I am sure that everyone has at some point experienced the eventual collapse of their new year’s resolutions. The new year often begins with good intentions however bit by bit it is common for our self discipline and energy to be chipped away until we return back to patterns of behaviour very similar to how we were before.

What if there was a way to make this new year the year that you reach the goals you set out to achieve?

I believe the starting point to all of this is understanding about values.

Our values are the core messages that we hold to be so important that they drive and govern our behaviours. They are so embedded in us it can be easy to assume that they are simply what makes me, me, they can also feel as if that is just how everyone should be. The problem is, is that because we react to our values unconsciously they sit within our blind-spot and it can seem as if the way we perceive things and the way we behave is just the way the world works.

 

Our values govern our habits and our behaviours because they favour what is important to us and steer us in that direction. When we act outside of our values we pay for it by feeling deeply uncomfortable and out of tune with our self.

Values come in a form of a hierarchy, meaning we have a value that sits at the top of the list that is absolutely the most important thing for us and each one below takes a lesser priority. For instance if success, or achievement were somebody’s top two values and health came in at number 20 I would make a guess that the projects that were important to them would more often that not, take priority over looking after their personal well-being. If somebody’s top three values were tranquillity, connection to nature and generosity, and this person lived in the middle of London and had a job in the stock exchange, I would make a guess that they would have to spend an extraordinary amount of energy in order to feel fulfilled and in accord with their values.

Values can of course be contextualised, for instance the values you hold in the context of family are likely be different to those you hold in the context of career. However we will hold some overarching life values that span across all contexts.

What does this have to do with New Years Resolutions?

Carl Jung once wrote “Until we can make the unconscious conscious it will control our lives and we will call it fate”. When we make a new years resolution we choose to do it consciously, however if we haven’t recognised the core principles our unconscious is being guided by then when we are acting out of alignment with our values, we will be fighting a losing battle with ourselves without even realising it.

If we name our values and understand how they fit in a hierarchy and we build our plans in a way that accommodates for our values then we can act in a way that is natural for us. At this point a diet is no longer a diet, it becomes a ‘lifestyle choice’ and your fitness plan no longer becomes a ‘regime’ it becomes your ‘hobby’ or ‘passion’.

Here are the steps to take to creating clarity and motivation for the New Year.

Find your values. Ask yourself the massive and important question. “What is important to me in the context of my life?” You are looking essentially for one word answers. Write each one down, and when you run out, stick with it and try to keep going, there’s going to be some more important values lurking away, you just have to rummage harder to find them. Aim for a list of 15, some people find this easy some people find this hard.

Order your values. Have a go at putting them in the order with the most important at the top and so on. Once you have done this go back through the list and ask yourself the question “Is it okay to have x without having y?” if the answer is yes put x higher than y. Do this with every value until it feels as if they are all in the right place and apply by this rule. Once you have done this it is okay to shorten your list to your top 5 or top 10 values. This can help keep things more simple and memorable.

Test your values. After some time and a bit of head scratching you should have a value that sits at the top that is so deeply important to you that if you imagined it were taken away you would feel less motivated or compelled towards any course of action. You can also test it by writing out an invitation or job prospect. For instance if your values list started with “Freedom, compassion, challenge” then the following ad would probably be right up your street. “You will be your own boss and will be free to act as you see fit. You will be responsible for the companies ability to listen, relate and connect with compassion to all who are involved with it. The company operates in areas of civil war and every day will bring a new set of challenges.” You will know if your list is right if your advert seems like it was the job that was built just for you.

Understand your behaviour in relation to your values. Firstly, With your values in place you should now be able to discover how your previous attempts at your resolutions were superseded by your values. Secondly, you will now be able to create a way to integrate a plan that will work in a more compelling way. Avoid a plan where the end goal is to restrict or limit yourself of something. Nobody will live permanently on a diet, or choose to live under a punishing regime without having to invest an undue amount of energy to battle with themselves constantly.

Set targets that are in line with your values. This may simply involve writing a code of conduct so that day by day you strive for what you value and your choices and decisions will begin to become much more clear and congruent. It may involve setting and creating some goals, or creating a timeline with some small actionable steps to reach a goal. You may be able to accomplish what you want by yourself, you may need to make some requests from other people. The choice is yours. Once you have created your plan, it should be easy to check because it will feel naturally compelling.

Here are a few examples of setting a New Year goal based solely on your top value: (note, when you make your list make sure you factor in at least your top 3 – 5 values)

(All my examples are related to health & fitness although of course we can resolve to make changes in any other area of our lives, such as finances or structure and stability.)

Love – Reframe your actions as a form of self love. “This year I will eat foods, exercise and plan restorative activities in a way that demonstrates I show love for my mind and body.” “I will ask myself daily when I choose foods or plan for the day or week – What is the best option to demonstrate I love and care for my well-being and sense of self?”
For me, the clichéd metaphor of the body as a temple is valuable, as it can then be viewed as a sacred space that should be treated with respect and love. Other questions to ask: “Is making this decision going to demonstrate I am caring for and respecting myself?” “Is this decision in alignment with my understanding of Love?”. Choosing a new decision or behaviour based on these questions may be hard work and scary especially at first, and it will yield different and uncertain results, however, slowly overtime I guarantee they will move you closer to the version of yourself you’d like to be.

Achievement – Set some lofty 2019 goals, although please realise that achievement and fulfilment are two very different things and you may achieve many things and still feel unfulfilled. If achievement is your top value look at some of the other values that sit underneath it and ask yourself if achieving steps towards them will add to a sense of fulfilment. Goals can be intrinsic such as “find a rhythm in my running so that I can make it feel like a pleasure rather than a chore” or extrinsic such as “Reach the top 10% in a leader-board in a competition this year.” Remember that extrinsic goals involve forces that are outside of your ability to control so be prepared to face uncertainty, practice self compassion and recognise where your boundaries of control lie, (hint: we have no control over the thoughts and behaviours of other people). A simple way to recognise achievement is to practice journaling, this way you can not only set daily targets and to-do lists, but you can also take your time to scroll back through old journals and see the constant progress you are always making.

Family – Talk with your family and understand how a commitment to creating some changes by striving for targets will benefit the family. Ask yourself “Who needs to be involved?” “How will we collectively communicate and provide feedback?” “What requests do I have?” “What is the big picture in all of this for me and how does it serve me?” Shared goals can be doubly motivating and rewarding, although the more moving parts something has the more patience and acceptance you must have and the greater your communication skill set must be.

My values and a code of conduct sit on my front door. There was a tie for my top value, when push comes to shove I honestly can’t have one without the other.

I hope this has provided some food for thought. When your values are aligned, you will have no need for diets, restrictions, limitations. Instead you will have lifestyle choices and compelling targets to aim for. You will no longer need to battle yourself, you will be able to honour yourself.

In brief.

1.Find your values,
2.Order your values,
3.Test your values
4.Understand your behaviour in relation to your values
5.Set targets that are in line with your values

There is plenty more that hasn’t been covered on this subject, and sometimes to make the most compelling changes further work can be done. If you are curious at all or interested in exploring how you can explore or utilise your values then ping me an email.

Tom Powell is a coach and talking therapist who uses a range of techniques to help people move past their sticking points and to reach their goals. He specialises in phobias and has helped people with fears of spiders, heights, vertigo, needles, and more. He lives and works in Bristol and spends his free time going on adventures and enjoying the world.