What’s the Point of You?

That may be a little harsh, really what I mean is what’s your purpose? It’s a hard question for anyone to answer and it can feel a bit like a slap in the face if you don’t know. But purpose, if you can find it, is so powerful that it has positive benefits both physically and mentally. Multiple research studies have shown the outcomes of having purpose to be quite astounding including: protecting against heart disease, diminishing the impacts of Alzheimer’s, improving our ability to handle pain, mitigating depression, curbing anxiety, and also lengthening our lives. One study which looked at over 6000 people across a 14 year period found that the people who had a sense of purpose had a 15% lower chance of dying – no matter what their age. Alongside this, meaning is a major component of well-being and life satisfaction.

Viktor Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor, gives a powerful example of how critical purpose is in his book The Search for Meaning. He recounts his experiences in a concentration camp and how finding meaning, in even the most brutal of experiences, kept him going and gave him a reason to live. He also interviewed hundreds of fellow prisoners, and found that those who survived the mistreatment and were able to fight back from illness all had a deeper meaning or purpose keeping them going. Frankl famously argued that within the context of normal life, people who lack meaning fill what he called the “resultant void” with hedonistic pleasures: power, materialism, obsessions, and compulsions—in other words, those things that we chase after that give us a short lived boost but which we gain no lasting satisfaction from.

So, it’s clear that purpose is critically important but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to work out. In the past, people relied on religion and culture to define their meaning. These provided a framework from which to operate, the bigger picture from which to see life. However, as the world changes some people are moving away from identifying so closely with religion and traditional cultures, and consequently purpose is no longer given to us on a plate—we have to define it for ourselves. This isn’t easy to do, and anyone who claims otherwise is misleading you.

I spoke to Jeff Weigh for his podcast ‘Perfect Imbalance’ last week and describing my own journey to discover my purpose. It’s messy a ride, it hasn’t been easy, it didn’t fall in my lap and I majorly diverted off course a few times before coming back to what I really love. I still wouldn’t say I have absolute clarity but I’m definitely along the right track. Psychological research shows that people can actually get very down looking for purpose because they have been set up to believe it should be easier to find than in reality it is. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it does takes time, effort and reflection.

My favourite illustration (aside from Frankl) of someone who has lived his life with purpose is Sir David Attenborough. His whole career has been deeply anchored on his values, making use of his strengths and preferences, all of which are critical to our personal purpose. Attenborough’s life has been centered around his devotion to the natural world and a passionate desire to communicate and share that with the general population. Now in his 90s, Attenborough is still working and enthusiastically contributing to society’s understanding of the natural world and human impacts on it. But if you look at the course his life has taken you can see it’s not been a straight line, rather it has evolved and changed as he has, adapting to both his own experiences and the changes in the world around him. When he was 20 he wouldn’t have been able to have told you what he’d be doing when he was 50, 70 or 90 but he would have been able to articulate what ‘made his heart sing’.

Finding your purpose doesn’t mean that it won’t change and evolve as you go through life. Nor does it mean you won’t sometimes get knocked off course. But like a lot of things it starts with self-awareness, taking the time to reflect (not over analyse – that’s a bad route to go down) on who you are, what you love and are passionate about, what your values are – it’s up to you to put in the effort.* And it’s not a one off, you need to keep revisiting these facets that make up who you are and taking time to think. It made sound like a bit too much work, but it’s well worth the effort. Purpose provides the guiding light that helps you see why you do what you do. Having purpose reminds you of the more meaningful side of life when you (or I or any of us) get sucked into hedonism, worrying about superficial things or getting caught up in the daily grind. It provides you with the far reaching goal on the days where you just want to give up. Having a sense of meaning in your life literally gives you a reason to get up in the morning.

* I’ve been lucky to receive a lot of positive comments on my book but one 3 star review said it’s a bit “surface level”  The book isn’t supposed to give you the answers, it’s there to guide you to finding your own answers. However you search out your meaning, if you don’t dig deep and look you won’t find. 

(Dear reviewer – most of the tools in Defining You are backed by years of research by esteemed academics e.g. the tool you refer to after saying they are “surface level” is used by the US health protection agency and in hospitals across the States and UK).

 

Extracts taken from Defining You which is currently 99p on Amazon UK. It’s also available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.comamazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

I’m talking about finding your purpose at Red Smart Women’s Week in London this Saturday 22nd September. Last day of ticket sales – 18th Sept 2018

https://hearstlive.co.uk/smartwomenweek/#1531407421503-a6e00f6d-754f

 

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References

Hill, P. L., & Turiano, N. A. (2014). Purpose in life as a predictor of mortality across adulthood. Psychological science25(7), 1482-1486.

