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How Mentally Strong People Assess Their Sense of Purpose

How Mentally Strong People Assess Their Sense of Purpose

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

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 September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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