Schrott, DCSW, CEDS. In her post, she discusses the importance of reconnecting with one’s values before committing to any kind of change. Some of this advice is tailored to those who live with eating disorders but anyone can learn from her message. Thank you, Susan, for sharing your insight with us at www.rtor.org. –Veronique Hoebeke, Associate Editor
It’s that time of year again, when everyone starts thinking about what they want to do differently in the coming New Year. People are known to make resolutions time and time again that they find impossible to keep. Most likely, it’s because they are focusing on their goals instead of their values.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s great to have goals. However, what really gets us through tough times and makes healthy change happen is knowing what your values are, and defining actions to support those values even in the presence of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, difficult relationships, and any number of challenges which we face.
As an eating disorder specialist, I spend a lot of time listening to people share the list of negative beliefs that drive their feelings of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, distorted body image, and the harmful behaviors that put them at risk for serious and life-threatening medical problems. I find myself ultimately asking: “When you look back on your life, do you want to think, wow I lived my life in service of how I looked or how thin I was?”
Invariably, this is the moment when a light bulb goes off, and every single time, I receive the same response: “No!” My clients instinctively know in their hearts that living for that purpose has nothing to do with their true values.
Unfortunately, and all too often, clients confuse their eating disorder thoughts with values that lead them to engage in a cycle of harmful behaviors, moving them further and further away from knowing what they care about.
During this time of discovery, what becomes apparent is that negative thoughts create distortions that feel like values. In reality, these thoughts keep people from connecting with their most authentic self, their passionate and richest pursuits, and their relationships and ways of engaging in life in meaningful ways.
Eating disorder behaviors keep you tightly wrapped up in thoughts and feelings that drive ongoing pain and suffering. These are reinforced by restricting, purging, binging, counting calories, and over-exercising. Being committed and willing to connect with values frees oneself to stop long enough to ask “who and what do I care about?” Learning to pause, breathe, think and choose values as your guiding voice bolsters your ability to tolerate those distracting eating disorder thoughts while simultaneously choosing a valued action.
How to Reconnect with Your Values
1. Start off with breathing exercises. Yes, just focus on a taking a few simple deep breaths. For some people this is a delightful experience while others find this very difficult and very uncomfortable. Remember, neither experience is better than the other.
2. Observe negative thoughts rather than engage them. Pay attention to what internal script is running through your mind. No judgment is made to either positive or negative thoughts. They are simply words strung together and you get to observe them. Perhaps imagine putting these thoughts onto clouds and watching them move past you in the sky. Or imagine putting these thoughts on leaves, and watching them float away down a stream. You don’t have to do anything more than notice these thoughts and watch them go.
3. Take time to think about your values. After relaxing with deep breathing and observing your thoughts, you can finally begin to reflect on who and what you care about. Look deep inside your heart and connect with those people, passions, and beliefs that bring compassion, love, joy and meaning to your life. For some, that includes family members and close friends. Perhaps your four-legged friends like your cat or dog as well. You discover a need to reconnect with your community and help those in need. Consider an inner passion for art, music, science, literature, or nature. Take notice of what you feel is important to your life.
4. Let go of old thoughts and feelings. Once again, you have the choice to notice old thoughts and feelings, which up until now have been driving your eating disorder behaviors, and moving you away from your identified values. Now that you have identified your values, you can observe your thoughts while simultaneously choosing an action that supports your values.This is what we call defusing, or more simply put, letting go. But letting go of old thoughts is no easy task. Here are some actions you can take to help you detangle yourself from your old script and move towards those values:
Call a friend to say hello and ask how they are doing
Hug a pet
Study a new language
Take an art class and paint or draw at home
Sing or dance
Read a book that is just for pleasure
Try yoga and meditation (there are lots of free online videos)
Take a walk and connect with nature
Write a letter to someone you love, including yourself
Keep a gratitude journal
Hold the door open for someone when you are out and about
Volunteer at your local community center or place of workshop
Eating disorders or any other mental health issue don’t go away overnight. Be patient with yourself as you learn and incorporate these new ways of thinking and acting into your life. Know that even one small action towards your personal values builds self-esteem, confidence, and an even greater willingness to commit to living your life with greater compassion, self-care, and meaning. So this New Year choose values!
Susan Schrott DCSW, LCSW, CEDS, CYT
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