Kitchen Therapy


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How Do I Find My Meaning and Purpose In Life

I’ve always admired people who know what they want out of life and set out to achieve it. You know the ones, they knew what they wanted from the minute they were born and never wavered or questioned on their path in life.

I’m not one of these folks.

I’ve always wished I was, but I realise I’m not and never have been. I am more like…  Dory, from Finding Nemo. Remember her? The likable, yet frustrating blue fish who would change her mind mid-sentence and struggled to finishing a thought because half way through that thought another bigger, better, brighter thought had come along!

I’ve tried to be like those other folks. I can easily immerse myself in a project. The problem is, part way into the project, something else catches my eye and I go off on a tangent. That tangent leads to more tangents and before I know it I am so far off the mark I’ve totally lost track of what I was doing in the first place.
By the time I get back to my original topic, I’ve completely forgotten what I’ve done and need to start again. So as you can see, I tend to rediscover the wheel again and again (or more appropriately, I discover the same bit of the wheel again and again) and hardly any progress is ever made!

On the up side, I help those around me build patience and tolerance (whether they like it or not)!

Now, while my Dory-esque nature has strengths, I can’t ignore that my flaky side needs reigning in!
So… I have spent some time looking at ways to sustain interest and motivation. Ways to build persistence and consistency so goals are pursued and achieved. It’s been an interesting couple of months.

Here’s what I have learnt…

As a society we are very much focused on goals. Getting to university, getting married, finding a job, buying a house, keeping it spotless, having children, keeping them spotless, buying a bigger house, a boat, a new car and so on. The problem is that when we get these things, they don’t seem to be enough (that’s if we can even sustain the interest and motivation to do what it takes to get them!)

When we equate success with goals, we live in the future, we think when we reach that goal we can finally feel happy and content!

What if we were to take a step back and begin by clarifying what gives our lives meaning and purpose AND THEN use this information to guide us?

Consider how life would be if we decided that success meant living by our values? Living in a way that is meaningful to us each and every day. If we knew what was important to us in life, what we stood for and how we wanted to behave, a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment would be instantly available to us. Our values, our sense of meaning and purpose in life is available to us right now. At any moment we can choose to act in line with our values and when we do, we feel empowered.

Our values inspire us, motivate us and guide our actions. When we use our values to set goals, we are then doing what matters most to us. We are not waiting to reach that goal so we can finally be happy, we live every day feeling satisfied and content because each day we are doing what is important to us.

Our values are available to us right now.
They show us who we are and what is important us.
And most importantly, our values do not need to be justified to anyone. This last point I struggled with for a while, I thought my values had to be worthy as judged by some outside force. I was always drawn to values such as fun, playful, free and easy-going. This is what I wanted to be in life, but then I’d look at words like conscientious, congruent, hard-working and felt embarrassed that my values in life were so… fluffy. I now own my values in life and I realise that when I am living by my values, I work my butt off and I am the best me I can be.

I’ve made a list of values below as a starting point, have a look and see if any jump out to you.
Some words actually make me feel like I’m choking, while others resonate deep within me and make me feel happy, alive and joyful.

If you get stuck, here are some of my favourite exercises…

Who are your role models?
Who inspires you?
What strengths and qualities do they have that you admire?

Imagine your 80th birthday party. When it’s time for family and friends to toast you and make a speech about you and your life, what would you like to hear them say about you?

Imagine you are looking over your own funeral, see who is there and listen to what they are saying about you and how you will be remembered. If you lived your life as your are now, what would they say about you?
What would you like them to say about you?
What does that reveal to you about the person you want to be?

What words would you like written about you on your tombstone, just a few words that would capture the essence of who you were and how you lived your life?

Values are our heart’s deepest desires, they give us direction in life and by staying in touch with our values we make our brief time on Earth meaningful!

Let your values shape your goals and your life.

