Finding True North: Your Source of Caring and Motivation
There’s a theme that tends to come up in my office when clients hit an impasse or feel stuck…
“It shouldn’t be this hard! It feels like it’s not going to happen for me.”
“I don’t know what to do, how it will go, which way to turn!”
“Why is it so easy for everyone else?”
Have you ever heard yourself say or think some version of this? In the age of Social (Look at) "Me"dia, sometimes it just seems like everyone else is getting a break, a leg up, a windfall – but not you.
So how can you maintain your drive, hope, and motivation in the face of disappointment and social comparisons?
Finding True North: Your Values and Life Purpose
In last week’s blog you learned about the importance of balancing acceptance and change: getting better at feeling- with feeling better when something triggers emotional discomfort. But how do you decide how much of each side of the skillfulness to practice? The answer lays in your own unique values and life purpose, which serve as your true North.
Staying connected to your larger life purpose is what gives dignity to the discomfort along the way.
True North is your life direction; it’s different than a goal, you never get there. It’s what you value: an overall statement of what you want this life to be about for you. So you can set specific mile markers (goals), which indicate successful movement in the right direction. But our life purpose is something much larger, deeper than the specific outcomes (e.g. likes, clicks, comments, contracts, deals, dollars, etc.).
Successful visionaries forge through setbacks and failures by maintaining a firm internal image of the process of creation they want in their life – then set about taking action in that direction. True North awareness can act as a magnet - which gives power to the pull of future possibilities, and reduces the influence of negativistic thinking and emotions on behavior.
At the same time, once again, it is the paradox, which can get us stuck. As Steven Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) says so eloquently, “We hurt where we care, and we care where we hurt.” So when we take action towards, or even think about something we care about, it is also true that difficult thoughts and feelings (Passengers) are going to show up!
Thinking about what is important to us, can make us aware that:
A. I don’t know what I care about.
B. I’m not doing what I care about.
This paradox sets into action the laws of behaviorism: Human beings do more of what feels good, and avoid what feels bad.
Thinking about our unattained goals feels bad – thus, we avoid thinking about them. But connecting with the bigger purpose of our lives gives us vitality, energy, motivation!
Recognizing and Overcoming the Barriers: Nadine*
I once had a client who wholeheartedly wanted to be an actress. But she was having difficulty maintaining her commitment to activities for building her craft and moving her towards her goals. So I guided her in a visualization exercise to help her connect with her ambition.
I incorrectly assumed that getting her to physically and emotionally connect with a success visualization would connect her to her value, and thus increase her commitment to things she needed to do to reach her goals. But what we found was exceptionally important in discovering the passengers that were getting in her way.
She became tearful during the exercise. Afterwards, I asked her what thoughts and emotions were coming up for her as she envisioned the scenario. Teary eyed, she told me: “I realized I am not there. I have so much further to go. And I don’t know for sure that it will happen.”
We discovered that the feelings of sadness and uncertainty that emerged were acting as major barriers to Nadine’s commitment to take small actions. She needed to continue to build her skillfulness with these feelings. More importantly, we shifted from focusing on the specific outcomes to the larger value she held of being an actress.
For Nadine, we explored what it was about acting that gave her feelings of vitality, joy, and inspiration. We discovered that two elements of acting energized and invigorated her: Openly expressing her emotions authentically, and this within a context where such expression is appreciated.
The Power Question!
So the question is this: Are you willing to stand in a place of Awareness - acknowledge you are not where you would like to be (practice acceptance and willingness to feel these feelings) and still commit to (change) small acts of daily commitment towards your own True North?
The Practice: Staying Connected to True North
Finding your True North is identifying what you care deeply about at this stage of your life. Because caring = feeling, this is challenging work.
It is from this place of deep caring and commitment to building your life that motivation, drive, and vitality can pull you through the inevitable disappointments.
Every day, every moment we make micro decisions, which drive the direction of our lives. Each thought and action we pursue is like a single cobblestone in laying down your life path. Building the life you want comes from the sum total of small acts of commitment (one stone at a time) to choosing the actions consistent with your True North.
Creating a clear vision of what you want to stand for, care for, be about in this life is an essential step in mapping out the life you want. So, I have created an exercise to help you do exactly this!
I sent this exercise out to subscribers of the Mindful-Mastery Skill Weekly newsletter after this blog was originally posted. If you are feeling inspired to take a leap of willingness to identify what you care about, and would like to receive this exercise, please post a comment in the comments section. I will reach out to you to get it to you!