Your client wants to find more meaning in life. They have a yearning for a life of greater purpose. Yet they struggle to identify what that might be. So they turn to you. How can you help them build the meaningful life that they want? Here are 10 ideas for guiding your client to insight around what has meaning for them.
1. ASKING THE INNER CHILD
In childhood, there tend to be fewer obligations on us in how we spend our time. This sadly isn’t true for all clients, but there is often more freedom in how we spend our time as children. Those long summer holidays when we have time to spare and we decide to do things simply because we feel like.
As adults, we still keep those interests but can disconnect from them. What were they? Take your client on a journey through the ages of childhood. What did they do just because they felt like – when they were aged 5, 9, 13, 16?
Their child knew what felt meaningful to them and followed it. Adulthood, with all its responsibilities, separates us from this core knowledge. Returning to our childhood self can provide some answers as to what we may find meaningful now.
2. What is most meaningful today?
I like to assume that what the client wants is already showing up to some extent. Our clients are smart and they tend to be creating what they want already, even if only a little. Ask what are the moments in their present life that already have elements of the meaning they want? It is useful to note that life is not devoid of meaning, but just has less than they would like. Noticing what parts of their current life are already meaningful provides valuable clues. It helps them identify what they may like to do more of to expand that sense of meaning.
3. When has life been most meaningful?
Assume once more that your client has some ability to generate what they are looking for. This time, assume that there have been times in the client’s life that have provided a sense of meaning. Enquire about those moments. Ask what was so meaningful about them. If those meaningful moments could be brought back into life, what would that look like?
4. Find the flow
There are certain activities and preoccupations that result in us losing a sense of time. Think of the painter so engrossed in their art that they postpone lunch because they can’t tear themselves away. These are known as flow moments. This may be walking the hills or playing with their children or writing a song or whatever it may be. Either now, or in the past, we have all had them. What become flow moments for your client?
5. Goals into values
The goals we set provide useful clues as to what we value. A meaningful life may be described as living a life true to our values. So what kind of goals does your client set? If they don’t tend to set goals, what would they set in such an exercise? Look at different areas of life and ask what kind of goals they may choose to set if they decided to. They don’t have to be held to these goals. It’s just a playful exercise. The key is to translate the goals into values by making the reason for that goal eternal.
A goal is short term. Values are forever. Think of it this way – once this goal is achieved, what is the value that still stands. If, for instance, I decide that I want to run 10k, what is the value that the goal meets? Perhaps the value states: I am a person who values my physical health. Values are useful as, once the goal is done, I can choose new goals that meet the value. They help translate our transitory impulses into something lasting and meaningful.
6. Future scape a good day
Suppose that tomorrow was a meaningful day. What would that look like? If your client went to bed at night and felt the satisfaction of a meaningful day, what would they be looking back on? This exercise is best when it gets into granular detail. So start at the beginning of the day and lead them through from moment to moment. If a “meaningful day” feels too heavy, switch it to a “good day.” A good day will offer a lot of clues to what the client finds meaningful.
7. Find meaning in daily actions
Why do we do what we do? It can be argued that there is meaning hidden in all that we do. Why am I writing this now instead of doing something else? Clearly, I find it meaningful to help my colleagues if I can do so. Why does a client sit in traffic to take their child to a better yet more distant school than the one on their doorstep? Clearly, they find it important that their child has a good education. “When you did x, what does it tell us about what is important to you? What does it reveal that you care deeply about?” The answers reveal a lot about what the client finds meaningful.
8. the financial freedom question
The need to make a living is one of life’s great distorters. We can find ourselves spending large chunks of our time solely because it will result in the money we need to survive. It can conceal other things that are meaningful to us. Ask the client to imagine that their current financial needs are taken over by some sort of lottery win. They don’t get a lump sum. But every month, their current financial needs are taken care of. How would they spend their time? What would they do with life now that they don’t have to do things for money?
9. Something bigger than ourselves
Many people find meaning by being part of something bigger than themself. Even the act of caring for a pet is shown to be therapeutic. In the same way, every therapist has surely experienced that moment of feeling down, only to be lifted by a day of serving our clients. If your client were to be part of some endeavour that was bigger than themself, what might that be for them?
10. Removing the barriers
My belief is that our clients are smart. Often, they will already know what is purposeful. They may express it as “I want to live a more meaningful life.” But that doesn’t necessarily assume that they don’t know what a more meaningful life looks like. You may find that even the slightest of enquiries reveals a clear description of what they find meaningful.
In these instances, what they really mean is “I know what a meaningful life looks like, but there is something in the way of me living it.”
If this is the case, we don’t need to help them clarify their vision or connect with what is meaningful. We need to help them overcome the barrier that is stopping them from stepping into that life. This is what I call The Monster In The Corridor Problem. There is something you want in the next room, but in order to get it you have to go through a corridor where a monster lives.
This often shows up in ways that therapists may refer to as “resistance”. To help with this, you can follow my 4 step process that reliably discovers the barrier so you can work on that instead.
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