"Proud of yourself?"
Ever had the thought - "I wish I was happier", "do I even know myself?" "I'm not entirely satisfied with my life", "what do I stand for?" "this isn't who I thought I'd be by (insert age here)". We can experience fleeting feelings of 'meh' when we consider who we are and what we are doing with our lives. If we ignore these feelings it can lead to despondency, a lack of motivation, helplessness and sometimes depression. But if we listen to this emotion it can be helpful in that it can prompt us to re-evaluate and fine tune our direction, choices and behaviours in life, to align further with our preferred, ideal selves. When we act more as our ideal selves, we experience more moments of 'happy' and greater feelings of vitality and contentment in life.
Question: So how do we identify our own personal version of 'ideal self'?
Answer: We work out our values, the actions associated with them and we DO those actions.
What are values anyway? Perhaps the best way to define values is to first consider what 'goals' are. Goals are the experiences, tasks and achievements we can list and then 'tick-off' once completed. For example; run 10 kms, travel to Sri Lanka or learn to surf.
Values are the reasons behind our goals. My values of health and fitness lead me to set goals around running. My values of travel, diversity and adventure lead me to plan a trip to Sri Lanka. My values of learning, challenge and nature lead me to take surf lessons. Sometimes we are unable to achieve all the goals we set for ourselves, for reasons outside of our control. However regardless of this we can still live by the value that created the goal in the first place. If I develop a injury that prevents me from running, I can still live by my health and fitness values, my goals will just look a little different - for example, I could do swimming training instead. Our goals come and go - we either complete them or we don't. Our values are more stable, consistent and lasting. When we act inline with our values we are happier with the person we are and feel greater contentment in life.
TRY THIS REFLECTIVE / INSIGHT EXERCISE: Consider each role in your life - e.g., daughter, 'work role', friend, etc. Then think about and list how you would like relevant, key others to view/ describe you in that role. E.g., I'd like my parents to see me as an intelligent, thoughtful, fun daughter. I'd like my clients to see me as an authentic, supportive, gently challenging, insightful and 'real' psychologist. I'd like my friends to see me as adventurous, silly, trustworthy and nonjudgmental. Then reflect and identify actions that would be described as such - e.g., to be the friend I ideally want to be I need to make sure I initiate activities like hiking, camping, surfing trips (value: adventurous). I need to ensure I display my inner child with spontaneous fun and joking around (value: silly). I need to show genuine interest in their lives and maintain their confidences (value: trustworthy) and I need to be mindful of making judgmental comments on their choices and model acceptance of them as unique individuals (value: nonjudgmental). Once you have your ideal-self behaviours outlined - act on them.
Value driven behaviour is a perpetual work in progress. Its not always easy but the rewards of greater life contentment, greater acceptance of self, increased 'buzzy' feelings (you know, the ones we like to have more of) and increased self-esteem and self-efficacy, make it worth it! A NOTE OF CAUTION: Its very difficult to be our ideal selves across all roles at all times. So be sure to be realistic and show self compassion when you cannot achieve this. Sometimes one value will compete with another and one has to win out for your attention in the end. Thats ok - focus on it when you can. And remember, a prolonged and pervasive sense of dissatisfaction with life and associated feelings of low mood may be a sign of deeper mood disturbance. In which case, its best to see your Doctor or Psychologist and check things out in more detail.