Connect with Your Values to Stop Fear Thought Spirals

Want to feel less defensive? Want to feel more loving and kind? Want to meaningfully connect with others? Want to foster relationships that satisfy your values?

Then you would benefit from a short exercise you can do any time. A study published in the July 2008 issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, found that writing about important values made people feel less threatened and more connected – and that these other-directed feelings resulted in reduced defensiveness.

“These studies raise the prospect that reminding people what they love or care about may enable them to transcend the self and may foster learning under difficult circumstances,” the study authors explain.

Take a minute to think of someone/something you care about – that holds value for you – and why. How do you feel when you think about them/it? Did it change the way you were feeling before you thought about them/it?

That sense of self-value tends to move my mind from a less resourceful state to a more resourceful state. Each of my valuable persons, places, and things has positive emotions attached that give me a sense of value.

When I’m in a stressful situation, thinking about a valued person, place, or thing connects me with the positive feeling I have for them/it. This, in turn, connects me with a more resourceful state of mind. I can then use that more resourceful state of mind in the situation at hand – even though the values-thought is completely unrelated to the current situation.

Putting Values to Work

Maybe the boss has called me into their office and I have concerns about it. As I walk toward their office, rather than fretting about why my boss might want to “chat” with me, I reflect for an instant instead, upon one of my positive values (what is important to me and why), connecting me¬† with the resulting positive feeling.

Perhaps my connection with the boss will then result in a less defensive feeling overall – and maybe turn a chewing out into a much more rewarding experience for everyone.


  • Jennifer Crocker, Yu Niiya, and Dominik Mischkowski – Why Does Writing About Important Values Reduce Defensiveness?: Self-Affirmation and the Role of Positive Other-Directed Feelings. Abstract. Psychological Science July 2008 19: 740-747, doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02150.x

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