Values: the benefits of discovering and affirming your personal values
In the first blog post of the values series, I discussed what values are and what they are not. In this blog post, I will share how determining and reflecting upon your own personal values can benefit you psychologically.
In the research that’s out there about this subject, the process of determining values and reflecting upon them is known as value affirmation. It is the most researched method of self-affirmation which refers to an event that boosts the perception of the self as being sound, moral, capable and cohesive, demonstrating one’s adequacy.
There are many benefits of self-affirmation using value affirmation. Here are just a few of them:
It leads to a broader view of events. Generally, when we feel threatened, we focus in on the immediate threat which can feel all-consuming. However, self-affirmed people are able to see the threat more in context. They can see the bigger picture and are able to distance themselves from the threat. A great study illustrates this beautifully. Non-afﬁrmed participants saw a psychologically threatening stimulus (a securely caged tarantula) as physically closer to them than it actually was, but self-afﬁrmed participants estimated its distance accurately, as though the afﬁrmation psychologically distanced the threat from the self (Harber et al, 2011).
It reduces the impact of events. Because the threat is seen in perspective (both within an expansive view of the self and life generally), it has less impact on psychological well-being. In a study of self-afﬁrmed minority students, a low classroom grade had less inﬂuence on their long-term sense of belonging in school. (Cohen et al, 2009) Likewise, when college students were self-afﬁrmed, their attention was less absorbed by ruminative thoughts about past failure. (Koole et al, 1999)
It encourages action. If a threat is seen as important and that you are able to address it, having a more expansive view of self makes it less likely that you will shrink away from the threat or deny its importance to yourself. This allows you to better deal with the threat in a constructive way.
It helps you make changes. Studies show that people are more successful in quitting smoking, taking up exercise, and changing their diet if they’ve been asked to consider their values first. (Stretcher, 2016) It would seem that it is much easier to make difficult choices, especially ones about health, follow through with them and succeed if the new actions or behaviours are aligned with your values.
It acts as a buffer to stress. Reflecting on your values can reduce hormonal anxiety and allow you to be more present and effective in challenging environments. Studies have shown that when people write about or reflect on their values before entering potentially anxious situations, they have significantly lower levels of cortisol than people who don’t. (Dickerson & Kemeny, 2004)
In addition to these benefits, when we do things in our day to day life that fits with our values, we feel happy, that our lives are worthwhile, and our self-esteem is boosted. However, when we do things that do not match our values, the opposite occurs. This is why it is important for us to be aware of what our own values are so that we can spend time doing things that align with our values.
So as you can see, value affirmation is an evidence-based technique that brings many benefits to those who use it. In the next blog post in the values series, I will discuss how you can determine your own values and reflect upon them so that you can lead a more satisfied life.
Cohen, G.L., Garcia, J., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Apfel, N., Brzustoski, P. (2009) Recursive processes in self-afﬁrmation: intervening to close the minority achievement gap. Science 324:400–3
Dickerson, S.S & Kemeny, M.E. (2004) Acute stressors and cortisol responses: a theoretical integration and synthesis of laboratory research. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 355-391
Harber, K.D., Yeung, D., Iacovelli, A. (2011) Psychosocial resources, threat, and the perception of distance and height: support for the resources and perception model. Emotion 11:1080–90
Koole, S.L., Smeets, K., van Knippenberg, A., Dijksterhuis, A. (1999) The cessation of rumination through self afﬁrmation. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 77:111–25
Stretcher, V.J. (2016) Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything. HarperOne, USA, pp. 35-99