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How Mentally Strong People Assess Their Sense of Purpose

How Mentally Strong People Assess Their Sense of Purpose
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Jackie felt a lack of meaning and purpose as a deep sucking feeling in her stomach. It was a constant drain on her, a deep hole in her center that she just did not know how to fill. She went through the motions of life – going to work, doing house chores, browsing the internet, hanging out with friends – but didn’t feel there was any point to it all. She felt stuck and trapped, going through a meaningless and fake existence, with no way out to a better world.

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Oh, Jackie certainly sought to gain a sense of meaning and purpose, many times. Her family, friends, and church members kept trying to convince her that faith in and service to God was the ultimate purpose of life. And she wanted to believe, she really did! But even as a child, Jackie felt something missing in that perspective, and started to feel that unease in her stomach. She grew more and more disillusioned in her teenage years, and the unease grew into a deep pit. She just didn’t feel that serving God was really meaningful for her, it just didn’t ring true – finding the truth was really important to her, more important than faith. The efforts of her family and church members to convince her only pushed her further away from them. Nobody was happy.

Then she learned about the idea that you can find a rich sense of life purpose using a science-based approach. She even learned that studies showed those with a deep sense of life meaning have much better physical and mental health! She was very surprised to learn that there are paths other than religion or tradition to having a meaningful life.

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Skepticism

However, Jackie was skeptical. Jackie wanted to trust the claim that science can provide the answer. After all, throughout her life, Jackie was always driven to find the truth, no matter what the cost. She always questioned her family’s commitment to an unwavering faith in God; there were some stories in the Bible that just didn’t ring true to her. Over time, Jackie learned that the best way that humans know about how to find the truth is through science. Yet the idea that you can use a science-based approach to find meaning and purpose in life went against all she learned growing up. Her parents, her church, and the mainstream media all told her that science wouldn’t answer life’s big questions.

Moreover, Jackie knew that scientific research may apply to most questions, but far from all. Scientific studies on how to find meaning and purpose in life offer strategies that fit most study participants, but what if she was an outlier? This is one major reason for why she participated in the Quantified Self movement from her teenage years.

Quantified Self is a movement devoted to using personal data on one’s own physical and mental health and applying these findings to one’s own body and mind, as opposed simply to trusting research studies whose conclusions applied to the majority of study participants, but far from all. This was an important part of Jackie’s search for the truth and applying this truth to her life; Jackie kept diligent track of what she ate, her exercise routine, and her mood through journaling and various other instruments.

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Jackie felt that meaning and purpose were too important to her to leave to findings that applied to the majority. She didn’t want to place her hopes in something that she couldn’t be confident in as being right for her in particular. She was burned too many times already in trying to find meaning and purpose using other means. She didn’t want to be burned by science, too.

Evaluation

That’s why she was so excited to discover the Meaning and Purpose Questionnaire (MPQ)! This is a research-informed tool used to quantify your own sense of meaning and purpose and customize science-based strategies to your personal search for meaning and purpose. The questionnaire helps you evaluate your current sense of meaning and purpose across a variety of spheres shown by research to correlate with a strong meaning and purpose in life. Doing so helps you see any spheres where you in particular have a gap in your meaning and purpose, and take specific steps to target that area.

For instance, question 8 asks whether you have social connections that help you experience meaning and purpose in life. This is an important question, since social connections are something that research shows corresponds strongly with a sense of meaning and purpose. If the MPQ reveals a gap in this area, you can focus on meaning-making activities meant to help you gain social and community connections. That might include joining local groups and associations to get a stronger sense of community belonging, or cultivating stronger relationships with your friends and family, whatever gives you personally a more powerful boost in your sense of meaning and purpose.

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As another example, question 6 asks whether you engage in social service that helps others have better lives. Studies indicate that various forms of service to our society, ranging from volunteering and philanthropy to political engagement and social justice activism, contribute to a rich sense of meaning and purpose. Social service does so by causing us to experience a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves and also by enabling us to help others. If the MPQ shows a lack in this area for you, then you can choose to engage in a wide variety of social service activities, ranging from volunteering in soup kitchens, donating to charity, or participating in local politics.

As you start out working actively to enrich your sense of meaning and purpose, take the MPQ every few days. Doing so will help you see how well you are doing in various spheres relevant to meaning and purpose, and revise your meaning-making activities as needed based on the results. Later, as you gain greater self-understanding and a richer sense of meaning and purpose, shift to taking it weekly.

Results

Jackie was so excited about the MPQ that she took it daily for the first couple of weeks. She learned so much about herself she didn’t know! Her own major gaps lay in failing to take the time and effort to self-reflect regularly on her sense of meaning and purpose and lacking activities that served others. Taking the MPQ regularly and thinking about the results helped her with the first. So did taking a free online class offered by Intentional Insights on finding one’s purpose using science-informed strategies. For the second, she took up volunteering at a local homeless shelter and donating money through The Life You Can Save, an organization that identifies the most effective charities combating global poverty.

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Jackie’s MPQ score grew higher and higher, and that deep sucking pit in the center of her being slowly filled up. She gained more and more confidence in science-based strategies, quantified and customized to her life. She checked out additional resources on a science-based approach to finding meaning and purpose, such as this free workbook. With the MPQ and the workbook, Jackie gained peace and balance, a better relationship with her family and social circle, and a feeling of deep meaningfulness in her daily existence. She also impressed her family and friends by sharing about the MPQ with them, and some of them began to employ this science-based instrument to gain richer meaning and purpose in their lives as well. She felt really happy about providing such benefits to those closer to her.

I hope this MPQ and the free workbook can help you as much as they helped Jackie!

Featured photo credit: Smiling via flickr.com

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More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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