Take Action with a Higher Purpose: Podcast Ep. 5:6

Welcome to Episode 6. It’s all about prioritizing your highest purpose. In this episode, I 

🎯 discuss why you need to have a purpose

⛑️ compare little p purpose to Big P Purpose

🍎 give you three ingredients for finding your purpose

🍒 tell you how to stay flexible yet accountable with having a purpose-driven life. 

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People who feel purpose-driven live longer, happier, and more mentally robust. Having a purpose-driven life is free and accessible to everyone. You start by thinking about how you can help the people and communities around you. Look at situations and discern how you can contribute. 

There are three ingredients to finding your purpose. What you are good at, what interests you, and what people around you need. Where all three of these overlap is the place you look for what you want to spend your time and energy on. All of these ingredients sit on a foundation of what you give value to (what is important and precious to you). That might be children being children, people feeling at home through art, inspiring others, making social changes that bring more inclusion, people’s safety, healing people through music, and so much more.  

Excerpt from Prioritize a Higher Purpose

“Another benefit of having a purposeful project is that it keeps your mind occupied. Our mind has evolved for millions of years to solve problems, so having a sense of purpose gives it something productive to do with that ability. It also makes you feel worthy, good about yourself, and like you contribute to society. And that’s all win, win, win. What you do affects what you mean to people, and what you mean to people gets reflected back to you by them. When you’re in a relationship with people, you’re interacting with them. How you make them feel, how you have helped them, what they appreciate about you, all of that stuff about you is reflected back to you, from that relationship, in their comments, in their love for you, in their feelings about you, and in how they treat you.” – Dr. Jodi Aman

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Transcription of the Prioritize a Higher Purpose Episode:

Hey, you’re here with Dr. Jodi, and this is Season 5 of the “Anxiety, I’m So Done With You” podcast. This podcast is a teen and young adult guide to Ditching Toxic Stress and Hardwiring Your Brain for Happiness. If you’re new here, grab a copy of my book, Anxiety, I’m So Done With You! because this series is going section by section through it, going a little bit deeper, giving more examples, and telling more stories. This season follows Chapter 5, “Self-Care is the New Health Care.” This book promises to ‘hardwire your brain for happiness.’ This season I deliver on that promise. We focus on seven essential happiness-generating habits, contexts, activities, and practices for you to incorporate into your life to stay healthy, positive, and resilient to whatever life throws your way.

There’s a myth at play if you’ve been feeling bad for a long time. You might think that happy people are lucky and that you are not; that you are different. While context matters to your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, your context is only partially determined by privilege, genetic expression, and random luck. The rest is determined by you. In this season, I show you how to harness that “you percent,” decolonize your self-care, and let your highest potential shine through all of the gook in your life. 

Thank you for listening, subscribing, and leaving me five stars on Apple Podcasts. Also, come hang out with me on YouTube and TikTok @DOCTORJODI where I give you practical tips for your brain, body, and spirit. Please spread the word about this book and series because mental health problems are skyrocketing, and I need you to help me turn the tide.

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Welcome to Chapter 5, Section 6: “Prioritize a Higher Purpose”

Welcome to Episode 6. It’s all about prioritizing your highest purpose. In this episode, I 

🎯 discuss why you need to have a purpose

⛑️ compare little p purpose to Big P Purpose

🍎 give you three ingredients for finding your purpose

🍒 tell you how to stay flexible yet accountable with having a purpose-driven life. 

Let’s talk about why you need a purpose. About only 25% of adults know and have a clear sense of their purpose in life. So if you’re like, “I have no idea what my purpose is,” don’t worry; you are not alone. Plus, you’re probably an emerging adult, a teenager, or a young person who doesn’t know yet what they want to do with their life or what their primary purpose is for their life. That’s okay. Right now, know that a purpose, or having a purpose, to your day, to your week, to your year, to your life helps you live longer, have better emotional wellness, and your overall physical health. 

Because when you give up (or don’t have a goal that you want to do or get to, like healing or getting through it, and give up), your body believes that there’s no hope anymore. When that happens, when it believes that there’s no hope anymore, mentally, physically, and emotionally, disease progresses. So you don’t want to give up that hope. 

