Finding and Refining Your Values: Taking Recovery to the Next Level

This is a guest post by Olivia Knieff, sharing her real-life experience navigating recovery from an eating disorder.

Do you know what in life is important to you?  The things that initially come to mind probably include family and friends, pets (or in my case, furbabies), maybe even a prized possession or social cause.  But why are those things important?  Are they meeting a need that lines up with your values?  Maybe you value justice, and volunteer with a group that promotes equality in your community.  Perhaps taking risks is important to you, so you continually push the bounds of your comfort zone.  Our values serve us by acting as a compass for our behavior. It is important to know what our core values are in order live the lives we want.

A Journey of Self-discovery

I’ve been in recovery from an eating disorder since 2014. Recovery is not a linear path.  A transformative part of my eating disorder recovery came from identifying my personal values.  I now regularly pause to gauge whether I am acting in accordance with my core values – whether what I am doing is moving me closer to or away from my truth. This is especially true when I am making difficult decisions or processing through heavy emotional stuff.  For example, connection is one of my core values.  I relish the relationships I build with others. Recently, a connection I have with someone very important to me was feeling askew.  It was hard for me to reach out to this person and ask them to discuss this with me, but because I so highly value our connection, I set my discomfort aside and did just that.  It worked out great and it felt so good for my actions to be in harmony with my values.

My values remain important to me in my recovery and serve as a guiding force when I feel uncertain about my next step. When I find myself longing for ED behaviors, thinking that they will bring me solace, I now know that it’s time to look at my values. Perhaps I am wanting to turn to food to push down difficult emotions, or maybe I am wanting to deprive myself of nourishment because I’m feeling ashamed of my existence. Numbing out by overeating doesn’t leave space for my value of growth; restricting until I feel hollow inside is not in service of my values of nurturance and self-love.

If you feel lost or unsure of yourself, or just want to get to know yourself better, completing a values sorting exercise can help.

Five Steps to Find your Values

  1. Print your own cards here.  If you don’t have access to a printer, you can create your own by using index cards or sticky notes.
  2. Separate the headings cards (the ones labeled not important to me, important to me, very important to me) from the values cards and lay them out from left to right, from not important to very important.  Set the two blank cards aside.
  3. Shuffle the values cards and go through them one-by-one, placing each card under the heading card it corresponds to for you.  Trust your instinct – don’t overthink the process.  It might even be helpful for you to give yourself a time limit.
    • If you think of a value that you don’t see on one of the cards, create your own with the blank cards.
  4. Your objective is to sort down to the values that are most important to you – the ones that drive your beliefs and actions.  Once you’ve completed your initial sort, set aside the cards from your not important and important piles.  Remember, no judgement about the values you are setting aside.
  5. Now, you can begin refining the values that are very important to you.  Strive to have no more than 10.  Once you are down to 10 or fewer, place them in order from most to least important.  These are your core values.  Remember that you can repeat this exercise at any time, for any reason.

Although our values are deeply personal, an additional step that I’ve added to this process is sharing my top values with trusted friends and family.  I find benefit in sharing because doing so increases the ways my loved ones can support me.  When I’m mired in ED thoughts, it can be helpful to be reminded of my values by my friends or partner.  You could also consider sharing your values with your therapist and/or writing them in your journal or on your bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker.  Whatever feels most helpful to you is the right thing to do.

I hope this values card sort becomes something you will turn to in moments of self-doubt, when things seem vague or obscure, or just because you feel introspective.  I have gained so much insight into my soul because of this exercise.  I wish the same for you.

My top five personal values? Authenticity, integrity, justice, growth, connection.  What are yours?


Olivia bio photoOlivia Knieff has been kicking ED’s ass since 2014. She is a non-profit program manager in northern Colorado and is passionate about supporting and advocating for marginalized individuals.  She enjoys connecting with others, especially with Seinfeld references.  In her free time, Olivia can be found in deep conversation with her pups, laughing at inside jokes with her husband, or FaceTiming with her 6-year-old nephews.

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