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This year marks my nineteenth year as a full fledged grown-up doctor. One of the benefits of being a “mature” doctor is the ability to listen and evaluate patient’s medical issues in a new light. I had an “aha” moment this year when I started appreciating that when certain patients say they are depressed and want to consider medication or counseling, that what they are really trying to convey is they no longer had a sense of purpose in lives.

They often feel lost about how to be mentally and physically productive in their day to day life. Often they have feelings of worthlessness, stagnation and no clear plan on how to move their lives forward in a meaningful way. Often these patients express symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, headaches and bowel dysregulation.

WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?

A recently published study in JAMA Psychiatry titled Association Between​ ​Purpose​ ​in​ ​Life​ ​and​ ​Objective​ ​Measures​ ​of​ ​Physical​ ​Function​ ​in​ ​Older​ ​Adults concludes,

“A sense of purpose in life, a modifiable factor, may play an important role in maintaining physical function among older adults.”

Psychologist Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada and colleague Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester Medical Center published research in Psychological Science titled Purpose​ ​in​ ​Life​ ​as​ ​a​ ​Predictor​ ​of Mortality​ ​Across​ ​Adulthood​.​ The research found individuals with a strong sense of purpose had increased longevity. In order to assess sense of purpose, they asked study participants whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

  1. “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.”
  2. “I feel good when I think of what I have done in the past and what I hope to do in the future.”
  3. “I live life one day at a time and do not really think about the future.”
  4. “I sometimes feel as if I have done all there is to do in life.”

When followed up 14 years later, the researchers found 

“having a purpose in life appears to widely buffer against mortality risk across the adult years.”

HOW DO YOU FIND A SENSE OF PURPOSE IN LIFE?

My grandma Katie, who lived until 95, always had a sense of purpose. In her early 80s she was a volunteer mental health facilitator at a local community health center in Boca Raton, Florida. She made participants feel comfortable and safe, enabling them to share their experiences with one another. She gained their trust to openly discuss their mental challenges. She also had a sense of purpose when beating me repeatedly at scrabble in her nineties.

But how does one go about finding a sense of purpose? Looking for answers to this question, I sat down with Lucy Reynolds founder of Olerai Leadership. Lucy is a Co-Active leadership coach and facilitator. In her coaching she likes to help individuals who have the following characteristics:

  • Face a known transition in life and want to explore what’s next.
  • Ponder a change but unsure which new path will be most fulfilling and achievable.
  • Launch into a new career direction or redefining their concept of “work”.
  • Re-entering the workplace after a time gap.
  • Trying to adjust daily life to address something missing or out of balance.

THE INTERVIEW

Heather​: Hi Lucy tell me a little about your practice as a coach.

Lucy​: I serve clients in a capacity of helping them live their best lives. We are all responsible for creating this for ourselves and, yet, sometimes we need a little help to figure out the direction we want to point our compass. I work with students and adults looking to explore career options, individuals in transition, and executives who want to get to the next level of their career. Most coaching relationships start with a values based work approach which allows clients to remind themselves what is most important in their lives both professionally and personally. Generally what follows values exploration is helping clients to identify all of the shoulds in their life. When shoulds show up in a client’s life, it is usually a response to what someone else thinks we should be doing, not necessarily honoring our own values or what is important to us. When it comes to a client in search of a new career path, I often find he or she pursued a career by looking through a lens of shoulds rather than based on values combined with interests and/or passion. It is very rewarding to work with clients and watch the transformation occur when they truly and honestly ask themselves what is it they really want in life and see the pathway forward present itself with clarity. I generally meet with clients biweekly. It is in between the session where clients begin to find what they are looking for as they take on their “inquiry homework” assigned to them coming out of the last session we had together. This “inquiry homework” is designed to deepen the learning about themselves, their values and what they want more of in life. Often, depending on the client and their goals for the coaching, transformational outcomes occur for clients in six to eight sessions over a three month time span.

Heather​: Lately, I feel like I have heard of more and more people offering their services as personal coaches. When someone is considering coaching, what criteria and credentials should a coach possess?

Lucy​: When beginning the search for a coach a person needs to honestly ask themselves, “Do I really want to be coached?” A coach cannot coach someone who does not want to be coached. Next a prospective client should find a coach with whom they feel a connection to and with whom they can trust to be open and honest with for the sake of their own growth. Establishing trust and fit with a coach is extremely important. Every good coach offers a sample session so a potential client can ask questions and to see if what a coach is offering resonates with them. Additionally the coach must be certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and have the proper credentialing associated with their name. My certification is a CPCC – Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. 

Heather​: How do clients say they feel when they have lost sight of their personal values?

Lucy​: When people are not honoring their values in life they often describe irritability, frustration, anger, stress and/or a feeling of “being stuck”. A well trained and certified coach must be able to distinguish when a client is lacking purpose or the ability to make values based decisions versus describing symptoms more in the arena of true depression and anxiety and direct them to address these issues with a therapist.

Heather​:​ Tell me more about helping people understand their values? Or what I refer to as finding a sense of purpose in their lives.

Lucy​:​ I do quite a bit of values based work. This gets down to understanding what people want in life. Many people come to me and say, “I don’t know what I want in life. I feel stuck and frustrated.” The feeling of being “stuck” is an example of values being stepped on. One client described it as feeling as if she is standing in front of a brick wall and finding it so high and so long that she has no clue how to get around it. To me this is her way of saying she has forgotten what is valuable to her and so not knowing which way to turn to get over the wall. When clients become more clear on what is valuable to them in life, the wall becomes lower and lower and a clearer path forward is revealed. Once values are brought into the decision making process, clients are able to start saying “yes” to experiences that support their core values and “no thank you” to those that do not serve them now, even if they once did in the past. To be “at choice” in one’s life is the key to living a more fulfilled life. Having the ability to ask oneself: How do I want to choose to manage this challenge I face? How do I want to react to this news? How do I want to be with my family? What type of leaders do I want to be for my team? By getting clear on what you want and living always with intention, you will unlock a powerful confidence and a pathway to a more fulfilled life.

Heather​​: Thank you for talking to me today Lucy! I think the benefits of addressing and advancing one’s personal values and sense of purpose in life will really resonate with many of my patients.