by Megan McDonough
I’m afraid of many things. Not the ghost and goblins of Halloween, but the ghost and goblins in my head. I’m afraid of my children getting in an accident or being ill. I fear death and dying—not my own, but those I love. I fear a divisive and combative political environment. I’m worried about war. There seems to be a clear and present danger everywhere threatening to upend safety.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution for attaining world peace, or keeping my family forever safe. I do, though, have a strategy for managing fearful thoughts. When clear and present danger lurks in my mind, I remind myself of my clear and present values. And then I live into them as best I can, putting those values into action.
All of us have a basic need to see ourselves as at least adequate, to trust that this system called “me,” this self, can manage things that arise daily. Fear threatens that sense of being okay. Fear clouds our thinking and impairs our ability to perform.
Affirming our values can curb negative outcomes. This is called self-affirmation. And it’s not the smiley-faced “I’m great” mirror speech. It’s the gentle reminder that we’ve put these values into action in other parts of our life successfully, and we can use it successfully on this thing we’re afraid of, too.
Reminding yourself of your values gives you a more expansive view of you—and of the resources you have to draw upon. This idea of “lived values in action” is another way to describe character strengths.
According to David K. Sherman and Geoffrey L. Cohen, “Timely affirmations have been shown to improve education, health, and relationship outcomes, with benefits that sometimes persist for months and years. Like other interventions and experiences, self-affirmations can have lasting benefits when they touch off a cycle of adaptive potential, a positive feedback loop between the self-system and the social system that propagates adaptive outcomes over time.”
When the ghosts and goblins come to trick, signaling clear and present danger, hand them the treat of your clear and present values.
Megan McDonough is CEO of Wholebeing Institute, an educational organization co-founded with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. WBI is committed to spreading ideas and practices that can help individuals and groups live life to its fullest.
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