First #TransparentTuesday of the year is a guest post by Stefanie Bonastia!
Please enjoy it (below), and Happy New Year!
2020 was such a crap year for so many people that the resolution-buzz is vibrating a bit higher than usual. People are ready for a change.
Unfortunately, the remedy for change of any kind usually gets assigned to weight loss (and if not weight loss, then “health,” which is usually just code for weight loss). It’s as though we believe that all of the baggage we carry will magically melt away if we join the diet and wellness bandwagons.
I get the appeal of resolutions, of course.
Resolutions offer us a feeling of structure amongst the chaos. They feel like opportunity, a clean slate, a plan. Even when it’s for non-weight-loss reasons (ie: I want to stop bingeing, I want to be more patient with my kids, I want to accept my body), the resolution itself is more about a desire to get one’s shit together. We can all relate to that.
But 2020 asked us to do so much—to isolate ourselves, to get quiet with ourselves, to ask tough questions, to reflect on our personal and collective biases, to politically take a stand, to sit in the vulnerability of watching loved ones do these same things, to question so many things we thought we knew– that maybe 2021 should be less of a time for resolution and more of a time to clarify our value systems.
Maybe the New Year is a time to rebrand who we are becoming.
This is especially relevant for people who are working on healing their relationship with food and body, since most of that work is centered around shedding limiting belief patterns, exploring authenticity, and rejecting the running narratives of a patriarchal, capitalistic, appearance-obsessed society to embrace something entirely different.
Formally exploring “value rebrands” can offer us the sense of structure and self-commitment that we are truly seeking, but in a way that doesn’t demand unsustainable goal-setting the way that, say, doing a Whole30 or juice cleanse would.
So what is a “values rebrand”? It’s a way of getting more clear and more intentional about the values which we choose to guide us.
For example, our old, unconscious, and automatic values system might tell us that we have to lose weight to be palatable to others and find acceptance within our circles—after all, that’s what most of us learned. Without examining and consciously rejecting the beliefs that create this old unconscious system, we might revert to it over and over again because it is what is familiar to our brains, and our brains follow the path of least resistance.
A values rebrand is about choosing to examine and reject the beliefs from our old values system, and choosing new ones that accept and affirm ourselves, and align more closely to our deep-down core values. (After all, nobody was born valuing weight loss or conventional beauty ideals.)
Seeing our value system shift, either by journaling or mental processing (which can also be done with a therapist or a coach, if that helps you), can change the thought from “I hate my body, I’m disgusting,” to “My body is no longer the barometer of my worth; my need to be palatable to strangers is no longer one of my values; I want to surround myself with people who accept me for who I am outside of the way that I look.”
And over the course of time, this value rebrand has the power to shift our thoughts, and affects the way that we live.
Here are some of the most common value rebrands that I see emerging with clients who are working on healing their relationship with food and/or body:
First-Person Experience over Third-Person Experience:
For most of our people-pleasing lives, we prioritized the experience of the person viewing us over the experience our Selves. For example, we might be contentedly moving about our day when suddenly we see ourselves reflected in the mirror, and the world falls apart. The subconscious value system is saying: What right do you have, walking around this place feeling fine? This is how others are perceiving you! We must abort mission and reassess our worth, and there will certainly be no more feeling good today. To consciously reject the notion that feeling good depends on how we look (spectator) over how we feel (Self) is simply a shift in values.
Journal prompts to help explore this: What is the fear around valuing your Self’s experience over others’ experience of you? Where did you learn that the opinions of others has to do with how you are allowed to feel about yourself? How can you update your thought patterns around this?
Authenticity over Performance:
How many times a day do you find yourself performing? Saying things you don’t actually mean, feigning a reaction you don’t actually feel, engaging in behaviors that feel more obligatory than desirable? Many of us learned to respond to the world in a way that breeds the least resistance, which can be helpful at times (ie. telling your Grandma you like the sweater she knitted for you because it’s just easier that way), but when done in a way that chronically denies your authentic experience, can be self-eroding (ie. telling your partner that it’s OK when he takes an entire weekend to play in another Member-Guest golf tournament, you’ll just stay home alone with the kids…again). Performance is what keeps us stuck in diet and beauty culture—we do the things we’re conditioned to do instead of what we really want to do, like ordering the salad with friends and then (perhaps more authentically) bingeing on pasta when you get home.
Journal prompts to help explore this: Where are you currently performing? Where do you feel most authentic, and how can you express that more often? How is performing dulling your sense of self? How might honoring your actual needs offer you more joy and freedom, and is it worth it to you? What scares you about it?
Failing Forward over Perfectionism:
Perfectionism is less about doing things well than it is about fear. Although sometimes perfectionists cling to the idea of perfectionism because it sounds like we’re just holding ourselves to really high standards (which can be worn as a badge of honor), it is more often than not a rigid way of living that prevents growth. Failing forward has consistently proved itself to be the most useful tool in my professional and personal toolbox—without mistakes, there is nothing from which to learn. Similarly, clients working on recovery from disordered eating sometimes get stuck in the “not doing recovery perfectly” enough (the flip side of the “I’m not eating perfectly enough” coin), and the take-home lesson is that you’re not supposed to be. Fail, course correct, fail, course correct. That’s kind of the point.
Journal prompts to help explore this: How does your value system of “doing it right” get in the way of doing it at all? How might your definition of success shift by viewing mistakes as opportunities? What’s the worst that could happen if you did it imperfectly, and what is an alternate narrative?
Self-Compassion over Self-Criticism:
I think many of us hold the belief that self-criticism is not only deserved, but it is the fastest way to elicit change. If we let ourselves off the hook, we’ll flounder and keep getting away with not being accountable. But self-compassion is likely to be the single most important determinant of our own growth as humans, because we are so un-used to doing it. If we continue to meet ourselves with disapproval, we are not likely to improve—we will just keep spinning our wheels and expecting different outcomes. Self-compassion is a way of meeting ourselves as human. Instead of seeing self-compassion as vomit-inducing niceties (ie: You binged again? That’s amazing, you rockstar!), think of it as a gently motivating friend (ie: this sucks, I totally get it. Be patient with yourself, this is going to take time.) Shifting the value system from self-harm to self-kindness is more likely to give you the space you need to progress.
Journal prompts to help explore this: Give your inner critic a name. Where did that voice come from? Whose words are they? What tone of voice feels softer and more natural to you? Where do you need it most? Use a variety of scenarios where you typically default to self-criticism to come up with a more neutral dialogue.
Community over Isolation:
In the thickest of our food and body struggles, many of us lean towards isolation. We retreat, we hide, we become less and less connected as our disordered eating and body shame takes over. At its root, I believe we feel undeserving of connection because we consider ourselves to be unacceptable and fear rejection. Trading in this fear/belief for a healing community of like-minded people can be game-changing. The more you embrace your authenticity, the easier it will be to find your village, and to feel more at home.
Journal prompts to help explore this: Do you feel apart from others, or alone among them? Do you crave more meaningful connections? Have you held yourself back from connections, or have you been looking in the wrong places?
Based on your explorations of the above questions, zone in on a couple of intentions that feel aligned with your emerging sense of self. Use these intentions as structural anchors that you can keep returning to as you move through 2021. Remember that old values/beliefs are well-worn grooves in your brain, and the tendency to default to them does not mean your values have shifted; only that they will need gentle and repetitive rerouting.
Happy New Year, friends.