Do you know how it feels (emotionally) when you give up hope? The despair is heavy on your heart. It’s heavy on your mind, feels horrible, and affects you physically. It affects your physical tissues. That matters, especially if you have a chronic or acute disease. But even when you’re healthy, stress still affects you. 

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“Your issues are in your tissues.”

Clear all unnecessary or hurtful mental and emotional baggage so that it doesn’t affect you. Physical problems affect you emotionally and mentally, the same as mental and emotional issues affect you physically. We are all one body. Let’s include the spiritual realm in there. When you feel more connected, you feel more hope. When you have more faith, you have more hope and more of a sense of purpose, and that affects you physically. It boosts your immune system and makes you physically stronger. 

It motivates you to do things that keep you healthy and happy. And so that’s going to make a huge difference. All of these bodies relate to each other. You want to take care of all of them because any problems or disease or decompensation of any of your bodies will affect the rest of your bodies. So you live longer, have better emotional wellness, and have better physical health if you have a strong sense of purpose. 

Then why does only one-third of our population have that sense of purpose? People are pretty lost. We could attribute modern conveniences to this problem as well. People used to have daily tasks that they had to do to survive, giving them a sense of purpose, even if it was a small ‘p’ purpose.

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“Little p purpose” and “Big P Purpose.

Before continuing this section about why you need a purpose, I’ll explain what I mean when I use “little p purpose” and “big P Purpose.” Little p purpose is smaller undertakings that last for one task, day, hour, week, or month. It is a goal to accomplish, something you’re doing, or a project you’re working on. Those are “small p purposes” because you do it, and it’s done, and then you need another project. Those projects are not nothing! They instill a strong sense of purpose for those moments, but also overall because you get to know yourself as productive. You see yourself as someone who can accomplish things, contribute, and matter. Right? Having a strong sense of purpose reflects to yourself that you matter. And therefore, it’s also very strongly connected with your sense of worth and assists the development of your own personal worthiness in this world. 

I have a friend who is a teacher who has the summer off every year. By the end of each summer, he started feeling out of touch with who he was. The lack of purpose over the summer affected him that deeply. He felt terrible about himself as if he was no longer important anymore. He didn’t feel like he mattered and was slightly lost. His reaction is an extreme example. However, for example, if someone were to be laid off, they likely would feel similar. 

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During the Pandemic

During the shut down of the pandemic, people lacked a sense of purpose because each day was the same, and they had nothing to do. People had limits on what they could do, so they felt lost. Many people found other projects, like making a gym in their backyard or learning new recipes. People find purposeful activities to engage in because we crave it. Without having something to do, something to think about, something to problem solve, our mind is idle. Unfortunately, when it’s idle, you know what happens: The anxiety comes.

Another benefit of having a purposeful project is that it keeps your mind occupied. Our mind has evolved for millions of years to solve problems, so having a sense of purpose gives it something productive to do with that ability. It also makes you feel worthy, good about yourself, and like you contribute to society. And that’s all win, win, win. What you do affects what you mean to people, and what you mean to people gets reflected back to you by them.

So what I mean is when you’re in a relationship with people, you’re interacting with them. How you make them feel, how you have helped them, what they appreciate about you, all of that stuff about you is reflected back to you, from that relationship, in their comments, in their love for you, in their feelings about you, and in how they treat you. The reflection of your identity on them also gives you a powerful sense of purpose. 

When you have a higher purpose

When you are out there in the world doing things, contributing to other people or communities, or doing art projects or whatever it is, to some kind of creative project, you have a strong sense of purpose and that reflection off the people that you’re interacting with, with all of that stuff gives you a strong sense of self, very robust sense of self. That is essential for feeling good about yourself. And it’s easy to do. It’s free. Surround yourself with uplifting people, and you contribute to those relationships somehow. (Don’t overthink this, it is a natural process!) When you do, you’ll experience yourself as participating and engaged in life, and you’ll feel a sense of belonging. So you have connectedness and mattering in a sense of purpose. 

