M = Meaning
The Coach’s Alphabet (vol. I): J = Joy
by Stacey Jill Zackin, PhD, MSW, PCC, Founder of theCoach4you
“To be or not to be?”—what is the meaning of this question? To live or die? To take decisive action or to passively do nothing? To be who you’ve always been, who you’re expected to be, or to embrace an inner-you that has yet to be realized.
The meaning of anything…of everything is contextual and subjective. Often, we just accept our first interpretation as the only option and our reality becomes habitual and limited. Taking the time to contemplate the possibilities, as Hamlet does, invites some complexity and conflict, but through that tension comes an opportunity for more clarity and choice.
In this installment of The Coach’s Alphabet, we look at the meaning of the word MEANING. I believe life is lived on two planes of experience, the first being what happens and the second being the meaning we assign to those experiences. One is viewed through a practical, if not literal lens, and the other is more emotional and thus unpredictable, irrational, and autonomous.
Three different people are kept waiting at the airport as the people picking them up are late. They are all experiencing the same situation, yet the way that experience effects them can be completely different based on past experience and present priorities. One, who has a history of feeling undervalued and abandoned might feel bad about themselves and conflicted about the driver who although they are doing them a favor, must not really care that they are stuck in the airport after a long flight or standing in the cold breathing exhaust fumes. The second person could be angry that their friend or significant other, yet again, couldn’t manage to follow-through on an obligation they promised to meet. The third, might just assume that there is traffic and decides to sit down and continue to read the book they didn’t get to finish on the plane. The factual experience is the same but the emotional responses of feeling depressed, angry, or content are worlds apart.
Our initial responses are beyond our control as they are activated by psychological complexes originating from the unconscious. It often takes a lot of personal reflection and professional therapy to mitigate their influence, but there are simple steps we can do to increase our ability to find the most meaningful meaning in the moment. I call it the SANE model.
Stop. Take a deep breath and create room for reflection.
Acknowledge your emotions and their impact. Are they being of service or disservice to the experience you want to have.
Name the meaning of the moment. (e.g.: You’re waiting to be picked up, what does it truly mean to you and how will it effect your attitude in the moment and the rest of the day. Name the emotion: angry, frustrated, tired, grateful, going with the flow, etc.
Engage with the experiences you are having. Get curious, be flexible, realize that the more we are consciously aware of our attitudes the more able we will be to determine the meaning of the moment rather than have it determined for us.
In his truly remarkable book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Remember, you can’t find the meaning you crave if you don’t take the time to look for it.
If you’d like to look a little further, below are 5 questions related to meaning. You don’t have to share your answers with me, but if you are willing, I would find it very meaningful to know a) if you answered the questions and b) what impact they had. You can reach me at Stacey@theCoach4you.com to respond to this column or to request a complimentary coaching session, where we can spend 30-minutes on the phone discussing how you can maximize the meaning in your life.
- What is meaningful in your life now?
- What are three meaningful experiences you’ve had (In just a sentence or two, share a little as to why they were meaningful.)
- What are three meaningful relationships you’ve had or have? (In just a sentence or two, share a little as to why they were meaningful.)
- What areas of your life do you wish were more meaningful. What will you do about it?
- And now the big questions…What is the meaning of your life?