LIST OF VALUES
1.  Adventurous
2.  Affectionate
3.  Authentic
4.  Blissful
5.  Brave
6.  Bold
7.  Calm
8.  Careful
9.  Compassionate
10. Confident
11. Courageous
12. Creative
13. Curious
14. Daring
15. Decisive
16.  Determined
17. Dynamic
18. Elegant
19. Empathic
20. Energetic
21. Enthusiastic
22. Fair
23. Faithful
24. Fearless
25. Flexible
26. Focused
27. Free
28. Fun
29. Generous
30. Giving
31. Gracious
32. Grateful
33. Healthy
34. Helpful
35. Honest
36. Humor
37. Imaginative
38. Industrious
39. Inquisitive
40. Intuitive
41. Joyful
42. Kind
43. Leader
44. Learning
45. Lively
46. Loving
47. Loyal
48. Mature
49. Mindful
50. Mysterious
51. Modest
52. Neat
53. Open-minded
54. Optimistic
55. Organised
56. Original
57. Passionate
58. Persistent
59. Philanthropist
60. Playful
61. Pleasure
62. Powerful
63. Present
64. Proactive
65. Reasonable
66. Refined
67. Relaxed
68. Reliable
69. Resilient
70. Resourceful
71. Respectful
72. Self-control
73. Sensual
74. Service
75. Silly
76. Sincere
77. Spiritual
78. Strong
79. Thankful
80. Thoughtful
81. Thorough
82. Tidy
83. Tranquil
84. Trust
85. Truth
86. Understanding
87. Unique
88. Vision
89. Virtue
90. Vitality
91. Vivacious
92. Warm
93. Wise
94. Witty
95. Wonder
96. Youthful
97. Zeal

 


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“How to live life as a work of art, rather than as a chaotic response to external events…” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you given any thought to what gets in the way of your own happiness?
A major constraint on us enjoying what we are doing has always been our fear of how we appear to others and what these others are thinking about us.

We spend so much time worrying about whether we are doing enough for our children, our community and everyone else that our lives become nothing more than a response to what is happening around us. When we stop living consciously we let our environment dictate how we spend our time. We drive our kids to way too many activities spending more time in the car than together at home. We spend a ridiculous amount of energy worrying about the mum who is the school bully of the parents (you know who they are!) We try to please everyone around us and in the process lose ourselves to the point where we don’t have an opinion on anything, even what we want for dinner!

When we live life “as a chaotic response to external events” we begin to fall apart. We become anxious, depressed, exhausted and numb. We just keep going, we keep doing what we have always done if it’s no longer working for us because we don’t know how to do things differently.

Sounds crazy but it’s true! It amazes how many of my clients look absolutely confused when I ask them what they enjoy, what they like doing. They have spent so much time doing what is expected of them, they have no idea what they like. They want me to tell them what this could be!

I think one of the challenges people face is they believe that fame and wealth is where happiness lies. Csikszentmihalyi found people did not know what to do to be happy in life. research showed that people were unhappy doing nothing and were happy doing things, they just didn’t know what things they were happy doing. 

Here’s the catch, it’s important to differentiate between pleasure, which we get from eating, sex, gossip with enjoyment. Pleasure feels good but it lacks a sense of achievement where enjoyment leaves us feeling good about ourselves. I think this is how we answer questions such as ‘how do I find myself?’ and how do I find my sense of self. It’s about paying attention to what activities put us in ‘flow’.

Here is how Csikszentmihalyi defines what it feels like to be in ‘the flow’

  • Completely involved, focused, concentrating.
  • Sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
  • Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going.
  • Knowing the activity is doable – that your skills are adequate so you’re not anxious or bored.
  • Sense of serenity – no worries about self, feeling of growth beyond the boundaries of ego (ie worrying what others are thinking and saying about you).
  • Timeliness – thoroughly focused on present, don’t notice time passing.
  • intrinsic motivation – whatever produces ‘flow’ becomes its reward.

I urge you to pay attention what activities create this state in your lives. I get immersed and excited in planning to cook an intricate and complex recipe. I get lost in the process and the sense of achievement I feel as my family eats it leaves me on a high for days afterwards. There is no fame or financial rewards but it makes me happy. Ask yourself are you after happiness or fame and fortune?

Following are great charts that Csikszentmihalyi has drawn to demonstrate how his theory works. I think they are really worth having a look over if you are looking to bring more happiness into your everyday life.

As you can see when you are engaged in activities that are not challenging and not using your skills you can begin to feel numb and empty however if you try to do something that is difficult and you do not possess the skills to do it, it will leave you feeling anxious. The optimal state is to use your particular skills to do something challenging, something that is achievable.

This graph is a summary of how people feel when different skill levels are combined with different challenges.

This last graph is a focus on everyday life and how people spend their leisure time.

So the question is not what gives you pleasure and is easy to do, but what can you do to spend more of your time on activities that are more satisfying rather than brain numbing ones like watching television? And before you think you have no talents or abilities let me stop you there, there is no correlation between intelligence and ‘flow’. Different activities will get people in the ‘flow’ zone, we just need to find what our particular activities are.

Remember to pay attention without judging “where will this get me?” or “what’s the use of that?” Pull your attention away from how the external world will judge what you enjoy and focus it on what gets you into the ‘flow’. This is how you find yourself. This is how you get your sense of self, your sense of who you are. When you can do this, you will find your purpose and your meaning in life.