Again, the little-p-purpose is for small day-to-day activities, and the big-P-Purpose is more of an overarching way of being or a commitment to your life. People have identities, which means a sense of who or what kind of person they are. Those identities come from what we give value to, what’s important to us. When we value loyalty or being present for friends when they need us, loyalty becomes part of our identity. It’s a way to describe ourselves, e.g., “Someone who cares about other people.”

Your positive self-identity is the foundation for the commitments and purposeful actions you take in your life, meaning you create actions and activities that go along with that identity and what you want to do. Your purpose is infiltrated with all of that; your identity, what you give value to, what you commit to, what you want to move forward to, and what you want to create in the world. That constitutes your Big-P-Purpose, the overarching ways you want to be in the world.

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Why humans need a purpose

Let’s get back to why humans need a purpose for one additional comment. I already said that it gives you something to focus on, right? This means your brain is not idle. It has something to do. Plus, being productive makes you feel like you’re contributing, and that’s connected to worth. 

I wish it weren’t sometimes. Occasionally some people will feel like they must keep producing or working hard to prove their worth. That’s more of an attached way to see purpose (i.e., overworking to prove your worth). Many people, often those with a history of trauma, feel like they have to excessively work to prove their worth. Perfectionism is an example of this. Overworking and perfectionism don’t actually help people feel sustainably worthy. Instead, they make them overcommitted, burnout people-pleasers who continue to feel bad about themselves. 

You are worthy just for being you. You only have to be who you are. And you’re 100% worth your place in the world. However, your soul also craves to do more and be purposeful, to matter, to matter to other people, to matter to this world, and to make the world a better place than how you found it. 

That’s a personal goal of mine; to leave each moment better than I found it. For example, with each episode, I intend to bring you to a better place than you were when you started listening, even if it’s a tiny distance. I hope to transform some negative thoughts, give you a new tool, explain something you didn’t understand, help you learn about yourself, give you insight into another person, or offer you something you could use to improve, even if it’s just a little bit.

Pain needs a purpose.

People go through tough things in life; some are quite traumatic. When people struggle, it matters to them because it has affected them deeply. If their experience were rendered invisible for some reason, like they were invalidated or ignored by the person who hurt them, ridiculed for it, blamed, or even if they couldn’t see a reason for it happening, they would feel like it didn’t matter that it happened. That adds insult to injury. 

Alternately, if your pain was, for example, transformed into something that you could help someone, it becomes more meaningful and easier for your mind and body to process. 

Perhaps you help someone who has had a similar painful experience that you have, and this enables you to know what they need. The pain was not for nothing because it made a difference to someone or something. 

The suffering happened, and that can’t be undone. It’s not, “good that it happened so that you could do something good with it.” No, it’s never good that it happened. However, if something good comes from it, even in a sideways way, it just makes it not for nothing. I don’t want to say, “it gives it a reason” ––nothing like that. I don’t believe “things happen for a reason.” It didn’t happen so that this good thing could happen. However, what we do after experiencing hardship, if it’s doing something positive, gives that, whatever was precious that was lost from that painful event, gives that value. And that helps us heal.

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For example

Say a family member was injured on a stairway and to prevent other people from suffering a similar fate, you advocated for railings to be installed at that location. That advocacy and the results render the suffering and the loss meaningful. It’s not the loss or the suffering that’s given value but the loved one that suffered or the loved one that you lost that was given value by that action. 

Remember I said that any time you’re hurt in life, it’s devaluing something that you hold precious? When your response to a problematic experience has you contributing to other people’s lives, it gives value to what you hold precious. 

Again, you don’t have to value the loss. You don’t give value to the trauma or the hurt, but you re-elevate what was lost during the incident. That’s what gets value, and that’s important in so many ways. 

A purpose-driven life

The more you are involved in a goal-oriented life, a purpose-driven life, the more you learn, which is awesome for the brain. The more you stimulate that prefrontal cortex, the lower your anxiety and depression become. Anxiety and depression have been rising in the last 20-30 years because we have so many modern conveniences that eliminate our need to constantly learn, adapt, and grow our skills. We get out of the practice of problem-solving, especially when we don’t have to learn and build new skills. 

