“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” - Friedrich Nietzsche
Last time I talked briefly about revitalizing a sense of purpose through small steps to re-align your physical, mental, and emotional energy for living. The gist was to build on these small daily steps for reigniting purpose to fuel some momentum for living. Momentum can become it’s own self perpetuating cycle, but the biggest trap to losing momentum again is allowing this process to be come mindlessly automatic. What I mean by that is the positive surge of energy you get from acting on a purpose you set for that day reinforces itself to motivate you the next day and the next, and so on. However, if you do not realize the agency and intention you have in that forward motion, you will eventually hit another wall that leaves you feeling purposeless. For me it’s like a driving a car - you intentionally put your foot on the gas to get yourself going and you start to feel good because now you feel like you can get somewhere, but if you simply just keep your foot on the gas, the car will hit something. You have to be mindful and conscious throughout the forward momentum, driving your car in the directions you want or need. Interestingly, as I write this analogy my own experiences of driving somewhere and not even remembering the drive to this place comes to mind. Have you ever experienced that? You get lost in your mind while driving and the actual act of steering and knowing where to go (most of the time) is amazingly automatic. You don’t hit anything (hopefully) and you arrive where you wanted to go. However, most of these places we can mindlessly drive to, I bet we would consider part of our robotic daily routines. On the flip side, if we are going on a trip, or somewhere nearby that we haven’t been before, we have to be more conscious and mindful in order to get there. These are often more fun excursions, things that gives us energy for life and provide more fulfillment. In essence, places that are new to us.
This whole analogy lends to the concept of sustaining purpose, sustaining your agency and intention amidst the momentum you have. An issue I see commonly is once some people seem to find smaller daily purposes that revitalize some life, after some time, they get bored. Such boredom is seeded in allowing their purpose to become monotonous and automatic. So the first point to sustaining a sense of purpose is to establish a new intention each day. What will you act on? What do you intend to change or affect in that day that you haven’t done before? This still could be something small such as writing an email to a friend who has seemed down, or it could be something grand such as beginning the initial planning for an event in your life. Ironically, I use the adjectives “small” and “grand” attached to the respective actions I described, when emailing a friend whose been in a rough patch could be equally as grand. The reason I mention this irony is that the perception of your actions are the next point to sustaining purpose.
If you perceive your intention for that day to be small, it may feel less impactful, and therefore give you less of a purpose. So reflect on how you are perceiving your intentions for that day. “Sarah has seemed a little down lately, maybe I’ll send her an email to see if she wants to do something this weekend.” If you perceive the weight of that action to be a simple and small act, over time you may lose motivation for these types of intentions in a day and fall back into a sense of purposelessness. Practice reflection as you set your days new intentions. What does this mean to you? What could it mean to others? It may not seem “grand.” But who defines grand anyways and why do they matter?
I want to raise my final point to sustaining purpose by referring to the Neitzsche quote above. I think if we all just recited Neitzsche quotes to one another all day as a form of communication, we’d all feel incredibly more inspired for living... maybe that could be the next Hamilton :) Many who work in various areas may have heard the heart of this quote before; the idea of establishing your why for what you are doing. There are many layers to this idea of a “why.” There’s a core “why” for which you find a main source of purpose to reach for the stars for lack of a better term. There’s peripheral “why’s” that drive you in relationships, drive you professionally, and drive your own sense of identity. Establishing each layer of a why ties back to both living intentionally and being mindful of how you perceive your daily actions because it is the sense of meaning you make through the intentions you have, actions you take, and how you perceive the purpose you have in any given moment.
So the take away to sustaining purpose is to each morning set your new intentions and be conscious of how you want to act those out in that day or that week, but as you go through the actions of such intentions, reflect on how your perceiving their impact. Question your own automatic assumptions about the impact something you do could have on someone else, or yourself. You most likely are underestimating the impact it could have. Through all of this, work on being more conscious of each layer of your why’s. Why did these intentions for today come to my mind or stimulate my heart? Why am I even trying to sustain a sense of purpose? For who? Your answer to that question may involve those you love, but if it also does not include yourself then that too is a trap that could lend to a repeat of you losing your energy and purpose, falling back into feeling stuck and depressed. Not including yourself in your why list is worth its own exploration because it is another central theme to unwrapping depression and purpose...