As health and care professionals, we are often placed in situations and environments that can be stressful and difficult. This can create a range of different responses in individuals according to their values. Understanding our own personal values is an important foundation of happiness and a key part of Emotional Health and Well-Being."What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” - Oliver Wendell Holmes
When life changes, either at work or at home, it may affect well-being. Taking time to understand what helps your personal well-being so that it can be preserved and improved is a key step. Also, setting goals and re-evaluating them can be helpful when circumstances change at home or at work.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – the pyramid of happiness – visually represents the many layers of well-being. It also highlights how ‘higher’ needs rest upon the ‘lower’ or more basic needs and can only be achieved if our more basic needs are met first.
Knowing yourself means understanding your strengths and weaknesses, your passions and fears, your desires and dreams. It means being aware of your likes and dislikes, and your tolerances and limitations.
The benefits of self-knowledge may seem obvious, but here are a few reasons why coming to understand ourselves better can help to improve your quality of life:
- Happiness - you will feel happier when you can express who you are.
- Less inner conflict - when our outside actions align with our inside feelings and values, we experience less inner conflict.
- Better decision making – we make better choices about everything when they come from who we are, from small to big decisions; like having a compass guide.
- Self-control – we can better understand what motivates us, which strengthens against bad habits and helps sustain good ones.
- Resistance to social pressure – when grounded in our own values and preferences, we are less likely to say “yes” when we want to say “no”.
- Tolerance and understanding of others – awareness of the things we sometimes struggle with can help us to empathise with others.
- Vitality and pleasure – are both enhanced by being who we truly are.
VITALS: A tool for deepening self-knowledge
The capital letters in VITAL Signs form an acronym for the six building blocks of “self”. The letters stand for:
Values such as helping others, being creative, health, and financial security are guides to decision-making and motivators for goals. The motivation provided by knowing your values can keep you going even when you are tired. If you want to self-motivate, it is helpful to know your values.
Interests include your passions, hobbies, and anything that holds your attention over a period of time. Being interested in something may give you clues to your deepest passions. So, ask yourself:
- What do you pay attention to?
- What are you curious about?
- What concerns you?
Temperament describes your inborn preferences. Knowing the answers to questions like the below can help you gravitate towards situations where you flourish and avoid situations where you might not.
- Do you restore your energy from being alone (introvert) or from being with people (extrovert)?
- Are you a planner or go-with-the-flow type of person?
- Do you make decisions based more on feelings or thoughts and facts?
- Do you prefer details or big ideas?
Around-the-clock refers to when you like to do things—your biorhythms. If you schedule activities when you are at your best, you are respecting your personal biology.
- Are you a morning person or an evening person, for example?
- At what time of day does your energy peak? Or ebb?
What have been the most meaningful events of your life to date?
Knowing your strengths is an important foundation of inner self-confidence. They can include not only abilities, skills, and talents, but also character strengths such as loyalty, respect for others, emotional intelligence, fairness, and more.
Post-traumatic growth or 'benefit finding' is a positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other life challenges."In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” ― Viktor E Frankl
Lawrence Calhoun and Richard Tedeschi coined the term 'post-traumatic growth' to capture this phenomenon, defining it as the positive psychological change that is experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances.
It can be possible for these seven areas of growth to come from adverse life events:
- greater appreciation of life
- greater appreciation and strengthening of close relationships
- increased compassion and altruism
- the identification of new possibilities or a purpose in life
- greater awareness and utilisation of personal strengths
- enhanced spiritual development
- greater creativity.
The paradox of trauma-informed care – TED Talks
In this video, Dr. Vicky Kelly reflects on this concept.
The human mind is known to have a ‘negativity bias’ meaning that we tend to focus on how we think we are falling short, rather than recognising how much we do and have to offer others. In overlooking all the good and not appreciating our worth, we under-value ourselves.
This is why it is important to take time to consciously focus on our achievements to fully and more realistically appreciate ourselves. You will have achieved many things in your life, but have you ever taken stock of all the things you have done, honouring the things you have accomplished?
Consciously recognising what you do well each day can help you to appreciate that even the little things you do can make a big difference to those you help.
Here are some things you can try
1. Write down all the achievements that you can remember. Try to think back as far as you can. Don’t limit yourself and go as far back as you can recall. As well as feeling good, this can also help to give you confidence in your ability to accomplish what you set your mind to.
