All human behaviour serves a purpose, and we tend to be more motivated and compelled to do the things in life that provide us with the most fulfilment, pleasure, and sense of purpose. Even when our behaviours and actions are seemingly altruistic, we are still innately driven by the sense of purpose and reward that we personally derive from these experiences. The satisfaction that we receive from helping others is so strong that it can often lead to us neglecting ourselves and proffering sound advice and guidance that we fail to apply to our own lives.
Purpose is the driving force behind our lives. It motivates us to do what we do, shapes our experiences and the very people we become. It can also help us endure the most extreme of hardships and, some argue, add years to our lives. Dan Buettner, who has conducted years of research into communities around the world with higher than normal life expectancy ( Blue Zones), suggests that having a strong sense of purpose in our day to day doings can add years to our lives!
The Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl attributed his capacity to endure the horrific conditions of concentration camps during the holocaust, to the purpose of completing his manuscript, which became the highly popular book- Mans Search for Meaning. In his book, Frankl underpins his psychological theory, known as Logotherapy, with the idea that we are motivated by a search for purpose, and that a lack of purpose is the chief source of stress, anxiety and mental illness.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle described a purposeful life (one that prioritizes the exploration of ones true potential) as Eudaimonia or Eudaimonic well-being ( Eu – good daimon- soul or self). This is contrasted against the concept of Hedonic well-being, which is described as the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. Aristotle argued that a meaningful and purposeful life is the ultimate human goal and the source of true happiness.
Unfortunately, in modern society many people may be spending much of their lives devoid of purpose and feeling controlled by their circumstances. This is reflected in a 2017 report on the state of the global workplace, conducted across 155 countries, which found that a staggering 85% of working adults are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their careers!
Finding purpose in our day to day tasks and habits, no matter how mundane, is the key to a more fulfilling, healthy and happy life. The renowned author Wayne Dyer once said- Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change. This reflects the importance of changing our attitude towards our day to day doings in order to transform them into more rewarding and enjoyable experiences.
Purpose and Health
Living with a strong sense of purpose is associated with fewer cardiovascular events, better sleep, lower risk of alzheimer disease and premature death! Having purpose in our day to day lives is also associated with having greater resilience, which can be defined as the ability to adapt to and overcome adversity.
I would argue that one of the biggest reasons people lack consistency with healthy habits such as regular exercise is because these behaviours simply do not hold enough meaning to the individuals daily life. The good news is that with a little contemplation we can develop greater meaning, motivation, and a stronger sense of purpose towards healthy behaviours.
If we can attach a strong sense of purpose and meaning to healthy behaviours such as eating healthy and regular physical activity, they are more likely to become everyday habits. As the saying goes- When the why is big enough, the how is easy!
We all know how beneficial it is to eat well, protect our sleep, take regular physical activity, tend to our mental well-being etc. However, this is often not enough to inspire us into consistent action. By taking a little time to focus on, and identify how our daily habits can improve our lives, we can instantly make healthy habits seem far more appealing.
When was the last time you were asked to define your values? Most people I ask have never really contemplated and clearly identified the values and principles that they stand for. Being more aware of our values can help us live a life that is more in line with what we really stand for and what we want our lives to be about, rather than living a life based on what we think the world expects of us. Our personal values provide a strong foundation on which to build purposeful habits.
Maintaining a good state of health is a fundamental necessity for living a life that is in accordance with our values. Therefore, by acknowledging the interdependency between our values and health behaviours, we can develop greater motivation and purpose towards healthy habits that may have previously felt unimportant to us.
Every experience we participate in is carried out with more passion, commitment, and enjoyment, if it has a strong and clear sense of meaning and purpose to our individual lives. That said, if living life to the fullest is among your personal values, then healthy behaviours, can be made more attractive, compelling, and purposeful with some deliberate focus and appreciation of how healthy habits support your ability to live life to the full.
Analogise your healthy habits as an act of gratitude for being gifted with the opportunity of life.
Having spent the early part of my career working with cardiovascular rehab patients who had come very close to losing the gift of life, it was fascinating to witness how quickly people can adopt and prioritise healthy behaviours when their reasons are strong enough. However, the take home from this valuable experience is that: Maintaining good health is far easier and less complicated than trying to recover it!
Unfortunately, the majority of us adopt healthy behaviours as a temporary reaction to sickness and dissatisfaction with ourselves, as opposed to a purposeful expression of our values.
If you have good intentions but fail to be consistent with your health behaviours, maybe it’s time to really get to the crux of who you are and what you stand for by firstly identifying your values. Then, take the following steps to create a compelling sense of motivation and purpose that will inspire you to routinely invest in your number one resource for a happy and successful life- Your Health!
After writing out your values, describe how being healthy supports each one. Example: ‘I value being a role model to my children, and when I am healthier I am also happier, and have more energy to be a better role model. I also want my children to see me participating in healthy habits so that they are more likely to engage in, and value them.’
Now specify 1 or 2 simple things that you can realistically achieve on a regular basis to support and protect your health. It may be walk to work, reduce unhealthy snacking, get to bed earlier, practice 5 mins of mindfulness meditation etc.
Bring this all together to form a personal affirmation that you can repeat to yourself on a daily basis. Use words such as I am, and I will, as opposed to I want to, or I should. Example: ‘I am walking to work on every possible occasion and cutting snacks out of my diet because I will feel better, have more energy and be happier and more enthusiastic with my children after work. Doing these simple things supports the health of me and my family.‘
Set this as your screensaver or desktop so that you can see it everyday. The more you see it the deeper it will become ingrained in your psyche, and the more habitual your healthy habits will become.
Celebrate your healthy habits and reward yourself. Tell those closest to you about what you’re doing and why you are doing it. Also set yourself a realistic target of healthy habits to achieve for the week and when completed, reward yourself (preferably not with beers and a kebab!)