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Honouring your Values in this Moment of Distress

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With Covid19 – an invisible foe that hampers social engagement and leaves many vulnerable; the more primitive parts of our brain concerned with “Am I safe?” and “Am I loved”? tend to be overactive. This manifests as upsetting emotional and physical sensations, as well as thinking errors such as worst-case scenario thinking. These experiences are the result of the brain distorting information – making you see life through the lens of deceptive brain messages and heavily emotionally distorted reasoning (Schwartz, 2011. “You are not your brain”).

The modern, brilliant, but highly disruption-prone part of our brain (the pre-frontal cortex) – seat of language; planning; flexibly shifting attention; impulse control; self-care; perspective taking (inner ‘wise advocate’) and empathy, struggles to prevail in the face of emotional high-jacking by older brain structures. These don’t possess language and therefore make themselves felt through physical sensations and emotions, which can detract us from our goals and authentic pursuits, including our values and finding meaning. Trying to get rid of worries (“Uh oh, something is wrong!”) and related habits, e.g. like binge-eating or excessive social media consumption, is likely to be unproductive. Remember, “what you resist, persists” (Carl Jung).

However, there is good news: appealing to our higher virtues, in the presence of Covid19, an experience that creates meaning, otherwise we wouldn’t have to go through it.

How to discover and honour your values

• Think of values as your true north – the expression of your authenticity, ring-fenced from others’ expectations. If you honour your values in a consistent manner, well-being, accomplishment, happiness and a sense of overall quality of life is set to ensue.
• Values answer to the “why”?, e.g. “Why do I exercise?” “Because I value my health”. The ‘why‘, in turn, enables the ‘how’; ‘what’; and ‘where’, e.g. being empowered and participating in a virtual yoga session.

Start today and keep this activity going until the end of lockdown, or choose to carry on with it on regular intervals forever.

Step 1: How to identify your values
a) Peak experiences: The best way to identify your values is to think of peak experiences in your life that were particularly emotionally resonant and fulfilling; and then track these back to what value(s) you were honoring. So, for example, if you attended a Yoga session, take a few moments to put yourself back into the picture, i.e. what you were:
• seeing (including the faces of friends);
• feeling/touching (e.g. the Yoga mat under your body; your muscles pushing back; awareness of your own breath, etc.);
• hearing (the voice of the instructor; birds chirping in the background; the distant hum of traffic; the presence of fellow participants);
• smelling (e.g. the scent of flowers (if an outdoor session); the Yoga studio, sweat; etc.));
• tasting (where relevant, e.g. an energy drink after the session).
Once you have done the above, determine what values you were honouring, e.g. social engagement; health; mindfulness etc. Write these down.

b) “Meh”: Recall times of irritability; frustration or anger, etc. and what you were feeling. Perhaps it was due to your not being able to visit the gym, given the lock-down, thus feeling hemmed in or claustrophobic. Once you have identified the emotion, determine what value(s) was not being honoured, e.g. relationships (people you connect with at gym); health (limited opportunities to exercise); autonomy. Write these down.

Step 2: List your values in the work-sheet and rank from 1-10
Once you have done (a) and (b) above, record your top 10 values in the attached sheet, and rank in order of importance, with 1. being your most treasured value that you won’t do without; 5. sort of in the middle, and 10 as least important (could do without). Remember, ‘what gets measured, gets managed’ (Peter Drucker).

Step 3: Track honouring your values (Use the attached worksheet)
• In the “Day” columns provided below, each day rank (using the rating key at the top of the table), how you honoured each value/your satisfaction;
• In the relevant column provided, write-down how you honoured your value;
• In the last column indicate obstacles (emotions; thinking; behaviour; limiting beliefs and how you intend to overcome these). Be very aware of ‘should’s and ‘musts’, e.g. “I must cook for my family and therefore can’t spend time on what I value”. Learn to set healthy boundaries and get your loved ones to assist; institute turns-taking.
• Ensure that the values ranked highest, receive the most expression, and make the necessary adjustments (see examples in the table). Ideally, you would want to honour what you value highest – your apex values. Connecting with meaningful others during the lock-down, e.g. through Video-calls (or in your home) is probably an apex value for many. It is critical to releasing the anti-stress hormone, oxytocin (‘the cuddle hormone’).

• Benefits: Directing your attention toward this productive values exercise and doing it diligently, even whilst the false and deceptive urges, impulses, thoughts and sensations related, e.g. to Covid19, etc. still occur, will rewire your brain in time. In so doing, you can expect the error messages from the older parts of your brain (e.g. fight, flight and freeze responses) to become less frequent or disappear altogether. This exercise is one of applied mindfulness through re-focusing.

By Dr. KU Brügge, Executive Coach and Life Skills Counsellor (BA(Hons.) MA D.Phil. (Neuropsych.)(UJ). B.Th (Biblical Counseling) (MINTS, Florida USA). Counsel for Counselors of SA (C4CSA) Reg. No. SCO0684

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