Where’s the Gap?

Depressed in Fog

Where’s the Gap? No, not the retail-clothing store, but the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in your life. Is your gap in the area of your career? The quality of your relationships? Your health and well-being? The balance between work and family? Maybe yours is the Grand Canyon of gaps: the sense of yearning, the feeling that there should be more meaning and purpose to life than what you are currently experiencing.

The idea of life purpose is gaining in significance for so many people. I see this in my own work as a coach and also in the growing number of books and articles written on the subject. We all seem to need to feel that our lives have meaning and that our work is an expression of this. So why are so many people dissatisfied and disillusioned in their lives and careers?

Here’s a major reason for this dilemma: we get out of high school and have only barely learned to drive and now we are expected to choose a major, i.e., decide what it is we want to do with our lives. If you think back to this time of your life, you can see how preposterous it is to expect to have the answer to such a momentous question at such a young age.

Granted, there are the fortunate few who have always known what they wanted to do with their lives. But most of us simply choose a major, graduate, and take a job that either relates to that choice or doesn’t. And more often than not, we stay in that job because we don’t think we have other options.

A good question to ask yourself is, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”

If the answer is, “Because I’m good at it” rather than “Because I love doing it,” that’s a good clue that you’ve fallen into the gap separating you from a life of meaning and purpose. It’s easy to confuse what you’re good at with what you love to do. The truth is you can be very good at something and really not like doing it.

You can also be good at doing something that isn’t in alignment with your core values. When this happens, you may find yourself caught in the uncomfortable gap between truth and compromise, between who you really are and what you are doing. It’s a painful place to be.

For example, if one of your core values is integrity, being asked to compromise your integrity in the course of your job can lead to dissatisfaction and even despair. On the other hand, designing a career and life that allows you to be a person of integrity will bring a significant sense of well-being.

Who you are is firmly embedded in your core values. Yet most people have never considered what their core values are, let alone articulated them or prioritized them. As a coach, this is one of the first places I start with a client. We mine for those values and we create a list that then becomes a place of reference when the big decisions have to be made.

It’s my experience that under all that stuff we have accumulated — the degrees, the job titles, the various roles we play, and yes, the material stuff — is that gift, that talent, that “thing” that you alone can do, that has heart and meaning for you, and that is in alignment with your core values.

Once you have decided that you’ve had enough of whatever it is you’re doing or the life you are living, then you can start the work of uncovering who you really are and what you truly love. This is not necessarily an easy process. It can take work, courage and a firm commitment to find and live your authentic life. And it takes a lot of support.

Coaches are uniquely qualified to help in this process of self-discovery. We are firmly in your corner. We believe in you and your vision and we tell the truth. We see where you’re tricking yourself and call you on it. We see where your stumbling blocks are and help you to overcome them. And we hold your vision for you when it is tough for you to still see it.

The great poet Rumi said, “Feel yourself being quietly drawn by the deeper pull of what you truly love.” What’s calling you? What’s pulling you out of the gap and into a fulfilling life? The pursuit of your true passion is worth all the effort and courage you can muster to realize it. So “roll up you sleeves, not your dreams!”

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Appreciation

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“Appreciation draws our eye toward life, stirs our feelings, sets in motion our curiosity, and inspires the envisioned mind.”  

—David L. Cooperrider, Diana Whitney “Appreciative Inquiry”

The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier

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“Our world is pretty messed up. With all the violence, pollution and crazy things people do, it would be easy to turn into a grouchy old man without being either elderly or male. There’s certainly no shortage of justification for disappointment and cynicism.

But consider this: Negative attitudes are bad for you. And gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier. If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you’re going to get a world that is, well, more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention there, then statistics say you’re going to be better off.

Does this mean to live in a state of constant denial and put your head in the sand? Of course not. Gratitude works when you’re grateful for something real. Feeling euphoric and spending money like you just won the lottery when you didn’t is probably going to make you real poor, real quick. But what are you actually grateful for? It’s a question that could change your life.

Recent studies have concluded that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages.

As Drs. Blaire and Rita Justice reported for the University of Texas Health Science Center, “a growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.”

In one study on gratitude, conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami, randomly assigned participants were given one of three tasks. Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group briefly described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another five recorded daily hassles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative. Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the hassled group. They reported fewer health complaints, and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.

In a later study by Emmons, people were asked to write every day about things for which they were grateful. Not surprisingly, this daily practice led to greater increases in gratitude than did the weekly journaling in the first study. But the results showed another benefit: Participants in the gratitude group also reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that the gratitude exercise increased their goodwill towards others, or more tehnically, their “pro-social” motivation.

Another study on gratitude was conducted with adults having congenital and adult-onset neuromuscular disorders (NMDs), with the majority having post-polio syndrome (PPS). Compared to those who were not jotting down their blessings nightly, participants in the gratitude group reported more hours of sleep each night, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening. The gratitude group also reported more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more optimism about the upcoming week, and felt considerably more connected with others than did participants in the control group.

Perhaps most tellingly, the positive changes were markedly noticeable to others. According to the researchers, “Spouses of the participants in the gratitude (group) reported that the participants appeared to have higher subjective well-being than did the spouses of the participants in the control (group).”

There’s an old saying that if you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness. It turns out this isn’t just a fluffy idea. Several studies have shown depression to be inversely correlated to gratitude. It seems that the more grateful a person is, the less depressed they are. Philip Watkins, a clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington University, found that clinically depressed individuals showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50 percent less) than non-depressed controls.

Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington has been researching marriages for two decades. The conclusion of all that research, he states, is that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative encounters (5:1 or greater), it is likely the marriage will end.

With 90 percent accuracy, Gottman says he can predict, often after only three minutes of observation, which marriages are likely to flourish and which are likely to flounder. The formula is that for every negative expression (a complaint, frown, put-down, expression of anger) there needs to be about five positive ones (smiles, compliments, laughter, expressions of appreciation and gratitude).

Apparently, positive vibes aren’t just for hippies. If you want in on the fun, here are some simple things you can do to build positive momentum toward a more happy and fulfilling life:

  1. Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed.
  2. Make it a practice to tell a spouse, partner or friend something you appreciate about them every day.
  3. Look in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth, and think about something you have done well recently or something you like about yourself.

Sure this world gives us plenty of reasons to despair. But when we get off the fast track to morbidity, and cultivate instead an attitude of gratitude, things don’t just look better — they actually get better. Thankfulness feels good, it’s good for you and it’s a blessing for the people around you, too. It’s such a win-win-win that I’d say we have cause for gratitude.”

— Ocean Robbins, author, speaker, facilitator, movement builder and father.