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Purpose Is How We Find Our Meaning And Joy In Life

At some point, most of us will question what our purpose in life is. 
We may feel lost, empty and exhausted and think “there must be more to life than this.”

And then we get stuck.
Is there really more?
How will I find it?
How will I know when I have found it? 

So we embark on a journey. An exciting voyage of self discovery.
Well, it’s exciting from a therapist’s perspective however I’m not sure if my clients would use those words to describe what they go through!
They would probably describe it more as a very painful, depressing, anxious and even angry time in their lives. I would understand if you thought me to be a bit of a sadist at this point, however this pain is essential. This pain is what tells us that we have lost our way in life. It is meant to work like an alarm system, guiding us as we navigate through life. Giving us feedback as to how we are progressing in the world.

When you find yourself feeling depressed, anxious, angry, exhausted and numb, I ask you to stop and listen. You are being told that what you are doing is no longer working for you.  

The way you are living, the choices you are making on a daily basis as to how you spend your time and energy have now become the problem. You have lost your way and this is what your pain is trying to tell you. 

So where do you go from here?

  • Well, you can choose to ignore the unpleasant feelings until you collapse into a crying heap with the doctor mumbling something about chronic fatigue (this seems to be my preferred way of coping).  
  • You can try to numb and bury those feelings real good with food, alcohol, drugs, affairs, gossip, dramas – both on television and real life, etc (hmm, I think I can claim this method as well).
  • Or you can use these feelings to guide you to your purpose in life. I made that sound pretty easy huh? Well the answer really is just that simple. We are encouraged to find our purpose; find our true/real/authentic selves; find our meaning in life and all for a good reason.

Having a purpose in life is what makes us happy.

How to be happy has been discussed by the greatest minds in the world for centuries. It’s not a new concept or one that I will in any way claim to have made some radical new discovery about. However after working with hundreds of clients from all walks of life I can say with confidence that people who find themselves, who live an authentic life, a life in line with their purpose, are the happiest. Being a psychologist, I have ingrained in me, a deep respect for scientific research, so I can make this claim with a sigh of relief as we now have the research to confirm what we have always known. To find our purpose, our meaning in life is to find ourselves and in turn our path to happiness and joy.   

So all this may sound fine and good but I know from personal experience that you are probably thinking “it doesn’t tell me how to actually find what my purpose is! I am ready to do what it takes! Just tell me what I am meant to be doing?”

I know this because my clients have read every self-help book, listened to hundreds of seminars, watched endless you tube vids hoping that this will be it!
The thing that finally reveals to me my purpose so I can get on with it!
Get on the path that will bring me guaranteed happiness and wealth. 

However this seems to also be where most of us get undone. For we not only want to be taken by the hand and lead to our path, we want a guarantee that our path will bring us guaranteed emotional and financial rewards. Oh, yeah, and if it feels like hard work at any point, then obviously we are not on the right path. Because finding your passion and following your purpose should be effortless and feel good 100% of the time. Right? Many of my clients have spent a lot of time trying to work out what their passion is and feel very confused when they try to work out how their fondness for sex or eating can be turned into a profitable business.

In this day and age, the focus seems to be very much on doing what makes us feel good. Eating cake feels fantastic, however it only feels good while we are eating it, take away the cake (or alcohol, sex, drugs, gossip, etc) and you don’t feel good anymore. In fact, once all these numbing behaviours are gone, you will probably feel worse about yourself. This is how you know if you’re on the right path, it shouldn’t leave you feeling bad at the end of it.

I am talking about finding who you are by paying attention to the things that make you lose all sense of time when you are doing them. Is it when you are following a new and complicated recipe? Or when you have discovered a new bush walk? You may find what you like surprises you. I ask that you simply pay attention without judging. Without asking “now how in the world is this going to make me money?” To find yourself and in turn, find your purpose and find happiness I ask that you pay attention to what gets you in the ‘flow’. While you are engaged in this activity what we are looking for isn’t necessarily just that you feel good. It may be something that challenges you, requires work and effort. When you are engaged in it however time flies. You get lost in what you are doing and time has no meaning. Once it’s done, you feel a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

So if you are feeling anxious, depressed, angry, exhausted, empty and fantasising about disappearing (and not even caring that you want to disappear) it is time to accept that what you are doing is no longer working for you. I’m guessing that you are spending your time and energy on activities that are not giving you any fulfillment or pleasure. It is time to rediscover your passion for life. It is time to find yourself, by finding what you are interested in and good at. What you like doing just for the sake of it. (We’ll worry about what the point of doing it is later, let’s just work out what gets you in the ‘flow’!)

Please feel free to make comments and suggestions.