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One Research Backed Way to Effectively Manage Your Stressful and Busy Schedule: Write Down Your Personal Values, by James Clear

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Write down your values. 

In this journal, some of the students were asked to write about their most important personal values and then describe how the events of each day connected with those values. 

Another group of students was simply asked to describe the positive events that happened throughout their day.

When the students returned to school after the break, the researchers discovered that those students who wrote about their personal values were healthier, experienced fewer illnesses, and had better energy and attitude than the students who merely wrote about the positive events in their lives.

As time has gone on, these findings have been replicated in nearly a hundred additional studies. In fact, according to the book The Upside of Stress (audiobook) by Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal: 

“It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. In the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.

In the long term, writing about values has been shown to boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing drinking. It helps people persevere in the face of discrimination and reduces self-handicapping. In many cases, these benefits are a result of a one-time mindset intervention. People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.”—Kelly McGonigal

Why would such a simple action like writing about your personal values deliver such incredible results?

Researchers believe that one core reason for this is that journaling about your personal values and connecting them to the events in your life helps to reveal the meaning behind stressful events in your life. Sure, taking care of your family or working long hours on a project can be draining, but if you know why these actions are important to you, then you are much better equipped to handle that stress.

In fact, writing about how our day-to-day actions match up with our deepest personal values can mentally and biologically improve our ability to deal with stress. In McGonigal’s words, “Stressful experiences were no longer simply hassles to endure; they became an expression of the students’ values… small things that might otherwise have seemed irritating became moments of meaning.”

Living Out Your Personal Values

My own experiences have mirrored the findings of the researchers. In fact, I stumbled into a very similar practice by accident before I had even heard about these research findings.

Each year, I conduct an Integrity Report. This report has three sections. First, I list and explain my core values. Second, I discuss how I have lived and worked by those core values over the previous year. Third, I hold myself accountable and discuss how I have missed the mark over the previous year and where I did not live up to my core values.

I have found that doing this simple exercise each year actually helps to keep my values top of mind on a daily basis. Furthermore, I have direct proof of how and why my writing and work connects with my most meaningful personal values. This type of reinforcement makes it easier for me to continue working when the work gets stressful and overwhelming.

If you’re interested in writing about your own personal values, I put together a core values list with more than 50 common personal values. You are welcome to browse that list for inspiration when considering your own values.

Whether you choose to conduct an integrity report like I do or keep a journal like the Stanford students, the science is pretty clear on the benefits. Writing about your personal values will make your life better and improve your ability to manage stressful events in your life.

This is good. This is really good. 

rrrrrrreally good!

positive reinforcement 

and positive prioritization!

Right! I find myself looking through his core values list:

It's challenging to choose just 3!

wow!  there are a lot of core values.  humor stood out to me.  so good to have a sense of humor about all of it!

I agree Emily! Okay you picked one. Much harder to pick 3. And only 3.

I want to pick 50...

why only THREE?!?!?


but, just out of curiosity, which are your three?

  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Determination

nice, jared!  sounds like an entrepreneur!

okay, i'll give it a go:

authenticity -- i am i, and i'm the only one!

compassion -- my link to the world and everyone in it

humor -- a light way to view the dark world

I find it fascinating that you think it's a dark world even though you look at it a light way.

Authenticity and Compassion I would have guessed for you.

I would have guessed Jared's for him, too.

I'm still trying to figure out mine!

well, kindness has to be among yours!

the world's not all dark, but life is certainly tragic, and humor is how i handle it!

authenticity is kind of a cheat, because i'm using it to encompass everything i consider to be already a central part of me, including many of the other core values on that list.

i chose authenticity, compassion, and humor because they are things i make a point to value—unlike, say, creativity or openness, which are a given because they are already such a part of me.

I think that's why I'm struggling to choose 3. 

Just because I don't choose authenticity doesn't mean I devalue authenticity!

Oh what a struggle. I expected this exercise to be easier than it is. 

this is why i hesitated!

after choosing, you look at the list and say: but oh, honesty!  and courage!  and growth!  these are all things i value highly!

we have to say what these three values are and why you are choosing them.  maybe they are not the TOP THREE OF ALL TIME, maybe they are just what resonate with you now, or what you are working on, or what you are sharing with others.

in which case, we can switch it up whenever we want!  ;)

Thank you Emily. That takes some of the pressure off. 

I definitely have kindness in my top 3. Now I just have to figure out the other two. 

Alright.  Creativity. Humor. Growth.  Et tu?

dawn, i think you and i would get along just fine.  :)

Agreed.  Was hard to choose, because I hovered over loyalty, compassion, friendship, dedication... 

It's hard to say those are not top 3 things!

I still have kindness and I'm trying to choose the other two.

Probably compassion is my second so now I just need one more. 

Every time I look at the list I want to change mine... 

hahaha!  me too!  in fact, i'm starting to wonder if it's a good exercise.  why limit ourselves to just three??

That's what I was thinking... I wanted to make a chart--things I do really well and things I'd like to practice or benefit from... 

yeah.  that would be more inclusive.  and when it comes to values, the more the merrier!!!

and adam, i've been wondering: what's the difference between kindness and compassion?  i feel like kindness is the action of compassion.  maybe you still have room for two more... (if you're playing the strict way!)  ;)

Compassion is the empathy we feel for others. 

Kindness is action we do for others.

I couldn't find much on the Internet about it but I found this:

Interesting study; wholly unsurprising results.

This pattern shows up everywhere in life. Successful people often cite exercises such as personal value reviews, prayer, and meditation as keys to their process. In abstract, these are all mechanisms that force reflection and re-centering. Life is full of chasms and dangerous paths so it makes sense that checking our maps every once in a while leads to a better outcome.

Reflecting and deriving learning and meaning from one's bumps and bruises is incredibly freeing. Getting kicked around for seemingly no purpose would be a very bleak existence. 

What you say is true but sometimes it's hard to figure out what your values actually are. 

Being objective and honest with oneself is a lifelong battle and often very painful. As with most things, it is a process.

Trusted friends are very helpful in keeping us grounded in reality and discovering blind spots. A good starting point is asking the question "I think that I am X, is what you see consistent with that?". Listen, reflect, make adjustments, repeat.

Interesting... I can vote some off the planet and pick a few obvious ones for me, but if I'm limited to 3 that's hard... 

It's supposed to be hard Dawn. Try to pick 3!

Derrick, that's a good process for self improvement. 

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