A little bit of purpose can go a long way in supporting you through tough times.
Not to overstate the obvious, but we're living in difficult times. And we have been for a while now. From a global pandemic, to social, political and economic unrest, we're all feeling the stress and strain of ongoing uncertainty and relentless change. And it's taking a toll.
Stressing the data
New research indicates that Americans are experiencing some of their highest levels of stress since the pandemic started. Adults reported unintended weight gains, increased drinking, disrupted sleep, and other negative behaviors that may be related to an inability to cope with prolonged stress.
If you can relate, you're far from alone. I'm right there with you.
I've gained some weight, struggled with sleep, and experienced more persistent anxiety than I have in a long time. Thankfully, I'm still solid in my recovery from alcoholism and substance use disorder. Something I'm grateful for every day - especially in these tumultuous times. A clear mind is essential for doing everything I can to stay well and focused on what matters most to me.
That's where purpose comes in.
How purpose helps
Finding purpose is a fundamental requirement for human health and wellbeing. Human beings have known this to be true for millennia. And we're re-discovering this collectively anew, as we face another surge in Coronavirus cases, an increasing sense of isolation, and continued political and social turmoil.
Research shows that having a sense of purpose in life increases overall well-being, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, decreases the chances of depression, and increases longevity. It's also linked to memory, cognitive functioning, and even higher income.
Additionally, purpose acts a compass or navigating beacon to help us find our way when we feel lost, disconnected, or in otherwise unfamiliar territory. To use an analogy, purpose is like a lighthouse at shore when we're lost at sea during a long and stormy night.
To put it another way, purpose is like the rudder of a ship that we use to keep us on a steady course, instead of drifting aimlessly in a vast and endless ocean.
"A man without purpose is like a ship without a rudder - never likely to reach home port. Chart your course, set your sail, position your rudder, and proceed." - Thomas S. Monson
If this all sounds like pretty good news in a season characterized by exceptionally toxic media, that's because it is. Even better news? Purpose is a skill that you can develop.
So, purpose is helpful. But what exactly is it? And if it's so essential, how do we go about getting more of it?
There are many useful definitions for purpose, and each tends to have the following core elements in common:
a personal reason for being
a connection with one's own values
a contribution to something beyond oneself
Healthy Minds Innovations (HMI), which was started in 2014 by world-renowned neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson, is a nonprofit affiliated with the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison driven by a mission to translate science into tools to cultivate and measure well-being.
HMI defines purpose as a skill that "involves fortifying your ability to keep your most deeply held values front and center in your life, relationships, and at work." They've found that purpose is what allows us to hold a broader perspective and stay internally motivated regardless of external conditions.
Using this definition, purpose is an active process that we intentionally undertake to stay aligned with our values in all areas of life. And when we do so, we are better able to maintain a larger view of our lives, while staying motivated to move forward. Even when we're facing challenging times.
A compelling case in point.
Viktor Frankl famously wrote in his classic book Man's Search for Meaning that "life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose." Frankl was a holocaust survivor who shared about his personal experiences in the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp.
Among his many lessons learned, he found that prisoners who had a meaning or purpose worth living for were the ones who survived and endured better than those who didn't. Frankl went on to become a noted psychiatrist and spent his remaining years developing an entire psychology of meaning called Logotherapy.
"Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose." - Viktor Frankl
You may or may not feel that you were born with a purpose. Either way, you can intentionally build more purpose into your daily life starting with these 3 simple tips:
1.) Be more intentional: setting intentions is like injecting your day with a healthy dose of purpose.
set a positive intention first thing in the morning (ex. look for the good, develop my strengths, build personal relationships, stay committed to my goals, etc.)
practice single-tasking for brief periods of time throughout the day
start a mindfulness meditation routine
2.) Connect with your values: get to know what you believe in and what's most important to you.
3.) Practice meaningful self-care: pay attention to what your life needs and respond appropriately.
To sum it up
Purpose is a skill that you can develop to help you navigate challenging times more effectively. There are many definitions for purpose, but they all involve a personal reason for being, a connection with one's own values, and a contribution to something beyond oneself.
To develop more purpose in your life, start by becoming more intentional, connect with your values, and practice meaningful self-care.
Reflect and connect
How could purpose help you with the challenges that you're currently facing?
What might be different if you knew what your important values were?
How can self-care play a part in helping you manage stress while contributing to something greater than yourself?
Post your comments below or connect with me to share your thoughts.