As we mentioned last week, purpose is our pathway to the good life; thrivelihood. This week, we’ll discuss one of the main benefits of purpose: to make us resilient and alter our perspective during the decision-making process in a way that guides us toward action.1
The following quote from last week’s post (Intro to Purpose) sums up this idea nicely:
“He who has a why to live for can bear any how.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Purpose provides us with these reasons why. These reasons increase our ability to continue on our chosen path through any challenge or hardship. Increased ability to persist through adversity is what resiliency is.
In this way, purpose has the ability to act as an extremely powerful resource. In a previous post, we introduced a mathematical representation for resiliency. This ratio is our resources divided by our stressors.
r = resiliency
Rp = perceived cumulative strength of resources
Sp = perceived cumulative strength of stressors
When we introduce a clear and strong purpose into that system, the result is often an increase in the numerator (resources) and a decrease in the denominator (stressors), indicating a corresponding increase in resilience.2
So purpose makes us more resilient. But how, exactly? As we’ll see below, purpose makes us resilient by changing our interpretation of the pros and cons of any decision in our life.
Whenever we practice decision-making we typically do some form of weighing pros and cons, consciously or otherwise. We are often aware of the perceived benefits we are after when considering an action, and we contrast that with the potential drawbacks of that action. If we examine the weighing process closely enough, we’ll notice that all our reasons fall into four categories:
- Pros of Action
- Cons of Action
- Pros of Inaction
- Cons of Inaction
Notice that Items 1 and 4 make us want to take action, whereas Items 2 and 3 give us reason not to take action. It makes more sense to look at it like this:
How is this related? We started this writing by stating that purpose affects resiliency. Recall how we define resiliency:
“The ability to mitigate or overcome the effects of stressors on our lives.”
Purpose affects our ability to mitigate or overcome the effects of stressors on our lives. Therefore, purpose affects our resiliency.3This is because our purpose is a filter through which we examine the situations and decisions in our life. More specifically, our purpose determines how much weight we put on each aspect of decision-making.
To understand what we mean by that, let’s take a more in-depth look at the four aspects of decision-making.
Pros of Action
What are the benefits of taking this action? Will I enjoy it? Does it help me in the long term?
In this phase of decision-making, we think about all the benefits of some course of action. The reason we consider doing anything in the first place is typically for the benefit it offers. If we don’t perceive any benefit at all, we likely wouldn’t have even considered the action. However, the meaning of the word “benefit” varies from person-to-person.
For example, when deciding to switch jobs, there are many important factors to consider before making the right change. A hypothetical new job might offer a raise in pay, or perhaps a higher level of responsibility. Our purpose determines which factors of the change are important to us, and how important they are. There aren’t many of us who want piles of money for the sake of having piles of money. Usually, we are thinking about what we can do with that money, or otherwise what that money brings us.
If the purpose we have for our job is to provide security and opportunity for our family, then money might be a major consideration when making this decision. You might think about sending your kids to a better school, supplying them with better nutrition, hiring a private coach or teacher to aid in the development of a skill, or sending them to an educational summer camp. 4
However, maybe you aren’t providing for a family, you’re feeling comfortable in terms of income, and those benefits simply aren’t as important at this point in life. But maybe you love the way it feels to be a leader, organizing efforts and enabling a group of people to work more efficiently and effectively; it makes you feel significant and proud, and that’s important to you. Well, then the increased responsibility might be a strong factor, as it serves your purpose.
Whenever we consider an action or decision, we do so in terms of whether it gets us closer to or further from the life we want to live. Which is to say, we assess possibilities in the context of our purpose. The more strongly we connect with the pros of taking purposeful action, the more resilient we will be in the face of adversity.
To further understand the effects of purpose, let’s move on to another aspect of decision-making: Cons of Action.
Cons of Action
What are the possible negative consequences of taking this action? How can taking this action go wrong? Why shouldn’t I do this?
Most instances of choice involve negative consequences if things don’t turn out in our favor.5However, whether these possible, undesirable outcomes keep us from taking action is a matter of purpose and resiliency.6
In the context of finding a new job, perhaps the new job is in an extremely boring, sterile, office environment. If we deeply value creativity and energy in our lives, the idea of a spending so much time at a boring, tedious job might seem incredibly unappealing. However, if the job offers us enough additional pay that we can greatly improve our life, and the lives of family members, outside of work, perhaps we decide to accept the job anyway.7
With purpose, we gain resiliency. Specifically, the more clearly we formulate our purpose and the more strongly we connect with our purpose, the more we enable ourselves to act in spite of possible drawbacks and challenges.
