By Michael Olson, Ph.D. & Catalina Triana, M.D.
Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher said, “Change is the only constant in life.” Browse the best-seller list and you will discover many books that focus on change. We are fascinated with change and care about starting and maintaining changes that will make a difference in our lives and in the lives of those we care about. What do we know from the research about the change process? Studies have shown that the core of what facilitates change is intrinsic motivation, or that which springs from one’s own core beliefs and values.
What is it you care most deeply about? What are the things you know are true or most important and contribute to your sense of meaning and purpose in life? Ironically, it is often in the darkest moments, when our decisions or the decisions of others threaten our most cherished values and beliefs, that intrinsic motivation can spark and catalyze change.
The idea of change springing from internal conflict is woven deep into the fabric of our collective psyche and cultural history. Sixteenth and 17th century English puritans and separatists, revolutionaries and founders like Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson; Harriet Tubman and her resolve to abolish slavery; early settlers and pioneers who struck out West to find peace and freedom to live out their values and beliefs; and visionaries like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all acted out of a deep desire for change rooted in their core beliefs and values.
The principles that guided the actions of these great individuals are no different than the principles or conditions that can lead each of us to change in our own lives. When our values and beliefs become “out of sync” or incongruent with our behaviors or with what is happening in our lives, the result is often cognitive dissonance or an internal friction that can build discrepancy and motivation for change to live more consistent with our beliefs and values. One way to raise our awareness of our own internal beliefs/values and match these with our behaviors is through a value sorting exercise. The following links provide instructions and sorting cards to help guide you through this process.
These resources will help you to evaluate if your current behavior is aligned or in conflict with your most important values and what steps you would have to take to become more congruent with what you most value.
Change is obviously complex and multifactorial. Looking at intrinsic motivation as a key factor in the process is a just a beginning. Understanding our values and beliefs and how these match up with our life choices is a key step to facilitate change in our lives. For many, a process of self-reflection and examination of core values/beliefs and behavior can raise awareness and spark change. For others, there may be extenuating circumstances, relationships, addictions, etc. that may need additional support and help. In such cases, partnering with your physician and/or a psychotherapist may be necessary step to break through the barriers/obstacles that constrain change.