For many people, this endless global pandemic – together with current social & political unrest, climate change, and wildfires – presents the most difficult time we’ve ever encountered. We often say one should never waste a good crisis. Our struggles present an opportunity, and often a need, to recalibrate to find joy and meaning in our lives.
We can look inward during this period to work on healing ourselves. We can’t wait for life to return to normal. Things will never be the same, but we can focus on making them better. This is the time to examine what is most important to us and to take steps in the right direction. As Vivian Greene said, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain”.
So what makes you want to dance? Happiness correlates with having a cadre of good friends, the ability to forgive, serving others, and expressing gratitude. As Viktor Frankl said, “…Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.”
We can thrive during trying times, but we need to create and implement strategies to do so. Some people ask, doesn’t it take away all the spontaneity if you create strategies to achieve joy? That may be true, but there is nothing spiritual about failing to find and nurture those things that fulfill your deepest desires. So start this process by looking at what lights you up from the inside.
With the current surges in many US states and countries around the world, this pandemic is showing no signs of abating any time soon. This has many people seriously asking for the first time, “Is this really what I want to do with my life?” We can use this time of crisis to examine our lives, find purpose, and flourish. Mark Twain taught us, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
Given the work we do, we are often asked, what is our purpose in life.
Sanjiv’s mission is “To fulfill my dharma to teach medicine, about leadership, and about happiness. To do it grounded in humility and with an ardent desire to learn every single day. To celebrate with gratitude my family, friends, colleagues, students and patients who inspire me in countless ways. And in some measure, inspire everyone I encounter on this amazing life journey.”
Allison approaches each day by asking “how can I optimize my joy and impact in my work and relationships?” That always includes collaborating with esteemed colleagues and helping clients, friends and family be their best, most fulfilled selves in career and life. And let’s not forget sharing a belly laugh or two. That work starts by helping people define their singular purpose.
What is your purpose in life? Your personal mission is where your talents and passions collide with the needs of others and the world, according to author Matthew Kelly.
To get perspective on your talents, set up a video call with a friend and tell them about an accomplishment you are proud of – you got a promotion, gave a great presentation, threw the best salsa dance party ever – and tell them what skills you employed that made you so successful. Then your partner can tell you what other talents you must have used in addition to those you listed. That provides you with awareness of unique skills you possess but don’t recognize as special because they come so naturally to you. Then be sure to return the favor to your partner!Once aware of your skills, draft your personal mission statement. With a sense of your purpose, you are ready to set some goals. Having goals will help you be mindful of your priorities when deciding how to spend your precious, limited time. As Steven Covey said, effective leadership is about putting first things first. You are the leader of your own life so let’s look at how you can put these principles into action every day.
Strategies to live each day in harmony with your purpose
1. Say an affirmation
As your head hits the pillow each night, say an affirmation such as “I envision enjoying happiness, good health, friendships and serving others every day”. Neuroscience informs us that during sleep the brain consolidates memory and figures out solutions to challenges we are facing.
2. Exercise regularly
Exercise has many health benefits including optimizing mental health. Hippocrates once said, “If we give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” Studies have shown that exercise is as good as anti-depressants and without the side effects, in treating many patients experiencing depression. There is even more benefit if you can find the opportunity to get out in nature while moving your body.
Find time daily to experience silence, to pray or to meditate. Meditation leads to a number of subjective experiences including feeling tranquil, happy and anchored. Objectively, there are positive changes in the physiology. In one notable example, there is brainwave coherence and lengthening of telomeres, which prevent damage to our chromosomes. Shortened telomeres are linked with cellular aging. Longer telomeres are seen in individuals who meditate, who exercise and who drink coffee.
4. Set daily intentions aligned with your goals
First thing each morning, before looking at your phone or getting into conversations, create a vision of a successful day. Write down what you wish to accomplish and highlight the 1-2 most difficult tasks.
Tackle the hardest tasks first before allowing yourself to become distracted by non-essential activities. Perhaps they include writing a chapter or revising a resume. Do that to start and then it will feel like the less challenging tasks such as calling a friend or ordering a book online almost take care of themselves. You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish when you practice putting first things first every day.
5. Create and nurture meaningful relationships
Besides economic concerns, perhaps the challenge people are struggling with most as this pandemic shows no sign of abating any time soon is maintaining meaningful connections with friends and colleagues while observing physical distancing and working from home.
We both see countless individuals in a variety of professions in our work, many of whom are feeling isolated and alone. Many note suffering from “Zoom Fatigue”. While connecting via video is better than nothing, it does not provide a full substitute for human company.
Be sure to schedule time to spend safe, socially distant time with family and friends. It is particularly important to plan ahead because we are no longer casually running into people and making dates on the fly. The good news is that it is relatively easy to find times that people are home and available for a visit and the video visits do render geographic distance a non-obstacle.
6. Express gratitude
One direct way to feel good is to take a few moments to focus on what we are most grateful for. Keep a gratitude journal. Robert Emmons, a leader of modern positive psychology research, has demonstrated that writing down three things one is grateful for daily leads to a substantial increase in one’s happiness. Keep the journal near you and if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, write down at least one thing or person you are grateful for.
And let’s not take others’ work for granted as we get “used to” living in this pandemic period. Continue to reach out to others and tell them how much they mean to you. Make a point of thanking employees stocking the grocery shelves or doing other jobs essential to your well-being. Remind them of how important their work is. Show the people who are meeting your needs that you see them and appreciate their contributions. Give big tips if you can and smile more (even if it is covered by a mask.)
Just Do It! Think of something you can do to move forward toward achieving your goals. Commit to doing it and letting your light shine – TODAY.
By Allison Rimm and Dr. Sanjiv Chopra