This Brilliant Strategy Will Help You Exercise An Open Mind to Change


This year is going to be your year, right?

You’ve written down your goals and you’re going to achieve them.

That promotion? Yours. And what that partner you want to attract, that ‘perfect’ body you want to sculpt and that bestselling book you want to write? They’re yours, if you want them.

But we know it’s not as simple as that. Really, what we need is a strategy, one that is proven to produce results and can be applied consistently.

If we are to achieve our goals, we need to do something different; after all, what got us here won’t get us there.

Simple: if you want to change your life, you have to change your current behaviour.

The problem is when we’re given advice on how to change we can be resistant. This applies especially to losing weight; we know, deep down, we need to change, but when our ego feels threatened, we justify our current behaviours.

“I’m busy”, “I can’t afford it” and “I don’t know where to start” become excuses and we don’t change.

But change doesn’t have to be hard, in fact, as one recent research study found, we can exercise an open mind to change – and without triggering resistance . . .

How Important Are Values?

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication divided 67 sedentary adults into two groups. [1]

The first group (the experimental group) was led through a self-affirmation exercise.

This involved thinking about what was important to them. These were affirmations that reflected their core values.

Next, researchers exposed the group to health messages that might otherwise seem threatening like, “People who sit less are at lower risk for certain diseases.”

The second group (the control group) was asked to think about values that were not important to them. They were then subjected to the same health messages.

Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) area of the brain.

The VMPFC is the part of the brain that is used to process self-relevance.

All of the participants wore devices on their wrists that measured their activity levels before, during, and a month after the experiment.

After the intervention, researchers texted participants with health messages and monitored their wrist devices.

The affirmation group showed higher levels of activity in the VMPFC and were more active than the non-affirmation group.

This study found focusing on values that are personally important to us –such as helping a family member – can help us act on advice that might otherwise seem threatening.

Dr Emily Falk, who led the study, said:

Our findings highlight that something as simple as reflecting on core values can fundamentally change the way our brains respond to the kinds of messages we encounter every day. Over time, that makes the potential impact huge.

The Power of Values

Your values are the things that you believe are important in your life. This includes your family, your work, your religion or anything else that has a particular meaning.

These will be in a hierarchy and will influence your decision-making. For example, you might value your family over your work, and that will influence whether you’re prepared to relocate for a job promotion or not.

But ultimately, your values decide what behaviours you choose to adopt.

Think about it, if love and fidelity are your highest values, cheating is something you would never do.

The problem is most people don’t consider what their values are until after they’ve experienced pain.

They don’t value their health until they’re overweight from overeating. They don’t value their wealth until they’re broke from overspending. They don’t value their happiness until they realise they were happy with their partner; they just never stopped to appreciate them.

If, however, we choose our values, carefully, we can avoid pain, become better decision-makers and choose behaviours that will help us achieve our goals.

How to Identify Your Values

First, write down a list of what’s important to you. This can be your friends, your family, your work or anything else that has a particular meaning, or, emotional states you want to move-towards. This can be love, success, freedom etc. Then, rank them in order of importance.

Second, for each value you’ve jotted down, decide what that value means to you.

For example:

  • “To me, ‘happiness’ is practicing gratitude every day, laughing with my wife and satisfying my other core values”.
  • “To me, ‘Health’ is eating a high-protein, low-carb diet, practicing positivity and optimism, and strength-training three days a week.”
  • “To me, ‘Wealth’ is earning at least $2,769 a month from my business and saving 20%, and donating 10% to charity”.

Give your values top-of-mind awareness and remind yourself daily of what’s most important to you by asking yourself The Focusing Question.

The next time you want to avoid the temptation to eat unhealthy foods and get disciplined instead, focus on your core values.

Remember: Your values decide what behaviours you choose to adopt – and abandon.

Choose wisely. Thought Catalog Logo Mark


[1] Falk E.B., O’Donnell M.B., Cascio C.N., et al, (2015), ‘Self-affirmation alters the brain’s response to health messages and subsequent behavior change’, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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