2. Create a blog about your achievements. It will get you to write about them and how you got to where you are. You could consider sharing your blog so others can see what you have achieved or use it as self-reflection. Seeing it written down can also motivate you to achieve even more.
3. Align your daily to-do lists with your overall goals. If you don’t have goals defined, start with these. To-do lists are good tools unless you are not performing the right tasks. High-level goals will help you determine what you need to be doing on your to-do lists.
You could also listen to Telvin Jeffries talking about achieving goals and discussing the things that prevent us from achieving them.
To listen to this podcast, click here.
Understanding more about managing change in our lives
Health care professionals are unique. Not only are we faced with supporting ourselves to grow and change, but our work often involves influencing the behaviour change of our patients.
Behaviour change is complicated and complex because it requires a person to disrupt a current habit while simultaneously fostering a new, possibly unfamiliar, set of actions. This can be very challenging.
We have all experienced the discomfort of committing to something and then not following through. It is common during these moments to be self-critical and feel that we are not competent enough or we don’t have enough willpower to achieve our goal.
Instead you could:
- try to see these setbacks as normal
- reflect on the challenges
- work on finding solutions.
Eventually this way of approaching challenging situations will become a healthy habit.
Knowledge alone isn't directly connected with behaviour. Often, despite knowing that a behaviour is harmful, individuals still do not make any changes. Social pressure, habits, addictions, and other elements can have a firmer hold on someone than knowledge does.
How does behaviour change happen?
It is not enough to simply know that a change would be a good thing, but this is the first step. It is also really important that we are not over-ambitious. Research shows that on average, only 20% of what is learnt on training programs, is even retained, let alone put into practice.
When making choices, you are most likely to choose what you are most comfortable with. So, it is important that you make your desired goals easy. If we understand and recognise that setbacks are a natural part of the behaviour change process, we are also more likely to achieve our goals, rather than give up.
As healthcare professionals, if we understand how to change our own behaviour, we can also support patients on how to change theirs. This can help us to identify what stage of change they are in and tailor interventions and resources to promote patient empowerment and action.
"…human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives." - William James, US philosopher and psychologist
Below is a simple framework to help you and the people you care for follow through with a desired behaviour change.
Prochaska found that people who successfully make a positive change in their lives go through five specific stages.
- Precontemplation - no intention to change behaviour in the foreseeable future
- Contemplation - aware that a problem exists and are seriously thinking about overcoming it but have not yet made a commitment to act
- Preparation - information gathering and planning stage. The preparation stage is the most important. Fifty percent of the people who attempt behaviour change and skip this stage will relapse
- Action - modify their behaviour, experiences, or environment in order to overcome their problems. Action involves the most overt behavioural changes and requires considerable commitment of time and energy
- Maintenance - work to prevent relapse and consolidate the gains attained during action
Making this change for yourself
An activity which can help clarify your values or the reason you want to make a change is called decisional balance. The decisional balance takes into consideration the pros and cons of behaviour change. Understanding pros and cons helps one acknowledge that behaviour change has good consequences but may require sacrifice.
Take a piece of paper, divide the paper into two columns, labelling one 'pros' and the other column 'cons'. Under each column answer the following questions:
|What will be the consequences of my behaviour change be for me?|
|What will the consequences of my behaviour change be for others (family, friends, co-workers)?|
|What will my reactions be to my new self?|
|What will be the reactions of others (family, friends, co-workers) to my new self?|
If the pros of change outweigh the cons, then you are ready to move into the Preparations stage. This sets the foundation for the preparation, action and maintenance stages to help you think about whether behavioural change is required within achieving goals linked to your values.
Remember, our natural tendency in life is to find stability. Change unbalances us and when equilibrium is lost, the system is motivated to restore it. If you step too far outside the bounds of what is familiar, then your natural instinct will be to resist the change and get you back to equilibrium. If you try to make changes which are too drastic, you will quickly run into a massive roadblock!
Nearly anyone who has tried to make a big change in their life has experienced some form of this - so developing bite-sized goals and acting on them is the best approach.
You may find the following resources useful:
The Choice Point: A Map for a Meaningful Life
In this video, Dr Russ Harris illustrates a simple but powerful tool from ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), called ‘The Choice Point’.