Wisdom//

Here’s How You Can Use “Value Triggers” to Reduce Stress and Boost Motivation

Experts weigh in on a simple trick that can change everything.

Courtesy of Halfpoint / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Halfpoint / Shutterstock

What’s your most cherished value? We all have driving forces that keep us inspired and motivated, whether it’s supporting our loved ones, giving to those in need, finding fulfillment in our work, or making a difference in our community. 

Determining your most cherished value and using it to your advantage can drastically change your approach to your work, infusing you with additional internal motivation, says Rebecca Greenbaum, Ph.D., professor of human resource management at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations.

That’s where value triggers come in. Value triggers are items that represent something that matters deeply to you — for example, a key ring that belonged to your grandmother can be used as a value trigger representing how you prioritize family. “A value trigger is a physical reminder of your core values,” Steven Hayes, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Nevada and author of A Liberated Mind, tells Thrive. “It is there to help you refocus back on what matters most to you, making you more inclined to act in line with your highest ideals.” 

Value triggers are especially effective at keeping your work life on track. “Having purpose prompts employees to want to go to work and do a good job, without focusing as much on external rewards,” Greenbaum explains. “When the going gets tough, an employee’s sense of purpose reminds them of the importance of their work, and gives them the fortitude to move forward.”

Here are four expert-backed tips for finding your own value trigger:

1. Do some soul-searching

Before you choose an object to act as your value trigger, it’s important to make sure you’ve chosen a value that truly resonates with you. Hayes stresses the importance of avoiding choosing certain values due to pressure from others. For example, if your mother greatly values tradition, but you value independence, make sure to follow through with what you believe — not with what will make others happy.

Additionally, Hayes urges against choosing values you believe you should have — that will only create internal distress. “Values chosen out of emotional avoidance or entangled ‘have to’ thoughts push you down rather than lift you up,” he tells Thrive. “True values are something you seek — they are not methods of running away.”

And make sure your value integrates naturally into everything you do. “The ones that work best are intrinsic to being and doing, such as behaving honestly or lovingly,” Hayes says. “Values like that protect you from stress reactivity and burnout.”

2. Choose your item carefully

Value triggers come in all shapes and sizes. A few common examples include pictures, jewelry, or even a Post-It note, Hayes notes. He also suggests using more intangible things, such as a mantra or ringtone. Greenbaum proposes displaying quotes in your office, or creating an email signature that is meaningful to you, to serve as daily reminders of your core value.

The key here is choosing something that fits naturally into your daily life. Set yourself up for success by making interaction with your value trigger inevitable. “If you want to be reminded of the values you bring to your home life, pick a trigger, like the keys of your car, that you will have to interact with before you go home,” Hayes says. “If you take your wedding ring off at night, use that little moment of putting it back on in the morning to think about the kind of spouse you want to be that day.”

Many people already carry around value triggers without realizing it: pictures of loved ones in your wallet or on your desk, wedding rings, or award certificates hanging on your office walls. The trick is making use of that trigger.

3. Tap into the power of rituals

Value triggers are effective — but only when you actually use them. Hayes explains that value triggers are something of a use it or lose it scenario. Simply having a value trigger isn’t enough to reap the benefits.

In order to get the maximum benefit, you have to make a habit of finding meaning in your value triggers, Greenbaum notes. Rituals can enhance a person’s self-control, and allow them to focus on what’s most important. Employees should start their work days reminding themselves about their values, and how they’ll uphold those values throughout the day, she says.

4. Reflect and reevaluate as you go

Remain mindful about what matters and never take values for granted. Both experts emphasize the importance of deep reflection throughout the process of choosing and utilizing value triggers.

Reflecting on values regularly allows you to continually determine their importance in your life. “Make a concerted effort to reflect on your values before entering a situation where those values may be challenged,” says Greenbaum. “By actively and strategically thinking about the application of your values, they will become an integral part of how you work — rather than something that you attend to only when it is convenient.”

And don’t be afraid to reevaluate your values as the need arises. People change over time, and so do their values. By reevaluating, you can make sure that the value you choose to prioritize always matches up with where you are. “It’s okay if your values change. The idea is not to find the ‘ideal’ value, but to be actively engaged in the process of finding out what matters most to you. Hold them lightly, but pursue them passionately,” Hayes says.

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