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Values-Based Living and Health

By Thai Nguyen, MD Behavioral Health Psychiatry Resident

Difficult sticking to your new healthy habits

If you’re finding it difficult sticking to your new healthy habits, it is possible that your values and priorities are out of whack.  Values-based living is when we can make life decisions with more confidence and clarity, and when how we spend our time aligns with what we believe is most important to us. This is why I teach a class on Values-Based Living* at Duke Diet and Fitness Center. 


Living a Values-Based Life

I can’t guarantee that you will be happier living a values-based life. In some ways, it may be harder as you take responsibility and commit to actions that make progress towards your values. This takes constant discipline and determination.  However, what about the alternative of doing nothing and ignoring our values? By doing nothing, we will drift through life with nowhere to point our sails. In the short term, this is easy. I believe in the long term, it will make life unbearable. We will know deep down that we have cheated ourselves and others of our full potential.


Core Values

With the basic assumption that life is full of suffering**, I like to guide the clients to what makes life meaningful despite the pain. By having something to aim for, we can set our actions accordingly to give ourselves the best chance to live a worthwhile and vital life.  No matter what we struggle with, we can always turn to our values for guidance. For example, if health is one of our core values, practicing self-care, such as eating healthier food and engaging in regular exercise are examples of committed action steps we might take.


Distracting Behaviors

We may notice that certain distracting behaviors move us away from our values, rather than towards them. Behaviors that often sidetrack us include: Overeating, alcohol consumption, and binge-watching television. When we engage in these behaviors too often, our values are neglected, and eventually we feel very dissatisfied with life. Learning to identify these behaviors can help us to more quickly recognize when we’re moving away from our values and get us back on track.

If any of this resonated with you and you can’t make it to my class, I will leave you with this short summary of what it is all about. Russ Harris put it quite simply as “Be present, open up, and do what matters.”

Additional resources: The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

*Principles are based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

**Buddha is known for stating this clearly early on in human history. Perhaps he was the first well known psychologist.

Dr. Nguyen is currently a resident at the Duke Psychiatry Residency Program and has been enjoying part of his time at the DFC helping clients.


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