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Why a sense of purpose in life benefits you physically, mentally and emotionally.

May 03, 2021

When inspiration strikes

The last few weeks have been particularly frenetic. I’ve been writing a lot of content for the Mindset Coaching Membership and Lindsey and I have been working hard on ideas to enhance the membership experience for our members. As the Butlins motto goes: ‘Our true intent is all for your delight’, and so, my Mindset Blog was somewhat on the backburner in terms of what the focus would be.

Very often, ideas flow when I move away from my workspace. I take the dogs out and inspiration strikes somewhere along the walk, and I come home brimming with ideas.

So, last Friday, I set out for my daily dog walk not knowing what this week’s Mindset Blog would focus on. As I walked along, out loud (if anyone had heard me, they might have thought me quite mad!), I told myself that by the end of the walk, I would know my subject matter. Hope springs eternal.

A fellow walker joined the path and it’s always a joy to bump into David because he has such varied and interesting life experiences which I always learn so much from. That day was no different and David became the inspiration for this Blog – with his permission of course.

Living a life with meaning

Both David and his wife Jo are living with cancer. David is currently being treated with a hopeful outcome. Jo’s is more like a ticking timebomb. It is inoperable and she’s putting off chemotherapy because she feels the side effects are worse than the cancer itself. David said it’s palliative care that Jo receives, and they don’t know if she has months or years.

David is not morose nor angry, he simply states the facts, but I can sense the sadness in his voice. Whilst Jo can choose the chemotherapy route, this I feel is something she needs to build herself up to as she’s been there before.

So, they take each day as it comes.

I asked David how they manage it all – living on a knife edge, not knowing how this might all pan out. He said it’s having a sense of purpose – goals to work towards, events to go to, people to see. They’d just got back from a family wedding which he said was joyful, although cold as they’d needed to be outside for much of it due to current restrictions. They’d got back late and hadn’t had a chance to pick their beloved dog Carla up from the boarding kennels, yet he was up and at ‘em at 7.15am because the walk gets him out and sets up his day with purpose. And he sets a fast pace let me tell you!

Having a sense of purpose in life is so important for both our physical and mental wellbeing – whether we face a life-threatening diagnosis or not. Our brain works teleologically, which means it’s end-goal orientated – it likes to have something to focus on, to work towards. Have you found that when you have something to look forward to you feel better? Evolutionary speaking our brain is the same as it was 10,000 years ago, and 10,000 years ago every human had a strong sense of purpose - it was called survival! We are wired for challenge, not for ease; we are wired to strive and to fight for survival. Without goals our brain is a missile without direction. If we don’t give the brain a goal, then we suffer from dis-ease.

The holistic approach

When our life is out of balance, when we’ve nothing to focus on, it’s a bit like being a rudderless ship. With no goals, nothing to aim for, no sense that what you do has any value or meaning, then very often, we are more likely to suffer from depression. Our mental and physical health are so intrinsically entwined that this often results in us taking less care of ourselves and our immune system will be lower. There is a link between our cognitive function and our immune system – positive attitude has an effect on the immune system.

David illustrated this point to me as we talked about the importance of having a sense of purpose. He told me about a Great Aunt of his who had successfully lived long into her ninth decade at home, by herself. However, well-meaning relatives had insisted she go into residential care as they felt she could no longer take care of herself. David said that with carers, it could have been managed but sadly, the decision was taken out of his Great Aunt’s hands. He said how sad it was to watch his Great Aunt’s decline once she was moved. She no longer had the opportunity to prepare afternoon tea for her guests – something she took great pride in, and there was no garden for her to tend. It was a never-ending job in her old garden but planning, preparing and carrying out the seasonal pruning and planting was what kept her active in mind, body and soul. Without it, she felt sad and lost.

Something else I learned from David during that walk was about the Chelsea Pensioners. David’s Great-Grandfather had served during the First World War, and then the Second and was thus eligible to be a Chelsea Pensioner. He lived to the grand old age of 93 whilst living at the Royal Chelsea Hospital. David described his Great Grandfather as a raconteur, and he was a popular man. That’s why David was surprised that at his funeral, only a handful of his fellow Chelsea Pensioners came to pay their respects. During the Wake, David spoke to some of them about his Great Grandfather and they recalled amusing stories about him, and the tales he would tell. David mentioned that he was surprised there were not more people from the Royal Hospital at the funeral and they explained that only around four or five are permitted to attend funerals at a time. This is apparently due to the fact that at their age, sadly funerals are a common occurrence, and it is for their mental wellbeing that they don’t all attend every funeral. This theory made sense. David also said there is a full programme of events for the army veterans, as well as the residents being encouraged to participate in projects that support the wider community, as part of the Royal Hospital’s outreach programme. This gives them something to focus on and to look forward to. When you look at the average age of a Chelsea Pensioner, this ethos seems to be successful. The camaraderie, the sense of togetherness and the sense of purpose all aid their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

And… action!

How consciously do you live your life? We can so easily bumble our way through the days, months and years on the hamster wheel of life doing the same thing day in and day out. We have a routine that we perhaps stick to and we’re stuck in first gear because we think the same thoughts and thus, behave in the same way, never challenging the status quo. But do you ever give thought to what it is you want out of life – do you make plans, look forward to and work towards exciting goals?

We are not only the star in the movie of our lives, but we get to write the screenplay too, and to direct it. Of course, life can throw us all manner of varied curve balls to challenge our narrative, but we get to decide how that features in the script; do we get to be the hero of the story and fight the good fight, or do we get side-lined and the curve ball becomes the story?

To have an understanding of how your thinking – your mindset – informs the way you live your life, is an incredible position to be in. Taking personal responsibility for all decisions that you make and therefore the potential outcomes – be they good or bad, is incredibly liberating. Removing the victim mentality is empowering and paves the way forward for a more resilient mindset.

Don’t get me wrong, living life consciously, striving for the best life possible doesn’t mean you’re skipping through the tulips every day, but it puts you in a much stronger position to deal with the highs and lows, the twists and turns that life invariably takes.

Life is precious and none of us know how long we’ve been granted on this mortal coil. It’s not about getting morbid, it’s a kick up the backside to be intentional and purposeful about life – to live life consciously and decide what it is you want and to go for it.

As Vince Lombardi once said: "The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have." 

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