5 Ways to Cultivate Your Purpose & Build Meaning into Your Everyday Life

Ever think about your purpose? Wonder how it helps your life? Why it matters? Builds energy? Helps you be more healthy? Having a life purpose can lower stress, enhance well-being, and increase cognition1,2. Lately, we have been hearing a lot about purpose in the psychology world. It has become a buzz word because it is so important to living our best lives.

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Find Your Purpose

It is time to get serious about your purpose. Purpose is about finding something that matters to you and brings something good to the world2. A wise soul visiting my office told me finding purpose means:

“having some connection to hope and future impact. It’s about feelings of ability to make things happen. A sense of connection ‘a gift to somebody’. A need to socialize the experience and a recognition that the gift is in its authenticity and sincerity”. 

As you consider your purpose consider your contribution in relation to how committed you are to making things happen. Without a personal commitment to make something happen purpose is just a dream. The reason we want it to be personal is because when it has a personal underpinning, it becomes about making meaning for your life. Meaning is important to our psychological health. I can have a thing to do – stick the widget in the box – however if I find no personal connection to why it is important to get the widget in the box, it won’t have purpose for me, it’s just another task on my to do list. As you work, find the personal meaning in the tasks that need to be done. Then make sure they understand how this task relates to the larger whole. 

Having Purpose Helps Your Physical Health

A study done noting the relationship between a sense of purpose and declines in physical health found that older adults who had a sense of purpose had less physical decline in grip strength and walking speed2 . These are important because as we age our slower pace is linked to more disability and less quality of life. 

Fogel & Canahil found purpose helped us recover from stress1. Stress is something we all need a little of, however if we have too much for too long our physical system becomes inflamed. Inflammation wreaks havoc on our structures. It causes joint pain, brain fog, digestive issues, heart issues, and more. In their study, having life purpose was linked to a faster recovery from a stressful situation test. 

As we move through life, having purpose in our lives appears to help us handle the costs of too much stress. It was also noted in the studies above that those who had purpose reported more engagement in taking care of themselves and using proactive strategies like staying on top of routine health care needs2

Greater Than Me

Another component of purpose is the way purpose connects to something bigger than ourselves. If my goal doesn’t bring connection to others and offer a positive “gift” then I have just accomplished a goal. Purpose is like my goal on steroids. 

That’s why we see so many fundraisers to run a 5k for a cause. I could go out and run 3.2 miles any day. I could do it just because it makes me happy, gets me on the trail, out of bed, off the couch. However, most of us don’t, unless it’s helping another. Then we are all about 5am headlamp runs. When you consider how you are creating a sense of purpose for yourself, find the way the task or goal becomes service to something larger than you. 

Socialize It

If we want to inspire others to build and follow their own purpose we need to consider how we engage with others. Do we provide opportunities for those around us to hone their sense of belonging to our cause or project. Transformational leadership posits that we influence those we lead, and that this style of leadership enhances wellbeing in those who follow us4. Leadership doesn’t have to be a formal title, it can be found in our everyday living when we decide to engage with those around us. We have an opportunity to help others capture the benefits of purpose and drive more engagement in our communities.

Well-being definitions are broad and incorporate various aspects of physical and psychological health. They include a lot more than just the absence of disease. Transformational leadership is about influencing, inspiring, intellectually challenging, and honoring each person’s individuality with appreciation for what they bring to the team4 . Do you bring these items to those working with you? Live with? Hang out with?

Reflect on Your Strengths and Values

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To help you create a sense of purpose, consider where you have been. Remember, part of purpose is looking toward creating something positive in the future, having a common goal, that helps others or contributes something good to the whole. This means we have to know where we’ve been. There is an element of reflection that is needed when we consider creating purpose rather than just a task list. We want to assess what we are good at, what we’ve been able to do before, and then link our values and hopes into the project that creates a new future. 

5 Exercises to Help You Build Your Purpose and Cultivate Meaning

There are a few things to consider when working to develop a consistent focus building purpose into our lives.  Here’s a few fun ways to do this:

  1. Evaluate your values. There are many options for values inventories online. Here’s a good one to use. 
  1. Consider your future self. Visualize your future self and imagine sitting down to have a conversation with them. Ask them about what is important, what they were excited to have accomplished, and what they hope for. Let the future you impart wisdom to the today’s version. Listen and then set some goals to accomplish those aspirational aspects of yourself. 
  1. Learn emotional regulation skills. This is so important. It’s a skill we all recognize should be taught in kindergarten, however many of us only got the cliff notes. Cultivating emotional regulation and the ability to shift your focus from what isn’t working to what is working is an advanced skill and takes practice. You must hone your ability to recognize, label, and accurately act on your emotions as they present themselves. Emotions are just a part of your built in intelligence system, however most of us are limited in our ability to recognize and label. This impacts our ability to accurately act. As a result, shifting perception – which is an action – is limited to our narrow version of what is happening in our view of the moment. 
  1. Practice visualization and what is known as the miracle question or magic wand in Solution Focused therapies. This exercise asks you to visualize and report in detail your perfect day/situation/outcome/etc. In this exercise we get very specific about what you see, think, feel, and how you act. Step by step we walk through your prefect scenario and focus on what you want. A big piece of this exercise is how you feel. Do not skip over cultivating how you will feel during each step of the day. 
  1. Be of service. Get outside yourself and your goals. When you can figure out how you can contribute you’ll have a better sense of what the world needs and how you fit into the solution for problems. This allows you to hone your own skill set and offer all that you have already learned for the benefit of someone else. Here you get to recognize your strengths and review how you learned them. You can review your life to this point and assess where you went right, wrong, and what you learned. 

