COVID BLUES – Values in Action

As we near the end of the lockdown in South Africa I wanted to leave you with a final article on dealing with the pressures of lockdown. Recovery will no doubt take a while for most and I wanted to share with you a piece on values as, sometimes counterintuitively, they can be a source of procrastination. We associate values with our true north, our guiding principles. They are something to be proud of and are a large part of who we are. And that is exactly the point. If we set targets or goals that do not align with our values then we are unlikely to work towards them.

A fairly frequent example is someone who goes through a health scare and despite the doctor’s advice does not make the necessary lifestyle changes. This does not seem rational looking from the outside in, however, it is important to understand that there is a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards come from the outside and while they can work they are short-lived. Intrinsic rewards come from our internal processes, such as values, and last longer. To follow the example above, if the individual is overeating it would be obvious that the individual needs to control their weight and should diet and exercise. However, if that person was raised in poverty where they did not know where the next meal would come from, they may place a high value on having food around, or eating whenever they have access to food. That is a value-driven behaviour and the value, and the cause of it, needs to be addressed to adjust to a new value.

While most people feel they “have values” not very many people have a good idea of what they are, and what their effect is in their lives and therefore cannot plan with them in mind. The easiest way to start identifying your values is to check your “should haves”, “would haves” and “could haves”. These words indicate a lack of action even though the apparent rational course of action would have been to do as you intended. The reason is that what you intended to do did not align with your values and it is important to investigate these. For example if you know there is a room in your house that needs to be cleared out and cleaned out but you never get around to it. You can ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What about dealing with this challenging activity do you find demotivating?
    What is it about the activity that presents so much pressure?
    How will this activity make you feel while you are doing it?

  2. What pleasant activity would you rather be doing?
    Is this activity something that you would repeatedly be doing instead?
    Do you have something new you would rather be focussing on?
    How does this activity feed you?

Reflecting on these questions will show you what you consider to be important in life. The ideal solution is to find a way that you can reframe your values to include the activity. So in the example of the room, the work may be boring and overwhelming and therefore not align with your need for diverse and interesting activities. However, if you have a value on family and you know the family needs the extra space you may be able to find the intrinsic motivation to clear the room.

While aligning goals to our values sets us up for success, we may not always be able to do so. In those cases, here are some alternatives to try:

  1. Is there a way that you can use other mechanisms to get the challenging activity done?
  2. Can the assistance of a friend make the challenging task easier?
  3. Can you outsource the task to someone else (remember self-care)?
  4. Is there a way that you can break up the activity over a couple of sessions so that you conquer it bit-by-bit?
  5. Is there any subpart of the activity that you will find rewarding and can use as motivation to keep going?

Understanding our values and the way they affect our thoughts, decisions and actions are very important in understanding our levels of motivation. I hope these pointers help get you closer to achieving your goals to recover from the impact of the lockdown.