Positive psychology is a field of psychology that steers away from analyzing what’s wrong with someone and toward what makes a particular person’s life worth living. This will be unique for each individual, but there are some universal themes. One way to discover what makes a life worth living is to look at what someone values, such as passions, strengths of character, teamwork, humor, kindness, community, or spirituality.
When people know their values, they can use them to guide their behaviors. From this place, people can build upon what’s already working and honor the innate wisdom of a behavior, even if it seems dysfunctional at the surface. Here are 5 great tips from positive psychology for food and body:
1. Find What Makes Your Life Worth Living
Positive psychology has found that there are usually three to five values that a person will prioritize above all else in life. Those values are unique to them. When our actions align with those values, we feel happy and that our lives are meaningful. If our actions betray these values, we usually feel pretty miserable and our lives become devoid of meaning. We can often find out what our values are by asking ourselves what we’re not getting, in our misery, that we need.
If you had 1 month off and money was not an obstacle, what would you find yourself naturally inclined to do? Who would be there? What principles would guide the experience—adventure, peace, integrity, play, faith, connectedness, or wholeness? What would you filter out? How would you want to feel?
How would you eat under ideal conditions? How much sleep would you get? What would you need to do in order to make it happen? How much physical contact would you need? Would you want gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, touch, or acts of service?
2. Let Your Values Guide Your Actions
Here are some examples of how your values may play out in your life:
If you value vitality, then you’re probably not going to feel very happy eating a consistent diet of junk food, because that doesn’t sustain vitality. However, you may incorporate some such food into your diet, because, as we know from Dynamic Eating Psychology, part of vitality is enjoying all of life’s pleasures! How vital your body feels will help guide the ratio that’s right for you.
If you value integrity, then you feel best when you honor your commitments to yourself and others. Of course, it’s always healthy to reevaluate when commitments are overextensions. But when you know that going in a certain direction is right for you, setting specific, measurable and reasonable goals and following through with them is something that will feel very satisfying! You can apply this to a meal, exercise, or sleep plan that is right for you.
If you value connection, then behaviors around food or body rituals that are isolating won’t contribute to a meaningful life. If you value creativity, then you’ll probably want to try new foods, or new twists on foods, and mix up exercise routines. If you value kindness, you’ll need to apply that to your body as well. Whatever you value will inform what you do with food and how you treat your body.
3. Find Meaningful Interactions with Others
Part of what makes life meaningful is realizing that other people matter. We each have different temperaments and propensities toward introversion or extroversion, but we all need connections that feel meaningful to us. Shared experience is validating. Being accountable to others makes us feel like we exist and matter.
This is why people often see results in changes they want to make with food or body when there is a social accountability component to their plan. It’s much easier to stay in habitual patterns when change is just a thought in your head. But when that thought is shared and there’s a commitment that someone else will see you follow through on or not, it increases the likelihood of behavioral change.
It also feels meaningful to know that our presence makes a positive difference in someone else’s life. Being there for someone else reminds us to have compassion for ourselves. We learn lessons more deeply when we teach them. We may take enjoyment from simply sharing life with someone else. If it’s important to you to show up to your child’s soccer game, that may be the extra boost you need to get off the couch and experience joy with your family.
4. Identify with Something Beyond Yourself
Sometimes our relationships get strained with others and we beat ourselves up. We feel lost. It can be helpful to see ourselves as a part of a bigger whole to carry us through those rough times, and to enrich the good times. Whether you believe in a religion, a God or gods, Nature, Science, Psychology, Truth, or just plain old Goodness, having an organizing framework that allows you to see yourself and others as essential parts of a bigger whole can add that layer of meaning to life and guide the moments of uncertainty.
Sometimes we don’t know why bad things happen to good people, and there aren’t always reasons. Being able to view events within a larger framework, however, can help our nervous systems soothe into a greater trust that everything works out, or that we will find a way to work with what is. When our nervous systems are more relaxed, we digest better and have less stress hormones circulating. All this can add up to a better body image and better self-care.
5. Build on Your Strengths While Accepting Your Temperament
And finally, build on your strengths. There’s a paradox in life that change only happens when we truly accept the current condition without judgment. It’s the premise of the Serenity Prayer. As we teach here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, instead of hating your body into submission to fit some ideal standard, you can love it for doing what it does and keeping you safe.
Shaming ourselves to become better because we think we’re not acceptable as we are only gets us further from our goals, and from ourselves. When we can acknowledge our gifts, talents, and strengths, we’re not being arrogant; we’re expressing gratitude for what is. What we focus on increases. So, rather than focus on our deficits, we can focus on what works. We can accept what is part of our personality, and work to relate to those aspects with greater love and respect.
Truly big changes happen over time, with repeated practice and consistency. If we act now with the principles and values we have, one day we’ll look up and realize that our body is in balance and our food choices are effortlessly supportive. There’s nothing to force.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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