If you were a frog thrown into a pot of boiling water, you’d leap right out, wouldn’t you? But if you were a frog placed in a pot of cool water that was very slowly heated, you would be more likely to become lethargic, unaware that you were gradually and languidly moving towards your demise. This metaphor can serve to remind us that we’re not always motivated to make changes even though our lives are finite.
Most of us are entangled in thought patterns rooted in stories from the past that create fear and worry about the future. This prevents us from moving forward enriched with the aliveness that is our birthright. Why don’t we change our behavior?
The great wall
Ingrained thought patterns form a wall that is essentially the ego. The ego thinks it runs the show and knows what’s best for us. It constantly reminds us of old stories that generate judgments and fears and create a sense of separation from our true selves and others. It labels people and things as better or worse, good or bad.
The ego’s voice is so loud it drowns out anything that would diminish its power. There is, however, another voice that is patiently, persistently calling for our attention. I sometimes refer to this as the voice of the sweet spot inside that has never been hurt, isn’t broken, doesn’t need fixing, and is naturally perfect, whole, and complete. This voice is our true voice, our essential nature that graciously provides the motivation to help us live fully.
So, how do we access this true voice? One way is to examine and confront the ego. We can delve into our past stories and challenge the voice reciting negative messages incessantly inside our heads: “There’s something wrong with me….” “I’m not capable.…” “I can’t….”
Additionally, life events can cause the great egoic wall to shatter. Loss of relationship, job, or finances; illness, and death of a loved one are all life-changing experiences that can motivate us to reflect inwardly. In a 2005 commencement speech Steve Jobs referred to death as “life’s change agent.” Diagnosed with an incurable cancer and anticipating an early death, he went on to co-found Apple and live a huge life until he died at age 56. These types of events may also have the opposite effect—causing us to create a thicker, stronger wall that further blocks us from connecting with our inner motivation.
A third way to uncover our inner motivation is to explore beneath the surface of the ego, that is, not get rid of it but befriend it. We can give the ego its proper role in our lives as a window to the world providing neutral and extremely useful information about what’s happening. When the ego knows it’s still needed, the wall becomes less inhibiting and intrusive, allowing the voice of our true self to be heard.
People often say to me, “I have no idea what my life purpose is.” For most species, their purpose is intrinsic and obvious. I remember a TV program on nature that showed a caterpillar weaving its cocoon, and when it was time, a magnificent butterfly emerged with a foot-wide wingspan. The butterfly’s sole purpose was to procreate within its short 24-hour life span. Through much of history people didn’t choose their own purposes; they were meant to support their royal, political, or religious leaders or be killed, tortured, persecuted, or banished.
Connect with your core
You might start discovering your true purpose by determining your core values. Find a quiet space and tune in to your heart, which I believe is the portal to our essential self. Focus on feelings that arise as you think about people you most admire or care about, whether people you know, admire from afar, or historical figures. Find qualities that resonate with you and that you would like to strengthen in yourself. You might also reflect on activities that evoke a sense of joy or passion and cause you to lose track of time. Record the feelings.
Ask questions like Why am I in this life? What will allow me to live fully and joyfully? What do I value or care about most? What gives my life meaning? What would I die for? Knowing our core helps us determine our purpose.
Forget about attraction
What I’ve come to understand is that what we deeply desire is almost never in the external world. Our ego may desire things like fame and fortune. As we befriend our ego and embrace the heart, we connect with our deeper self, which lacks nothing and is already whole. Resting here—as we may do in meditation, reflection, or being in nature—we find a deep connection to the wholeness of life as our purpose is revealed.
Regularly cultivating and affirming our core values enables us to formulate a purpose bigger than ourselves. It thrusts us into life, providing the motivation to take appropriate actions to achieve personal fulfillment. Self-affirming statements such as “I’m a good spouse,” “Today is the best day of my life,” “I always do my best,” and “I respond appropriately to life circumstances” are not just corny phrases but tools that can strengthen our ability to penetrate the ego’s wall. Research has revealed that self-affirmations can actually change pathways in the brain that influences our behavior.
Neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning and survivor of Nazi concentration camps, wrote: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” Regardless of our circumstances—no matter what seems to be lacking or in disharmony in our outer life—having a strong sense of purpose has a positive impact on our health. According to Victor Strecher, a professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at University of Michigan School of Public Health, the research is clear: “People who report a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives experience a huge array of benefits” compared with those who don’t have a strong sense of purpose. These include:
- Living years longer with more resilience
- Greater protection against heart attack, stroke, depression, anxiety, obesity, and insomnia
- Enhanced ability to handle pain
- Cutting one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in half
- Experiencing greater happiness and well-being in work and life at all stages
- Having better sex
Note: Take a look at the story behind Strecher’s book, “On Purpose.”
It’s your choice
You might ask yourself how you want to live your precious life. Will it be a life of reaction, leaping out of circumstances that cause discomfort, or lethargically accept your fate of disharmony? Or, will you affirm your wholeness and discover new meaning in your life?
Coming from a place of wholeness helps us find something bigger than ourselves that becomes a great motivator to propel us forward. The world responds with a multitude of bounty. Life becomes deeply satisfying, which helps us live healthier lives and have more satisfying relationships. It’s choosing life! Is there a choice?