This disconnects us from seeing ourselves as educatable, adaptable, and skilled, and we question whether we have skills. We totally do. We have tons of skills, and we have tons of adaptation ability to grow our skills, but we don’t have that growth mindset knowing that we can do that, knowing that we can improve and learn something. And we need that. A sense of purpose, having a purpose, and having goals helps us do that. And it also builds self-trust.

How to find your purpose

All right. I already covered the Big-P-Purpose and the little-p-purpose. It’s crucial to pause here and mention that people get confused about these two kinds of purpose. Unfortunately, when people assume they must have a Big-P-Purpose figured out, this can put undue pressure on them. When you are young, it is okay only to have little-p-purposes. Think of it like dating. You are trying things on, learning what is important to you, discovering what makes you feel good, and what you enjoy doing. There’s time to figure out your Big-P-Purpose later. Also, don’t get stressed about finding the “one.” You can change a Big-P-Purpose. So let any worries about your Big–Purpose go and focus on the little-ps.

A little-p-purpose could be supporting a friend going through a hard time, sending them a card, or sharing candy to let them know you’re thinking about them. 

Small-p-purposes are good for you. They help you feel as purposeful as Big-P-Purposes. As you’re emerging into adulthood and you’re contemplating your Big-P-Purpose, think about things that you give value to. What’s important to you? This could be the basis of your overarching Big-P-Purpose.

Perhaps other people are important to you, that they feel worthy and cared for. Or it can be important to you that people who are marginalized get centered. Whatever you give value to can be the base of your life purpose or the foundation of your Big P Purpose. 

  • What’s that foundation?
  • What’s that thing that you value so much that you want it to be?
  • What is integral to everything that you want to do in your life? 

There are many different options on how you could actively value that and commit to that in your life. There may be unlimited options, but that’s the foundation. 

Three overlapping circles

Once you have the foundation, then you need three ingredients to find your purpose. Imagine three overlapping circles. 

🟡 Your interests are in one circle. These can be slightly different than things that you value. Things that you value are that foundation. Things that you’re interested in are things that give you pleasure, provide you with joy, charge you up, and spark your attention. That’s one circle. 

🟣 In the second circle is things that you are good at. Get to know yourself and your skills, what you’re naturally good at, or what skills you enjoy so much that you are willing to practice and build. Skills don’t develop out of the blue. People who excel practice, practice, practice. There’s a saying: ‘”How did you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, Practice.”‘

Many people get discouraged when they try something and don’t do well at it. This might get in their way of continuing to attempt it, because it doesn’t feel good to work hard and be bad at something. But practically nobody is good at stuff right away! Keep working on it. Some activities are interesting or fun enough to practice without you having to push yourself too much. It’s fun to build those skills. However, sometimes it’s not fun to build skills, but it is still worth it. That is the second circle: Things you are good at or willing to build your skills in. 

🔴 In the third circle, put things that people need. 

So you have three circles; things that interest you, things that you’re good at, and things that people need. Where all three of those circles overlap is an excellent place to find your Big-P-Purpose. There are still many options, but it’ll zero you in on what’s most important to explore. 

  • What would be a good thing for you to do in your life? 
  • What would be helpful, useful, and purposeful? 
  • What would make you feel good?

How to stay flexible yet accountable to your purpose

The last topic to discuss is staying flexible yet accountable to your purpose. You need to have a balance, don’t you? Being flexible is awesome. It gets counters anxiety because anxiety expects and influences you to be rigid. To anxiety, flexibility feels out of control. However, when you lean into flexibility, your confidence in it increases, and your trust in the process improves. This can feel glorious! You get in the flow, are more productive, and you’re not judging yourself as much with that anxiety and that rigidity. Flexibility is essential for a happy life. 

Can you be too flexible?

That said, I have ADHD, so I struggle with focus and productivity. In many ways, my flexibility, which I developed to counter my own anxiety, has kept me productive. But, there’s a downside that I’ve noticed in myself. Sometimes I’m too flexible and lose the discipline of making things non-negotiable. For example, I struggle with my morning routine. 

