As we continue to explore the specific skills we can work to develop to increase our own resilience, I want to point our attention to the 4th skill, developing a sense of purpose. Catch up on the previously discussed skills here, here, and here!

What is a sense of purpose?

I like to think of our sense of purpose as the meaning in our lives that acts to motivate us towards forward progress. Without a sense of purpose, we may feel stalled out, undirected, or without a ‘why’ behind our actions.

Research on resilience has shown that those who are exhibiting resilience through life are also people who also have a strong sense of purpose. The idea that a sense of purpose corresponds to greater resilience makes sense. In my mind, I picture an anchored boat- when the waves of a storm beat upon it, it isn’t dashed to and fro in response to the storm if it is well anchored. Our sense of purpose can act as our personal anchor, steadying us in times of hardship. A healthy sense of purpose can give us much needed perspective and motivation to keep on trying.

Thinking about your big picture “why”

For many of us, it’s easy to go through the motions of life without giving a lot of thought to the “why” behind those actions. When we slow down to examine that “why”, we are doing the work to discover what our own personal, anchoring sense of purpose is. For some, connecting to their belief in a higher power and spirituality can provide meaningful direction and purpose in life. There are also other ways to approach developing a sense of purpose outside of religion. Purpose is found in both the things we believe and the things we value.

In seeking to better understand what it is you value, ask yourself: What brings you a sense of awe in life? What do you find yourself drawn to? What do you notice feels rewarding for you to put a lot of effort into? When times are tough, what do you find yourself prioritizing? Examining these questions can provide helpful clues to what you value and lead you to discovering your own unique sense of purpose.

When waters get rough

Looking for purpose when life is smooth sailing is one thing, but when the waters get rough, how exactly does a sense of purpose help?

Purpose ties us back to our values and beliefs and helps us feel motivated to keep moving forward. From our sense of purpose, priorities become clearer, and during times of distress, this helps us focus on what matters. As we hunker down through storms, having a clear sense of our purpose helps us gain clarity on what short- and long-term goals need to be accomplished so that we aren’t blown off course by our current circumstances.

Remember, resilience is not supposed to feel like hitting the “easy button” and releasing a force field to keep all hardship far away. The goal in working to develop resilience isn’t to avoid the difficult things in life, but to learn to navigate life and not be sunk by our challenges. The hard things will still be there- that’s just a part of the human experience. However, the way we navigate through them can make all the difference.