What To Do When Your Behavior Doesn’t Align with Your Values
Have you ever had something seemingly small or innocuous happen in your life that led you to a pretty big personal realization? -perhaps something about yourself that you desired to change?
This kind of thing happens to me every now and again, but I had a recent experience with it in particular that I’d like to share because I think it could be beneficial to others.
Not long ago, a friend of mine reached out to me about a book signing event that Hillary Clinton was holding in Denver. She shared that she’d bought a ticket to attend and was seeing if I wanted to purchase a ticket as well and join her.
Although I was interested in attending, I explained to her that I was making a concerted effort to be more fiscally responsible and conservative (especially around the holidays) since I recently started my own business. She graciously expressed her understanding and dropped the topic.
A couple of days later, she reached back out with a very sweet gesture; she’d purchased me a ticket to the event and again asked me to come along with her.
The problem? When she reached back out, I was in the midst of stressing-the-fuck-out about my upcoming week. It’s the holiday season, and I had *way* too many events on my calendar to juggle and manage, and an impossibly long to-do list. Moreover, the book signing was scheduled to happen the very next day.
So I began drafting a message to thank her, but to let her know that I wouldn’t be able to attend. I just had too much on my plate this week and didn’t think I could manage it all, blah, blah, blah.
I felt overwhelmed, so I was going into defensive mode and working to politely construct a hard barrier around myself and shut my friend’s offer down.
That’s when something suddenly shifted and clicked inside of my cortisol-flooded, stressed-out, and overwhelmed brain: my friend was reaching out to me because she had bought me a ticket as a gift and really wanted me to join her to meet the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State of the United States of America (not to mention almost our nation’s first female president). I was being offered an incredible opportunity, and all I could manage to think about was how I could escape it.
What was wrong with me?!
And my big realization quickly followed suit: I recognized that whenever I get overwhelmed with all that I have or need or want to do, I push people away. All people - regardless of their level of importance within my life - friends, loved ones, even family. I go into self-preservation mode and try to shut everyone else out so I can fully focus on whatever tasks I have at hand.
I realized that this had been my go-to approach for a very long time. It was so ingrained in me that it felt like an entirely natural reaction for me to have - one that the rational part of my brain immediately wanted to justify and support.
Yet, ironically, my knee-jerk reaction when feeling overwhelmed completely conflicted with what I actually cared about most in life; namely:
People / Relationships - my family & friends
Work - pursuing my mission & purpose in life
Healthy lifestyle - taking care of myself / my body, fitness, fun & active adventures or experiences, etc.
I was pushing away the people that I cared about most, my number one priority, in favor of my lower-level priorities, such as work.
I’d been acting as if my work or my to-do list at any given time was what mattered most. But in reality, the people in my life and the relationships that I have with them matter most to me.
And my actions had not been in alignment with that. Rather, the way I was acting when I felt overwhelmed was serving to de-prioritize the people and loved ones in my life and even potentially damaging my relationships with them.
I immediately knew I wanted to change my behavior.
Going forward, I didn’t want to push people away whenever these sorts of circumstances presented themselves. I wanted to be kind. I wanted to treat my friends and family in accordance with their true level of importance within my life.
I wanted to enlist their support - to let them know I felt overwhelmed with X, Y, or Z and ask them to help me or let them know how they could help me (when possible). I wanted to alter my brain’s flawed categorization system so I could stop viewing my friends and family as perceived enemies and instead understand them to be perceived allies.
So here’s what I did. I deleted the message I’d been drafting to my friend to turn down her offer and push her away. And I instead expressed my excitement for the event and thanked her, letting her know how grateful I was that she had done something so sweet for me and given me this opportunity.
Because this is the shit that matters in life - our relationships and the connections we forge with other people. Not getting one day ahead on our work. Not perfectly controlling our schedules and to-do lists.
I realized that I needed to seriously reorient my life. So I put the following plan in place:
1. Consciously re-prioritize & realign
I decided to make more of a conscious effort going forward to prioritize the people in my life and my relationships and connections with them over my work (i.e., to act in alignment with my hierarchy of values). Because that’s what really mattered to me the most, and I wanted to honor it.
2. Press pause
I needed to pause before just saying “no” as a knee-jerk reaction.
Unlike some people who maybe don’t say “no” enough to others in their lives, I’d become compulsively good at setting boundaries for myself when stressed out and buried with work. So much so, that I’d build a big wall around myself and effectively tell people to fuck off whenever they try to breach it or even offer help.
I wanted to change this behavior.
Instead of pushing back, I wanted to pause and really take a hard look at whatever was actually on my plate in that moment and consider whether I could shuffle things around to accommodate that person and the activity they were proposing.
I wanted to be more mindful and considerate in evaluating each circumstance that arose.
3. Build more flexibility into your life
I decided to create more open blocks on my calendar that I could potentially fill with work, but which I could also choose to allot to others if needed. For instance, if a friend ever reached out needing advice or support, I’d be able to accommodate a coffee date or accompany them to an event.
I also endeavored to limit my to-do list - to be more realistic with myself and have fewer priorities on an ongoing basis.
We have a tendency to take on things just to be or to feel busy. But when we look at what we’ve actually accomplished in a given week, it’s usually a lot of low-level administrative crap. We waste a lot of our time on relatively insignificant, time-sucking work.
So when putting together my to-do list and my priorities for a given week, I now asking myself:
What am I actually capable of accomplishing and by when?
What do I actually need to accomplish and by when?
Starting with these questions helps me to put together a narrower list of higher-level priorities that are worthy of my focus.
4. Periodically re-evaluate
I recognized that if I’m in my early 30s and just now discovering this issue, it’s likely a habit that’s going to continue to resurface for me over time. So I put a plan in place to re-evaluate my progress each quarter going forward and make sure that I’m continuing to act in alignment with my values and true priorities.
I decided to share this personal anecdote for a couple of reasons. First, I think it’s a pretty common problem in our hard-driving society (and a relatively socially acceptable one, at that) for us to fall victim to prioritizing work over the people in our lives. And I personally feel that the consequences of this behavior outweigh its benefits.
Second, even if you haven’t experienced this problem firsthand, I feel that the approach I’ve taken can be more broadly applied to address any negative habits or behaviors that you’d like to change in your life.
So reach out and let me know if this framework proves helpful to you, and please feel free to contribute any other tips or tricks you’ve found useful when looking to adjust your own patterns, habits, or behaviors in the comments to this post.
Why try to learn and grow alone when we can do so together?