In the book The Upside Of Stress Kelly McGonigal refers to a 1990s study in which a group of Stanford University college students were given the task of keeping a daily journal over the winter break. 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 University 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. In the intervening years these findings have been replicated in nearly a hundred additional studies.
“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.”
Researchers believe that one core reason for why this activity is so powerful is that journaling about your personal values and connecting them to the events in your life helps to reveal the meaning behind the events that cause you to experience 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.”
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 an experience that resulted in stress.
In the long term, writing about personal values has been shown to boost test scores, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing problem drinking. It helps people persevere in the face of discrimination and reduces self-handicapping.
The research shows that people who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.
Ready to Create your Stress Reducing Mind-set Shift?
When you reflect on your personal values, the story you tell yourself about how you handle challenges/threats shifts.
To create your mind-set shift:
1. Set aside ten minutes.
2. Identify between 1 and say 8 core values – the things that are most important to you. For some examples of common core values click here.
3. Once you’ve identified your core values, pick one and write about it for ten minutes. Describe why this value is important to you. You don’t have to write about anything that is currently a challenge or threat. You could simply write about how you express the value you’ve chosen to write about, in your everyday life, including what you did today that was in alignment with this core value. Or if you are facing a difficult decision, you could write about how this value might guide you.
You may want to repeat this exercise with at least two more of your core values at another sitting, or revisit this exercise when you are feeling especially overwhelmed by stress.
The lasting benefits of this exercise are not the direct result of the ten-minute writing period, but of the mind-set shift that it inspires.
More on the Upside of Stress
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Until next week,
Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise is in helping people perform under pressure and gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of co-active coaching, hypnosis, positive psychology and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
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