The closer we get to the end of the year, the more I see my patients and friends heaping stress on themselves like an all-you-can-eat buffet. A plate already fully loaded gets piled with things that might not even taste good: hosting family, attending work parties, cooking the perfect holiday dinner, decorating, cleaning the house for guests, and cramming in extra hours of work so we don’t feel badly about taking just a few days off. Most of us are so accustomed to burning the candle at both ends we don’t stop to think about how our choices are actually lining up with our values.
If this sounds like you, I’ve got good news: There’s another way.
Before we get started, let me be clear: I’m not suggesting you throw it all to the wind and send your family to the Motel 6 with take-out Chinese – tempting as that may be. Nor am I going to suggest you take up daily meditation in the next three days, or stop “sweating the small stuff.”
What I do suggest is that you take a little bit of time to get clear about your personal values are and how you actually want to feel this season. That includes your physical body, as well as your mental, emotional, and spiritual states. (For me, “spiritual” isn’t a religious thing; it’s more about how I connect with others and the world around me). If you have a very clear idea about what is important to you, it becomes obvious what it is you need and want to do.
Step one: What are your core values?
Other terms for your big picture priorities include ‘core values’, ‘guiding principals,’ ‘ethical beliefs,’ and ‘true north.’ No matter what you call them, clarifying your ideals and priorities allows you to move forward knowing that you are in alignment with your own beliefs. Examples of core values include family, community, honesty, material wealth, kindness, service, adventure, or stability.
Some people base core values on religion or spiritual beliefs, others on community norms, and some based on our opinions about what is ‘right’ in general. Most people base some values on each of these things. When you’re trying to pinpoint your own values, make sure you’re basing them on what you want, not what is expected of you.
Step two: How do you want to feel in your mind?
This concept was originally introduced to me when I worked with a business coach for the first time about 20 years ago. It has recently become popular through Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map work (which I highly recommend).
How you want to feel differs from values in a subtle way, although there can certainly be overlap. For instance, honesty is a value, while aligned is a way you want to feel. Adventure is a value; exhilarated is a way you want to feel. For now, think about how you want to feel over the holiday season in particular.
Step three: How do you want to feel in your body?
Approach this by either focusing on how you do want to feel or how you don’t want to feel, so that you can be specific about how you make choices over the next three or four weeks. For example, I can either say that I want to have lots of energy, or that I don’t want to be tired. I can say I want to be pain free, or that I don’t want to have headaches.
On my website, I have a short outline and specific exercises you can do to guide you through this entire process. You can take a few minutes or a few hours. You’ll also find practical ideas about how you can use your results to make the next month as smooth as silk.
Whether you take a few minutes right now or even a few hours, when you are planning your days, ask yourself the question, “Is this something that lines up with what I want in my life?” That doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy everything you do, but your actions should at least line up with your values. Aunt Myrtle may be judgmental, but if family is important, then you figure out how to let her comments roll off of your back—or you make an appointment with your therapist for the first week of January.
Dr Samantha Brody is a licensed Naturopathic Physician and acupuncturist and the owner and founder of Evergreen Natural Health Center in SW Portland. She is currently working on a book about how to identify which things are most important for each of us to focus on in order to decrease our overall stress and increase our health and quality of life. She can be found online @DrSamanthaND and at DrSamantha.com.