The more powerful our purpose, the more resilient we become. A strong purpose can create so much value for the benefits of an action that the drawbacks are rendered as necessary, and even painless, parts of the process. This function of purpose allows us to alter the meaning of negative side-effects or outcomes to our decisions, which is vitally important to our process and ability to thrive.
Keeping the functions of purpose in mind, we will examine the remaining two aspects of decision-making.
Cons of Inaction
What are the negative consequences of not taking this action? How will it cost me to not take this action? Why can’t I afford to miss this opportunity?
A clear purpose is a picture of where we need to be in the future to live out our theme. We develop Cons of Inaction when we realize that aspects of our current path will not create the future we desire; when we realize inaction will create negative consequences down the road.
This is an important driving force in the decision-making process. Sometimes we desire change, but use rationalizations to convince ourselves to stay the safe, comfortable course we’re currently on. Cons of Inaction combat these rationalizations. Which brings us to the last quadrant: Pros of Inaction.
Pros of Inaction
How does not taking this action serve me? Why can I get away with not taking this action? What about my current life makes the status quo an acceptable alternative?
This is typically one of the strongest factors in decision-making (even if we don’t consciously address it) because it is where we find our rationalizations. If we aren’t taking action towards that which we want, it is often because we highly value the benefits of inaction, and prefer not to introduce uncertainty or discomfort.
Often times, what we perceive as drawbacks to action are not only the possibility of failing, but what we risk losing if we fail, or what we will have to sacrifice to take action in the first place. When we consider taking an action, we might think of all the time, energy, or comfort it will cost. If we greatly value the comfort of inaction, our ability to walk the purposeful path will suffer.
Pros of Inaction function as a strong anchor, tethering us to the value of our current path. Purpose allows us to shed that anchor.
Purpose in Action
Practically speaking, purpose serves to move us to action by altering each of these quadrants. In terms of each quadrant:
- Pros of Action: A strong purpose connects us to the benefits of a purposeful life, and causes us to gravitate toward taking action.
- Cons of Action: With appropriate weight given to the Pros of Action, our Cons of Action cease to be limiting factors, and become hurdles or obstacles to be surmounted or overcome. Once we have established a mindset that compels us to overcome these challenges, we have become more resilient.
- Cons of Inaction: Connecting with a strong purpose, and subsequently realizing how our current path will not get us there, can free us from the comforts that hold us back and compel us to act.
- Pros of Inaction: A strong purpose can cause us to reexamine the things in our current life that give us comfort; transforming Pros of Inaction into Cons of Inaction. This shifts the power that was previously holding us back in this quadrant, and places it firmly in a quadrant compelling us to act.
If purposeful growth is what we want, we must gain the ability to influence the value we place on each facet of decision-making.
When weighing pros and cons, we will be guided by the purpose we are most connected to. This can either be a meaningful purpose that challenges us, or a purpose that keeps us safe and secure for now. If we execute the challenging action and follow the meaningful purpose that guided us to consider this action, then we have successfully overcome any perceived Pros of Inaction and Cons of Action. However, if what we place the most value in is the benefit of not taking action (for the most part, the contentedness and comfort of our current life), we will likely favor inaction.
Consider how we often frame goals:
“I should do (goal) because (Pros of Action, or Cons of Inaction)”.
But what we don’t often say aloud are the implicit thoughts that follow:
“But, (Pros of Inaction, or Cons of Action).”
A strong purpose serves to invalidate these “buts” and allows us to perceive how they were holding us back. Once our Pros of Inaction become Cons of Inaction, we no longer say “should” in our goal, because “should” implies reticence on our part; that we “might not” or “won’t” because of something else. Purpose allows us to assemble our motivations and reasons in a way that propels us forward along our chosen path.
With a strong purpose, our path ahead is clear; there is no indecision. There is no should; only must. There is no hesitation; only action.
To wrap it all up, purpose is perhaps THE strongest factor affecting our ability to take action in our lives. As we’ve seen, it can give us cause to find our courage and persevere through adversity, giving us a form of resiliency. However, a strong, clear purpose can go far beyond simply withstanding stressors in pursuit of realizing that purpose. Purpose can change the very meaning we assign to events in our lives, transform limiting beliefs into empowering beliefs, and freeing us to act unimpeded and enthusiastically.
While this may have seemed long in terms of our posts, it’s still only part of the picture. Stay tuned for next week when we dive deeper into the purpose of purpose.