As a reminder, I have been trying to establish my VITAL Signs, which stands for:
Values, Interests, Temperament, Around-the-clock activities, Life mission and meaningful goals, and Strengths.
In my last post I explained my interests, temperament and around-the-clock activities. This time I will conclude the VITAL Signs activity by sharing the outcomes of this project for me. I am journeying through a transitional time in my life, approaching 8 months of sobriety and closing in on my 40th birthday (not until May mind you) and this has developed a desire to reflect on my life and who I am as a person to really get a better sense of self at this time in my life.
So, let’s talk life mission and meaningful goals. The article suggested thinking of the events that had been most meaningful in my life to date. I drew up a list that including:
- Overcoming some of the adversities in my life. This was not done gracefully, I have been hospitalised, through years of therapy, been avoidant, fought the emotional growth and taken many steps back before moving forwards. But, ultimately I am a survivor.
- Becoming a Godparent and having a beautiful relationship with 3 little people who I love endlessly.
- Being a supportive friend during my friends times of need.
- Completing challenges such as climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and running the London Marathon.
- Qualifying in my profession and being responsible for saving countless lives – literally through diagnosing heart problems, performing CPR, being in cardiac procedure and through training many other medical professionals.
Strengths. The article asked the reader to focus on character strengths as well as their abilities and although they provided a link to a list of character strengths that could be considered, the link wasn’t particularly detailed. Instead I just Googled for a list and came up with the following words that I think reflect strengths of mine:
Emotional intelligence. Fairness. Leadership. Humour. Integrity. Kindness. Reasoning. Reflection. Critical appraisal. Intelligence. Compassion. Empathy. Language skills. Creativity. Listening. Teaching others. Presenting skills.
Research shows that just thinking about or writing down your values makes it more likely that one will take healthy actions! the research
When I started this VITAL Signs activity I immediately skipped past trying to name my core values. I felt that understanding my values was really one of the harder things to do and the article essentially just asked the reader to write them down! I didn’t know where to start. So, I found another activity on Mindtools which gave the reader steps to reveal their values. mindtools activity
In this activity there were 4 steps to work through.
- Identify the times you were happiest
- Identify the times you were most proud
- Identify the times you were most fulfilled and satisfied
- Determine your top values based on your experiences of happiness, pride and fulfillment
So I opened my notepad and sat there for a while thinking about step 1. The times I was happiest……hmmm. Answering this was a real struggle for me, and that in turn made me very sad.
So many experiences in my past have been so traumatic and difficult that the moments of joy are almost forgotten. With a lot of consideration I was able to write that getting my cats were moments of great happiness for me and I remember sailing at the weekends as a child with my siblings and parents very fondly. In all honesty, nearly every positive experience in my life has been tainted with sadness due to the overwhelmingly difficult life experiences, and through a lot of my adult life the joy has been dampened with alcohol.
So, I slept on it, and the next day I chose to move on to the other steps rather than focusing on being unable to think of happy times. I have no doubt so much of my life was happy in the moment, but years of trauma and PTSD has rendered my memory very restricted. Forcing memories to the surface isn’t healthy for me right now, so I needed to honour that.
I found it a lot easier to identify times I have been proud. I have been very proud to see my brother’s success. Proud of how my best friend has got through her adversity over the last 2 years, Proud of climbing Kilimanjaro and running the London Marathon, passing my professional exams, and I remember one case at work in particular when I was able to identify a problem with a patient that no-one else had seen and it resulted in saving his life – a moment I was very proud of myself for.
Then I thought about the times I felt most fulfilled and satisfied. Some of the things I wrote here were attending yoga retreats, completing Vipassana 10-day silent meditation retreat, completing charity challenges (Kilimanjaro and London Marathon) and moving into the current job I have.
For each of these things I listed I then tried to focus on what it was about the experience or time in particular that made me feel happy, fulfilled or proud. I won’t go through them all here, but some examples are;
Charity challenges; I felt proud because they were physically demanding for me to complete. I dedicated myself to the training and worked really hard to get to a point that I could complete them.
Vipassana; I took time for myself, for self-care. It gave me a sense of calm and perspective. I took time to look inward and found a sense of who I am as a person.
Yoga retreats; Meeting like-minded people, and I have made friends for life. Retreats are the time I take for myself every year and they help improve my flexibility and strength. Yoga retreats are my annual reset.
My current job; Taking my current job allowed me to move out of a job that was very bad for my mental health. I now have a great work life balance and my job feels more aligned to my ethics and gives me more opportunity to focus on my skills.
Based on all this the final step was to go through everything I had written in this part of the activity and put descriptive words to the topics covered. This would create a top list of values which I would be able to condense by giving them overarching group names. Let me show you…..
So going though the things that made me feel happy, proud and fulfilled I came up with a top list of values that looked like this:
- Making a difference
- Personal development
- Continuous improvement
- Hard work
Through this list I was able to group common values together (see colour grouping in the list above) and from this I was able to write out my values……
Compassion and service to others
Equality and fairness
I have honestly found this VITAL Signs activity really useful to complete. Deep down I am sure I knew what my values are but I had no way to articulate them. This activity has allowed me to explore not only my values, but also my strengths and interests in a way that I have found enlightening. I am not the same person I was a year ago, or 5 years ago and certainly not 10 years ago. I think it is so important to reflect on who I am as a person regularly and I feel like I have a better sense of self by doing this activity.
Maybe you’d like to give it a go too?