Consider the above and practice these exercises. They’ll give you a gold mine of options for find your next purpose. 

References 

1 – Fogelman, N., & Turhan, C. (2015). ‘Purpose in life’ as a psychosocial resource in healthy aging: An examination of cortisol baseline levels and response to the Trier Social Stress Test. Nature Partner Journals, Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, 1, 15006, doi:10.1038/npjamd.2015.6

2 – Kim, E. S., Karachi, I, Chen, Y., Kubzansky, L. D. (2017). Association between purpose in life and objective measures of physical function in older adults. JAMA Psychiatry, 74(10)l 1039-1045, doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2145: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2145, PMCID: PMC5710461,PMID: 28813554

3- Greater Good Magazine. Science based insights for a meaningful life. definition of purpose: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/purpose/definition#what-is-purpose

4 – Arnold, K. A., Turner, N., Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., & McKee, M. C. (2007). Transformational leadership and psychological well-being: The mediating role of meaningful work. Journal of Occupational Health Pscyhology, 12(3), 193-203, DOI: 10.1037/1076-8998.12.3.193 

Your Body Holds the Answers. Ordinary to Badass Podcast Interview.

Join Marie and I as we talk about how to manage social distancing and still feel connected during the COVID-19 outbreak, how to treat mental health with diet and exercise, and what it means to be the best you possible.If you haven’t heard her podcasts yet … check them out! She has amazing women talking about life and working to create the life they want to lead. I like to listen while I work out- these ladies are INSPIRING!! I always workout a little harder, thanks to their stories of hard work and success.

In this episode I talk to Stacy Reuille-Dupont, PHD.  Stacy is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a licensed addiction counselor, and a certified personal trainer.  Stacy incorporates Psychology and movement to help you get results!

In this episode we talk about her fitness club burning down, how to manage stress during covid-19, and using movement to improve your mental health!


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Even When It Is Hard Commit To Yourself First

We cannot escape entering into our goals without our social structure we find ourselves in. So even when the office mates bring cookies or your partner wants pizza every night or your kids won’t eat healthy options right now … commit to you first. Make sure to take the small steps to reach your goals right now. Lives are built on the small steps done every day with consistency.

#healthfromtheinsideout #mindovermatter #fitnesspsychologist

Are You Ready To Commit?

What does it mean to commit? So many of think about commitment in terms of relationship, but do you ever consider what it means to commit in your everyday life and toward your everyday goals? Today examine your commitments to see if you have taken the steps to actually make them happen and see how this shapes and changes your view point of what commitment means in creating the best life ever. Read more to get ideas on changing your perspective on what it means to commit to yourself and create the life you want.

Many of us think of commitment as a long term concept and maybe even as being “stuck” in our dull routines. 

The dictionary defines commitment as:

“the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc, a pledge or undertaking, and an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action”. 

So many people only pay attention to the last one. The restriction part. When we focus on the first two it actually shows us a way to find ourselves at a deeper level. It gives us direction on what to say no to and what to say yes to. It shows us what we care about and how we want to live our lives. Below outlines a few ways to work with commitment in your own life so you are not feeling burdened or stuck in the same old routines. Becker (1960) states:

“The concept of commitment is widely used but has received little formal analysis. It contains an implicit explanation of one mechanism producing consistent human behavior. Commitments come into being when a person, by making a side bet, links extraneous interests with a consistent line of activity. Side bets are often a consequence of the person’s participation in social organizations. To understand commitments fully, an analysis of the system of value within which side bets are made is necessary”. 

Howard Becker

He goes onto define and outline how people work with and need commitment to engage in a variety of activities and to help define the limits of participation in said activities. In addition, he discusses how making your goal social and examining the culture it is made within is crucial to helping make sure you remain committed. So if we think about commitment being an activity we engage in (commitment to do something) or a state of being we are in (being committed) we can use these concepts to help us define and reach our own goals. 

Think about what you would like to have, accomplish, be known for. If you can define your goals then you will know what you need to commit to. These could be activities, people, occupational trainings, etc. They could also be things you need to let go of under the same headings. You might need to let go of not doing something to reach your overall goal. 