I know that having a non-negotiable morning routine is so good for a person. It would be so good for me. I really, really, really want a non-negotiable morning routine, and I’m constantly trying to have one. But my flexibility kicks in, and while I LOVE that flexibility, sometimes it works against me. I need to gain the discipline to do what I set out to do without changing course. 

Some people are too disciplined and need to lean into flexibility. Or too flexible and need to push themselves to be more disciplined. You have to know which way you’re leaning so that you can rebalance it.

Everyone is different. 

I have to tell some clients to relax and motivate others to get moving. We are not all the same, so we cannot all take the same advice. That wouldn’t make sense. You want the balance to be accountable to your goals yet flexible to shift when that is most helpful to you. If you set a goal, stay committed to that goal. 

However, if you decide, “This goal doesn’t really work for me anymore; I want to change it.” And that doesn’t mean you want to suit because you don’t feel like doing the hard stuff. It means that it’s just not a good fit anymore. Sometimes we’re wrong about the goal we want, and sometimes things change that enlighten us to that goal doesn’t make sense anymore, and we want to switch it. If we consciously change it, then it’s okay. If we consciously change what the goal is or when something is due or whatever we consciously change, that flexibility can be helpful.

A Stop-Doing List

There are times when we have to decline a goal, “I don’t want to do that anymore. This is not a good fit for me.” At those times, get it off your list! You don’t have to continue to do something because you made a commitment when it doesn’t make sense to keep doing it. 

I regularly make myself a “Stop-Doing List.” (I have a video about The Stop Doing List.) To make a stop-doing list, get some paper and on it, list everything you do in a day, make sure it is everything, everything. Look at it. Ask yourself:

How many things are nonsense things that don’t serve you? 

Do they serve your purpose? 

Are they fun and or pleasurable?

Writing the list helps you bring consciousness in. You may think you have to do them, but looking at them, you will realize you don’t. Then, you cross them out. And you see what is left are activities that deserve your time and energy. That is how you make a Stop Doing list. 

Make sure you’re enjoying your purpose. If not, change it. (I know we have to do things we don’t want to do sometimes, like cleaning your room. That’s not what I am talking about.) Sometimes you have a very strong purpose and you want to do something, and it includes some hard or tedious tasks that you don’t really want to do, but overall you want it done. I’m not talking about that, either. I mean, overall, make sure you’re enjoying what you are majorly spending your time doing. If you’re consciously choosing it, make sure you’re enjoying it.

Thank you for reading

So that’s it. That’s all I got for you. I appreciate your presence here because this episode was so full of information. And I’ll also add resources to the blog post that goes along with this episode. That link is in the show notes. 

Remember, don’t worry if you don’t have that Big-P-Purpose. Get some small-p-purposes just for today; find a goal, task, or something you want to accomplish. Get yourself on the other side of that and celebrate that you did it. 

That’s all for Episode 6. Wow. This series that goes along with the book is almost done. The “Anxiety, I’m So Done with You!” podcast will continue. So keep subscribing, and keep listening. I’ll continue to share practical tips for your brain, body, and spirit. 

Thank you so much for listing. Please comment, share, subscribe, and leave me five stars on Apple Podcasts. That’ll make a huge difference to how many people access these tools. In this episode, I 

🍎 discussed why you need a purpose

🩺 distinguished little-p-purpose from Big-P-Purpose

🟣 gave you three ingredients for finding your purpose  

🎣 mentioned how to stay flexible yet accountable within your purpose-driven life. 

The next and last “book” episode is Prioritizing Creativity. How fun is that? I’m glad I left that fun, pleasurable topic for last because people came to Earth to create, and there are so many different ways we could do that to feed our souls. There are a million, unlimited ways to be creative, and I’ll share how being creative helps you bring happiness into your life. Read Chapter 5, Section 7, Prioritize Creativity. And in the meantime, as always, hang out with me on YouTube and TikTok at Doctor Jodi

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