How writing about our values can improve our lives  

Back in the 1990s a group of Stanford students agreed to keep journals over the winter break.  

“Some were asked to write about their most important values, and how the day’s activities related to those values,” writes Kelly McGonigol in The Upside of Stress.  “Others were asked to write about the good things that happened to them.” 

Yesterday, we explored how our mindset drives our behavior.  Our mindsets are also changeable.  The new field of mindset science demonstrates how even a single brief intervention designed to change how we think about something can improve our health, happiness, and success, even years into the future.

Exhibit one: writing about our values.

When the Stanford students returned, the researchers asked each of them to write about their three-week break.   

“The students who had written about their values were in better health and better spirits,” Kelly writes.  “Over the break, they experienced fewer illnesses and health problems.  Heading back to school, they were more confident about their abilities to handle stress.  The positive effect of writing about values was greatest for those students who had experienced the most stress over break.”

When the researchers analyzed more than two thousand pages of the students’ journals, they observed writing about their values helped those students see the meaning in their lives. “Stressful experiences were no longer simply hassles to endure; they became expressions of the student’s values.  Giving a younger sibling a ride reflected how much a student cared about his family.  Working on an application for an internship was a way to take a step toward future goals.”

Moments that otherwise might have seemed annoying or tiresome became moments of meaning.

Dozens of similar experiments have been done since then.  “It turns out writing about our values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied,” Kelly states.  

In the short term, writing about our values makes us feel more powerful and in control as well as more loving, connected and empathetic to others.  

In the long term, writing about our values has been shown to boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and aid with everything from weight loss, quitting smoking, and persevere in the face of discrimination.

“In many cases, these benefits are a result of a onetime mindset intervention,” Kelly writes.  “People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.”

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Reflection:  What are some of my values?  What do I feel is important and meaningful in life?  

Action:  Write down my values.  Today.

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