Some Thoughts On Restoring Personal Vitality

IMG_8788Recently, I was sorting through some photos and was struck by the quirkiness of one in particular. It’s a photo of our cat Einstein giving me a quizzical look. For whatever reasons, this shot always provides me a little reminder to focus on what’s important in life.

Frankly, I’ve always felt as though I was doing that. But then I hit a wall, and realized I could do better. Here’s what happened:

This past June, I spent the better part of my birthday on a pre-op appointment, and a few days later had foot surgery; and that was followed by more than six weeks of recovery. I had chosen to keep my client work to a minimum, and to spend my days reading. Perhaps it was the sudden change of pace, my recent birthday, or maybe my wife’s comment about how the change would be like being retired, but this was the first time in my life I felt truly old. Not just old, actually, but in a slump.

It was not a good feeling, and sparked some reflection on what it would take to re-energize.

Learning To Let Go

I’ve long realized that everything we have in life has a cost. Fundamentally, we trade our time for possessions, experiences, learning, and even relationships. Mostly, this is a good thing. After all, most of us truly do enjoy what comes into our lives, most especially our relationships.

Yet, there does seem to be an outside limit on satisfaction; and a time to let go. [Tweet this]

But letting go is hard, at least for me. So, I was fortunate to discover, read, and start applying the principles Marie Kondo presents in her excellent The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. What amazed me was how her simple standard of joy could be so powerful. Specifically, Kondo advises that in tidying up, you hold each item you own and ask if it sparks joy. If not, thank it for it’s service and let it go!

Seems to me like a great standard for deciding what to keep in life: If there is no joy in it, let it go! [Tweet this]

Yes! Of Course There’s More

Frankly, in itself, seeking joy is not a sufficient basis for satisfaction in life. In fact, if we only strive to be happy, we’re bound to be disappointed. As Tom Rath points out in his excellent Are You Fully Charged? pursuing happiness is shortsighted. Rather, happiness is a by-product of pursuing meaning, especially in activities that make a difference for others.

Yet, as I’ve advised clients it takes work. As Rath puts it:

“Meaning does not happen to you — you create it. One of the most important elements of building a great career and life is attaching what you do each day to a broader mission. Until you understand how your efforts contribute to the world, you are simply going through the motions each day.”

While creating meaning sets the broader context for an energized life, your personal vitality also benefits from your daily practices. While these can differ from person to person, here, based on Rath’s work as well as other resources, are five ideas that you may find beneficial:

Harness the Power of Intrinsic Motivation. When we think of motivation, most of us tend to tie it to external outcomes, like earning a paycheck. Yet, we’re also motivated by internal factors, and do things because we want to do them. While both forms of motivation work, it turns out that intrinsic motivation is much more powerful, a fact well documented by Dan Pink in his fascinating book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In applying this to your personal vitality, start to focus more energy on the things you want to do – both at work and in other parts of your life.

Take Control of Your Health and Well-Being. Controlling your health and well-being may seem like it involves too much work, change, and discomfort. And confusion! Frankly, we’re exposed to so much conflicting health information it’s hard to know where to start! Yet, according to Rath, it all comes down to some basic management of how we eat, move, and sleep. If you like, you can find detailed information in his Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes. You can make a project out if it, and it would be worthwhile. In the meantime, I found using a fitness tracker not only provides data to show how you’re doing but can also fuel your motivation to do better.

Cultivate Friendships. Most of us realize that relationships are important to business and career success. So, we network. Yet, nurturing friendships is even more important to living a satisfying and successful life. After all, friendships have health as well as social benefits. On some level, we all need to find belonging and are better off when we do. Investing time in creating friendships, both in person and online, can have a big positive impact on your personal vitality.

Focus On the Before and After of Experiences. It’s not possessions but life experiences that support a happier life. No doubt you’ve heard that, as it’s an idea that’s been around since the ancient times! Yet, recent research on spending habits indicates that purchasing experiences, especially with other people, enhances well-being. What’s more, it turns out that more than the experience itself, anticipation and memory make a greater contribution to overall well-being. So, make sure to enjoy planning and remembering as well as the doing!

Be Ready to Respond to Stress and Hardship. No doubt about it, no matter how well things may be going, we all face occasional hardships. The trick is to realize that you already have or can develop resilience skills. In fact, if you’re already managing your personal vitality, you’re well on your way. Still, helpful resources are not hard to find.

Why It’s Important To Find Belonging

“I want my real life to be as fun as the one I paid for.” ~ Doug Harris (Josh Gad)

Group Of Friends Enjoying Drink At Outdoor Rooftop BarI don’t know about you, but sometimes we rent movies that we think of as mindless entertainment. They can be fun, but often not enlightening. So, it always amazes me, on those rare occasions, when one of these movies makes a great point.

So it was with the Kevin Hart movie, The Wedding Ringer. In it Kevin plays Jimmy Callahan, a “wedding services consultant” who provides best man services for guys without friends. In the process he shows his client, Doug Harris, played by Josh Gad, what having a full life can be like! Not only does Jimmy serve as best man, but assembles a misfit group of groomsmen, throws him a bachelor party, and in the process shows Doug the best time of his life!

It got me thinking how important friends and a feeling of belonging are to living a full life.