These are your side bets. The items you need to consider participating (or not) in are the things that help build your goal. Often people do not do a good job of figuring out the side bets to accomplishing hopes, dreams, and overall goals. They often have a good idea of what they would like to do, have, become but fail to consider what steps to take and how to accomplish them. In effect, they commit to the goal, but not the side bets that will help make it possible. As a result the desire for and commitment to the idea of the goal is alive, but often feels out of reach or unattainable. In order to be successful then, one must commit to the side bets. This is the art of being dedicated to the cause, activity, goal within the social culture. This is their pledge to themselves. This is the piece that actually does the work and gets the goal finished. This is also the part that people tend to focus on negatively because it does limit choices and takes away choice for any and all behaviors and activities. 

When you begin to think about commitment being something much more than just one decision and you are stuck with it forever. You begin to see how much more flexibility is in making a commitment. Within the decision to accomplish something, have something, or be something you actually have a lot of flexibility in your choices to make goals happen. You actually have a number of ways you can go about making them happen, too. From this perspective you have a lot more control in your choices and behaviors. Let’s look at a couple of examples. 

Healthy Eating: 

Commitment is to a particular food/diet choice:

First, you have to determine what you want. Then why. This is a crucial step as it tells us what to really focus on for side bets. Remember those are all the little steps and items you commit to outside the bigger goal. If I want to change my eating to a Keto diet it will look different than a vegetarian diet. If I am choosing a vegetating diet due to ethical reasons it will look different than endurance training options. 

Once you have figured out your what and your why, you must take steps to make it come alive in your life. This is where vision boards happen, meal planning and preparation, learning to deal with eating out, other people’s opinions, and shifts in your regular behavior to take on the small everyday steps to change how you have been eating in the past. This is also where people begin to struggle to remain committed to their personal goals because it gets boring and routine. It becomes very mundane. However, if you can make it through the small decisions and routine commitment choices you will reach your goal

Let’s look at something more abstract – Relationships: 

Commitment is to a particular person, lifestyle choice, social construct. 

For many people they blindly follow their personal cultural norms around relationship commitments. Often these are view points and behaviors we saw our parents and other adults in our lives acting out and we just absorbed them as truth about the way relationships are. BUT … there are many more options and ideas about what it means to be in a long term committed relationship than the options presented to us in childhood. The steps remain the same, but the choice points and side bets look different because of our culture and societal norms of the communities we live within as adults working to form relationships. 

Many people like to blame one gender or the other for the difficulties of remaining in long term intimate relationships, instead of doing the work to determine what it is they really want and figure out ways to get it in healthy co-created side bets and awareness of team building a shared life. Often partners do things “because that’s the way it goes” rather than examine what they would like and commit to creating a life from future visioning rather than past experiences. When it gets mundane and difficult people retreat to their corner licking wounds of vulnerability instead of coming together and discussing what is hurtful, difficult, or unappealing about personal culture expression. 

For example, if one partner believes that men should not show their feelings and have never been taught to speak about or how to show feeling in authentic connection, it will be difficult to maintain a partnership where one person is focused on reciprocated emotional sharing. In this case, it is best to communicate about wants and needs effectively – which is very very difficult when we are talking about blind spots in our culture, especially when they trigger vulnerability. 

To remain committed in a long term relationship we much consistently grow “together” and expand our personal cultures, sometimes abandoning pieces and parts of old cultural norms, to co-create a new shared culture together. We must work together to focus on common goals and negotiate comprise well. Take for example one partner who wants to build a large savings account but the other partner is a spender and sees no point in saving money now. They will continue to have a difficult time reaching the safety needs of the 1st partner (to have savings) if they cannot share ideas, vulnerabilities, reasons, and commitment to the goal. In the conversation there is room for negation around how much and when to spend freely so partner 2 doesn’t feel controlled and loss of enjoyment etc.  

It takes commitment to the larger vision of what it means to be in relationship and then commitment to work together to accomplish those goals to make a relationship work over the long haul. This is what makes remaining in long term committed relationships difficult. The longer you are together the more shared culture you create and the more you examine “the way it is” mentalities you were handed. If you have not committed to grow together the prediction of your relationship is that it will end.

In order to make a long term commitment to yourself or others you must have a clear view of what you want and why it matters. This helps you chose the decision points you must address and gives you clarity to chose wisely to reach your goal. It helps to walk through the steps of determining what you goal(s) are, how you would like your life to look/be, and they type of person you want to be known as. These defining criteria in your life help you determine next steps in what to focus your action on and what to let go of. 

Look at it this way – you are already committed. You may be committed to a lifestyle and value system you love so no need to change. That is great. However, if you are looking around your life and seeing things you want to change, you must determine what you have been committed to: unhealthy eating, too much TV, relationships that are not what you want, people who do not lift you up, old value systems you follow blindly instead of reviewing to determine if it fits you, unexamined vulnerabilities and personhood core wounding that shapes what you believe about yourself, your options in this life, and the world at large to begin the process of committing to yourself and the life you want to lead. Start today.  

Becker, H. S. (1960). Notes on the concept of commitment. The American Journal of Sociology, 66(1). 32-40.