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The Stress-Free Experiment

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

What would it mean to you, and to your organization, if you could find a way to transform minor inconveniences into moments of meaning?

What would change for you, and your organization, if you could live stress-free from moment to moment?

The secret to your success begins with conducting a tested and true experiment.

Researchers at Stanford University asked a group of stressed-out college students to participate in an experiment over winter break. All the students agreed to journal during the holiday. Easy, right? All you have to do is write.

But a select group of students were given a specific assignment. They were asked to write about their most important values, and how those values showed up in their daily activities.

After analyzing thousands of journal pages, the scientists uncovered a new conclusion: writing about values helped these students to see new meaning in their lives. Students from the values group experienced feelings of greater confidence, resilience, and connectedness as they headed back to school. The values group experienced better health than the rest of the group. And get this: the students who experienced the most stress over break also experienced the most powerful outcomes from the values-based journaling!

Stressful and difficult situations were reframed for students, via this experience. Tough times became opportunities to reconnect with a source of strength, resilience, and ultimately, new ideas. That source? Their values.

In a similar intervention, but with a different test group, scientists discovered this this values-based affirmation exercise creates results that can be measured years later. That’s right: people who wrote down how their values were reflected in everyday life showed positive effects even three years later!

Research from various experts shows that this values-based exercise can boost academic performance, improve both physical and mental health, improve problem-solving, increase collaboration at work, impact weight loss, alleviate drinking problems, change smoking habits and more.

The blueprint begins with your values. Your connection with your values determines how you show up. The shared values of an organization are the foundation of culture, performance, customer service and branding.

Your values, extended over time, become your goals. Want to navigate through change, uncover the future of work, and help build an organization that’s ready for what’s next?

Here’s how to get started.

What are your personal values? Consider what you value most. Here are some words and phrases that might spark your imagination—what others could you add to this list?

What stands out for you, from the table? Or do you have something new to add?

Let the experiment begin!

Choose one value that really stands out for you. Circle it on the list you made. Make sure it’s something that you value—not something that you’ve seen in someone you admire, or a value (like “being on time”) that’s been a label assigned to you by someone else. Do you value playing sports—or being good at sports? Notice the difference, observe your preferences, and get clear on what matters most to you.

Set a timer for 10 minutes and select one value.

● Write a few sentences about why this value matters to you using a physical pen and paper. Don’t worry about sentence structure—make it a stream of consciousness. Just share what shows up and put it on the page, this isn’t a grammar exercise! The power is not in your punctuation, I assure you.

● Consider these phrases as prompts:

  • “These values are an important part of who I am”

  • “Here’s how I see this value demonstrated in my life”

  • “Here’s how I saw this value show up today/yesterday/recently”

  • Finally, consider this idea: “Here’s how this value is going to help me to get through this next season / next quarter / next performance review” or whatever you’ve got coming up next

Once you’ve completed the exercise with your top value, keep going. What’s your next most important value? Repeat the exercise. Maybe you want to cover your top three or five values, in a deep dive. (That’s what we do in my performance workshops and mastermind groups). Look at what matters most to you. Then, if you’re really committed to change, consider keeping a Values Journal, every day. Here’s how that works:

When you find yourself connecting with your values, write it down. How do you see that value come to life? What actions or reactions show up, as evidence of that value?

If these questions are difficult to explore, and you can’t find ways that your values align with your actions, that’s a very informative discovery. What do you make of it, when your life isn’t allowing you to live in accordance with your values? If you can’t find evidence of your values in your daily life, you’ve got to wonder why that is.

How do your values come into play, in the midst of difficulty, challenge or conflict?

Remember, your values are unique to you. There is no value judgment on your values!

The choices you make must be your own. Otherwise, you’ll end up conducting a stress-free experiment for your parents, your boss, or your ex-boyfriend from college. Let them do the work on their own!

In the middle of stress, go to your values. When confronted with uncertainty and change, go to your values. Getting defensive? Go to your values. And know that your values are simply an expression of preference in a given moment (which is why it’s useful to look at your values, and journal how you see your values showing up, on a daily basis).

Because your values can change. When they do, that doesn’t necessarily mean you lack the courage of your convictions. The shift means that you are adaptable. Changing your mind is a part of being human—and seeing new options and alternatives is evidence of growth. Is the capacity for growth something that you value? That your organization values? Perhaps it’s time for a values-based intervention, right now.


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