Why Resetting My Values Means Taking More Baths
I used to hate baths. My whole adult life I knew I didn’t like taking baths, and anytime the topic of bathing came up and I was asked about it I would say, “It’s like lying in my own filth. Gross.” Over the years I would experiment with baths and say I wonder if I like baths now? And I’d try having a bath…and then I’d go years as a ‘showers only’ person.
What does this have to do with values? Taking a look at our values system can be very confronting and can sometimes actually push us to make some big changes (job, location, or relationship changes). I’m sure we’ll write about all of those things eventually at Values Based Living, but I’d also like to reflect on how resetting our values can also sometimes change our lives in small but surprising ways.
I used to think baths just weren’t for me. And listen, who cares!? Take baths or don’t – as long as you’re still showering, right?:) But there’s something fascinating about this tiny, seemingly benign belief of mine: the WHY behind it all, and the sneaky collective or societal values that were worming their way into my decision-making without me knowing about it.
This is how it happened. This year I asked myself once again, I wonder if I like baths yet? Except this time, I was in a stage in my life in which I was making big changes and working hard to find my inner compass, looking at all areas in my life and assessing each one to decide what I still wanted in my life (more on that in future blog posts, I’m sure). Basically, I was working to reset my value system so all of the values in it were MINE. Within this process of self-exploration I started recognizing that many decisions I had made in my life were being confused by the ‘shoulds’ I was putting on myself. I ‘should’ prioritize the health of my family over my own…I ‘should’ prioritize self-care but only in the pre-approved list of ways one does this (baths are usually on the list). I was ‘should’ing all over myself, as they say.
So, this small activity of taking baths comes into my awareness. I think about what my expectations are around baths, and what I seem to feel I ‘should’ be doing when I have a bath. I thought about where I’ve seen baths depicted: in movies, commercials, tv shows, or from friends/relatives who have talked about their experiences (and who, importantly, are embedded in the same culture as I am).
Below are 4 unspoken value groupings around taking baths (I’d like to call them ‘myths’) that I realized I was basing my decision-making on, but that actually didn’t belong to me:
1. The act of taking the bath must leave you feeling completely at peace and relaxed. It must be the most radical act of self-care that you have taken part in that day, and you must do whatever you can to ensure that the bath is effective (aka relaxing).
So. Guh. First of all, yes, baths can be relaxing. But there are many reasons for taking baths besides relaxing.
To meditate (which is sometimes not peaceful if we’re tuning in to difficult emotions we may be tamping down). Sometimes I just need to sit in hot water, breathe, and stare at my toes for a bit.
To warm up! Living in Canadian winters sometimes means feeling chilled to the bone every day for months. If a bath helps with that, so be it.
To get clean. When I realized I almost forgot this one I had to laugh. Talk about first world problems when ‘getting clean from a bath’ is no longer the primary reason to have one. It used to be the only way people got clean! Showers weren’t invented until 1767. I would guess most of us in North America prefer a shower to a bath when our primary objective is to clean ourselves, but not adding this reason to the list just felt…wrong.
I’m sure there are others! The point is, not feeling more relaxed at the end of a bath doesn’t mean the bathing process has ‘failed’. Each bath may include one, all or none of these reasons, and that’s okay.
2. Baths are meant to be long. The longer you can spend in the bath, the more luxurious the experience. The longer you spend also somehow correlates to ‘using’ the water more and therefore, wasting less water (i.e. ‘if you’re going to have a bath, TAKE a BATH!’).
Okay, this one is a particular mind-fuck for me. Especially this part about not wanting to waste water, which I think is an influence from my family not wasting in general. Of course, this concept of not wasting is a useful and healthy idea to pass on, but in this case I think it distracts and undermines the intention of a bath. If I’m ‘white knuckling it’ through a bath so I can hit the 1 hour mark to prove to myself that my decision to use up a tub full of water was ‘worth it’…no wonder I hated baths.
There’s also this idea here that our lives are stressful and horrible and we need to escape to the sanctuary of the tub in a locked bathroom to relax. That may be true for some people, but I think we’ve actually just gotten caught up in this idea that it’s ok for our normal lives to be stressful and that we all obviously want to escape our daily lives. This comic actually comes pretty closing to showing what I’m talking about:
This leads me to the 3rd myth of bath-taking: ambience.
3. The more ambience, the better. The more candles, essential oils, rose petals, wine, chocolate, and beautiful bathroom paraphernalia around will directly impact how pleasurable the bath itself is.
Again, this isn’t wrong, but it’s warped (and it’s hard not to notice how directly this particular point (and comic) panders to capitalist values). If you want all this stuff as part of your bath ritual, by all means. But this message that a bath isn’t as relaxing or meaningful or effective if we don’t have all that stuff is just overcomplicating things. If I think about bath as a spectrum, on one end we’ve got “Turn On Taps, Take off Clothes”, and on the other end we’ve got this comic. As soon as I started giving myself permission to take part in this activity at ANY level of the spectrum, the pressure went way down. AND the baths went way up.
And the final and maybe most difficult myth…
4. The bathroom must be clean. A stray hair in the water or a dirty sink will ruin the ambiance, and therefore the bath.
Yeah…no. If I need to clean a whole room in my house before I’m allowed to relax, it’s no longer a relaxing event.
Yes, seeing a freshly clean bathroom can be calming. And sitting in a tub of scummy water with old wash clothes and crusted bath toys is probably not what we’re going for here. But think about the spectrum of what’s in between! We don’t need to choose one or the other. For example, I don’t like it when there’s dust or grim around the rim of the tub, so I’ll clean that part before I have a bath. But the sink? The floors? The shelves high up in the shower that I can’t even see when I’m actually in the tub? Nope, I ignore it all. And honestly, as soon as I’m in the tub I don’t even think about it.
From the moment we’re born, collective or societal values are inserting themselves into our lives without our conscious permission, and there are way bigger and more impactful consequences than whether to take baths or not. But I hope this little example from my life can shed some light on how a little self-reflection and awareness can go a long way. Once I realized that these values did not belong to me, I was able to decide which ones I wanted to keep. And then I was able to slowly let go of the rest. My work became to give myself permission to send these myths packing and replace them with my own set of expectations.
The baths one was actually pretty easy, but the other stuff can take years of learning and relearning.
If you’re looking for support to understand your own relationship with collective values that may be unconsciously impacting your behavior, check out our workshop, Values Reset.