Fiona Murden (2018). Defining You. How to profile yourself and unlock your full potential. Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Viktor E. Frankl (1984) Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Image: pexels.com

What Does Confidence Mean?

Confidence is an elusive concept. Most of us lack it to some degree, and few would argue they don’t want to feel more confident, yet when it comes to defining how we could develop it we are at a loss. Having confidence rids us of the anxiety and doubts that hold us back from so many opportunities. It not only makes us feel better about ourselves, but also enables us to achieve more and inspire the conviction of others in our abilities.

Having said that, too much confidence is not a good thing. This is displayed in leadership, where an “overwhelming” self-assurance leads to something known as hubris syndrome. This acquired condition, which represents the extreme end of the scale, results in what Lord David Owen, a former MP and psychiatrist, defines as “disastrous leadership” that can “cause large-scale damage.” It is marked by behaviors such as “impetuosity, a refusal to listen to or take advice and a particular form of incompetence when impulsivity, recklessness and frequent inattention to detail predominate.” The same behaviors manifest in anyone who becomes too self-possessed. Consequently, you want to build your confidence to optimize your potential, but you also need to be careful not to take it too far.

There is a “sweet spot” you want to reach where your self-assurance is robust enough to allow you to take a balanced view on risks, make effective decisions, have influence, and effectively forge ahead with your purpose. Understanding what this means and where you are with it will form a strong platform from which you can move forward and fine-tune your own level of confidence. Psychologists consider confidence in terms of two broad concepts: self-confidence (known technically as self-efficacy) and self-esteem. Self-confidence is about how much faith you have in your ability to achieve a specific goal in a particular situation. As such, it’s not a given that being self-confident with one task means you’ll be equally self-confident with another. For example, you may be confident that you can cook a good meal or play a strong game of tennis, but still lack confidence when it comes to your ability to run a marathon or play a piece of music on the piano.

Although self-confidence is task specific, one person may have an overall higher level than another. Someone with higher levels of self-confidence will approach all new challenges in a more forthright way. For example, they might throw themselves down a mountain when learning to ski, confident that they’ll get the hang of it, and approach another task, say scuba diving for the first time, with the same vigor. On the other hand, another person who is less self-confident may be very fearful of any novel task.

Self-esteem differs, in that it is more internally focused than self-confidence. Rather than being based on the successful completion of tasks or challenges, it’s about how much you value yourself or how much you like and accept who you are. An easy way to assess your level of self-esteem is to listen to your internal dialogue. How do you speak to yourself: are you kind, accepting, and appreciative (e.g., well done, you did a great job with that), or harsh, cutting, and critical (e.g., you idiot, why did you do that again, when will you learn)?

People frequently strive to make themselves feel better by chasing the more tangible aspects that relate to self-confidence—external rewards such as awards, academic achievements, or sporting success—while neglecting to work on their self-esteem. Celebrities often fall into this category, looking to the outside world for reassurance about their self-worth and getting that by achieving public recognition, awards, or notoriety. However, they can often be the loneliest people, feeling empty because their higher-level needs are not being met, their ability to like and accept themselves. This leads to destructive behaviors such as taking drugs, drinking to excess, and overeating.

Both self-confidence and self-esteem are important to well-being and to the pursuit of your goals within the context of what makes you unique and special as a person. One without the other is not helpful. Once you’ve built your self-confidence and self-esteem, they need to be continually nurtured to enable optimal performance.

Extract taken from:

Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden – available at amazon.co.ukWaterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK.

From July 24th 2018 Defining You will also be available across the English speaking world e.g. amazon.comamazon.au, amazon.ca

Defining You gives access to an online psychometric test providing a full personalised professional report.

References

Owen, D., & Davidson, J. (2009). Hubris syndrome: An acquired personality disorder? A study of US Presidents and UK Prime Ministers over the last 100 years. Brain132(5), 1396-1406.

Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels

Friendship Tells Our Story

Photograph: courtesy of my talented friend Liz www.elizabethwaight.com

My mum has finally kicked me out of home, having put off the inevitable for (many, many) years, she’s offloaded the last few boxes onto my kitchen floor. These remnant items detail the narrative of my life, from a cosy 4-person family and infant school in Surrey to divorced parents and primary school 50 miles away. Three senior schools and three major transitions (and a big brother who I adored throughout) made up my story until I was 18.