Unfortunately, as Gad’s character discovers, keeping our relationships narrowly focused on work can be a big mistake. And too many of us are guilty of it. Often, we let an obsession with becoming better networkers hold us back from building longer and stronger relationships. [Tweet this] That is, the kinds of relationships that enrich our lives – even when a there’s no business or career advantage.

Make A Diverse Array of Friends

As I see it, we do well to recognize opportunities to make friends in a variety of situations, both in person and online. In some cases, doing so can mean stepping outside your comfort zone to put yourself “out there.” Yet, since most people focus mostly on building relationships related to business, let’s consider friends at work.

In his book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, business, health, and well-being author Tom Rath points out that people with at least three close friends at work, are 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their jobs, and 88% more likely to be satisfied with their lives. Think about that. Work friends bring not just job satisfaction, but life satisfaction! [Tweet this]

Add to these findings, the perspectives of his latest book, Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life, and you begin to see the impact of meaningful human interactions and relationships on the quality of your life.

Don’t limit yourself to work friends, though. Let’s face it variety is the spice of life, and this is true of relationships.  So, seek out friends from a diverse array of ages, genders, ethnicities, and locations. Interacting with people from around the world can broaden your perspectives, and enrich your human experience. [Tweet this] Fortunately, this is much easier than ever in today’s social media rich world.

It Comes Down To Belonging

Friendship comes down to belonging. Yet, although “circle of friends” is a well known metaphor, we don’t often think of the groups of people to whom we “belong.” Perhaps it’s because too many of us still cling to the distinction of friends and acquaintances. [Tweet this] While we think of friends as people who we can trust and rely on, acquaintances are “just” people we know. Frankly, this is not a helpful distinction.

A better distinction is one made by GirlFriendCircles.com founder Shasta Nelson, who sees five circles of friendship based on levels of consistency and intimacy. In her model:

  • Contact Friends are people we are friendly with when we see them in a shared context, say at a class, but with whom we share little intimacy.
  • Common Friends are people with whom share a common activity, but also with whom we make an effort to expand the relationship, and who make the common activity enjoyable.
  • Community Friends are people with whom we have expanded our relationship to include more activities leading to more consistency and intimacy.Three mature ladies smiling
  • Committed Friends are people with whom we have intimately and consistently shared our lives, and have a mutual commitment to be present no matter what.
  •  Confirmed Friends are people with whom we share intimacy and a history of friendship, even when our connection has not been consistent due to life changes (usually a move).

Looked at in this way, it becomes easier to see our various relationship circles. And when we can see that it becomes easier to enhance our belonging across multiple circles of friends.

Why Bother?

Studies show that belonging enhances your well-being. Yet, if you need a more pragmatic reason, consider this: When you belong, you don’t usually need to worry about getting help from others. You just ask. And naturally, you’re always ready to return the favor. So, imagine if this were true in every part of your life – from getting support for your fitness goals to finding new work. Whatever it is, the support of others helps you be successful at much of what you want to achieve in life.

So, as Doug Harris discovered, imagine how great your life would be if you enhanced your belonging across all your circles of friendship.

Escape the Matrix and Reclaim Your Future

Note: I’m generally not a fan of two-part posts. Yet, in thinking about the time you may have to read, I felt breaking my nearly 3,000 words into two parts would be best.  In this part, I want to highlight the context for the strategies I will present in Part 2. In any event, I hope each part is a worthwhile read for you. So, let’s get started.

Living IllusionI don’t know how you feel about the current state of things, but it sure seems to me that increasingly we are living in some kind of Matrix-like world. Actually, I’ve written about this before. Yet, before saying much more, I want to share the definition of the matrix that inspired my first post:

“One way to interpret the movie is that we’re supposed to realize that there are lots of games out there, and many of them are designed to deceive you, to keep you feeling as if you’re running the show when you’re not.”

That observation comes from Chris Brogan who was discussing the premise of the movie, The Matrix.

When I wrote my original post, I was offering advice on job search to people feeling the heat of an economy that’s in pretty poor shape. It’s still in poor shape. And yet, the fact that the economy is in horrible shape, and only getting worse is not even the scary part. No, what’s truly frightening is the view, as recently delivered by some government officials, that the projected loss of jobs actually empowers people. [Tweet this] 

It doesn’t.

Earned Success, Happiness, and Longevity

Frankly, I hold to the belief that true happiness, optimal health, and longevity are tightly related to the idea of earned success, which economist Arthur C. Brooks discusses in his book, The Road to Freedom, as well as in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. Referencing the work of psychologist Martin Seligman on learned helplessness, Brooks states:

“People simply give up and stop trying to succeed…During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks.”

In my experience as an outplacement consultant, I can attest to the fact that people without jobs are thrown onto an emotional roller coaster. And job loss has as much to do with harming sense of identity and relationships as it does with forfeiture of money and health insurance. Worse, the longer people are jobless, the less attractive they are to prospective employers. [Tweet this]  Over time, that sense of loss and helplessness can only become deeper.

Yet, this is about more than loss of identity and depression. Not working may even have an impact on how long you live. In their book, Successful Aging, John W. Rowe, M.D. and Robert L. Kahn, PhD, discuss a three-part model for longevity: (1) avoiding disease, (2) maintaining high cognitive and physical function, and (3) engagement with life. Significantly, engagement with life is determined by continued productive activity and maintaining relationships with other people.

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