Each of these stages, all of the friends I gathered along the way are catalogued in letters, photos, post cards, drawings and classroom notes. The view point different which ever you read.  Sometimes happy, other times sad, sometimes cringe worthy, others deeply touching, every single interaction has laid down the ground work to who I have become today. Every image and word has brought back memories, emotions and feelings which have littered the vivid dreams that I always have, with a different flavour and content every night.

There is only one person I do not wish to remain in contact with. The girl who victimised me for my first year at senior school, until she left my life was a misery. But that too influenced my story: to never do the same to anyone else and to have empathy for anyone who has ever suffered similar abuse. The rest, all of the other people, I am happy to have known.

I felt desperately sad to lose contact with one particular friend, my best friend from infant school. There was something between us that I cannot easily describe – beyond a typical connection and one that stretched far beyond simply knowing each other through so many vital years of childhood. Arguably we had become part of each other’s story – she knew me before my parents split up and I knew her before she lost her father, way too young. Amusing and awkward encounters scatter the letters that span the age of 8 to 16. While we both changed dramatically over that time, we always seemed to change in the same direction. By 16 I had then moved three times, one too many to remain in touch. I had tried before to find her but always in vain. Maybe it was just time for this story book to end.

But if you are my friend you know how stubbornly determined I am (which I hope translates to loyalty in relationships).  Reflection and dreams over the past couple of weeks only strengthened my resolve to find her. After I had scoured what seemed like hundreds of different avenues (but in reality was probably only about a dozen) I finally came upon a face that I recognised. A smile that strangely reached out and greeted the 7-year-old me. A magic that touched me through my screen. Tentatively I e-mailed prepared for no response or interest in return. Maybe this was only my story and not hers. Moments later a reply popped up. I was utterly ecstatic, she said she’d been thinking of me recently and had even told her own 7 year old daughter about our friendship – it seems I am still part of her story too.

Through the course of life, I have formed some incredible friendships which have lasted for years. Some people don’t need to be in your life long to feel that connection, a kindred spirit, those rare connections who you feel you know before they’ve even uttered a word. Others form the tapestry of life even when you grow apart. Those relationships may take work but they are still worth it, they make up a vital part of who we all are. Had Hazel and I met today we probably would have become friends, but as it stands we have so much more than just a connection, we share a story.

Human connection is a vital part of who we are not only because of what it does to our brains…..

Research shows that, “people who have more meaningful social connections have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative…. Added to this, connections have been shown time and again to have helpful psychological and health related benefits[i]: strengthening our immune system, lowering blood pressure, reducing our risk of getting sick[ii], decreasing levels of anxiety and depression[iii] and even lengthening our lives[iv].” [this short extract is from my book]

……but also, because friends and family hold a magic that cannot be explained by science. They know and love the essence of who we are and they understand the narrative of our lives. They live the highs and lows and remember the moments that we may otherwise forget. Our friends and our family, our connections are what pick our lives up from off the page, they hold the memories of photos and letters, the classroom giggles, teenage angst and heartbreak. They live the images and sounds of our narrative through the internal video camera of their life and ours. They tell the story of who we are.

And Big Bruv – I still adore you!

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References & Links:

Murden, F. (2018) Defining You. Hodder & Stoughton.

https://www.waterstones.com/book/understanding-you/fiona-murden/9781473668386

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Defining-You-Discover-behaviour-potential/dp/1473668387/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1508937607&sr=1-1&keywords=Defining+You

[i] Umberson, D., & Karas Montez, J. (2010). Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior51(1_suppl), S54-S66.

[ii] Uchino, B. N. (2006). Social support and health: a review of physiological processes potentially underlying links to disease outcomes. Journal of behavioral medicine29(4), 377-387.

[iii] Dour, H. J., Wiley, J. F., Roy‐Byrne, P., Stein, M. B., Sullivan, G., Sherbourne, C. D., … & Craske, M. G. (2014). Perceived social support mediates anxiety and depressive symptom changes following primary care intervention. Depression and anxiety31(5), 436-442.

Roohafza, H. R., Afshar, H., Keshteli, A. H., Mohammadi, N., Feizi, A., Taslimi, M., & Adibi, P. (2014). What’s the role of perceived social support and coping styles in depression and anxiety?. Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences19(10), 944.

Zimet, G. D., Dahlem, N. W., Zimet, S. G., & Farley, G. K. (1988). The multidimensional scale of perceived social support. Journal of personality assessment52(1), 30-41.

[iv] de Brito, T. R. P., Nunes, D. P., Corona, L. P., da Silva Alexandre, T., & de Oliveira Duarte, Y. A. (2017). Low supply of social support as risk factor for mortality in the older adults. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics.

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science10(2), 227-237.