Do you live your life with purpose?
“Numerous studies have shown that people who have a sense of purpose have better health, better relationships and a higher overall sense of well-being, ” body image expert Sarah Maria writes in her book Love Your Body, Love Your Life.
So what does this have to do with body image exactly?
According to Sarah Maria, without a sense of purpose, we’re more likely to experience a poor body image, or what she terms, “negative body obsession or NBO.” Living your purpose is the last step in her book on ending NBO.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
This is how I think of it: When we’re stuck in a cycle of body bashing, something that may help us is to see the bigger picture. Your purpose is that bigger picture. For me, I get joy and purpose from my writing. It helps me realize that I’m more than my physicality. I’m more than my body. I’m more than the sum of my parts. So are you.
I was inspired by a recent post by Therese Borchard, who blogs for Beyond Blue and Psych Central (if you remember, she also shared her story with us about recovering from an eating disorder here).
Last week, Therese discussed a very simple three-step process for creating a life statement and shared hers in this video. While tutoring at the Naval Academy, Therese reviews many papers on life mission statements. The Academy’s professor of leadership has everyone create a statement in just one sentence (for wordy people like me, that’s truly a challenge!) But I love this idea.
To help you find your purpose, ask yourself these three questions:
1. Do what?
2. To whom?
3. In what ways?
My life mission statement is similar to Therese’s:
1. To inform and hopefully inspire
2. Individuals who have negative body image or disordered eating issues
3. By providing reputable information, helpful tips, comfort and compassion.
(Definitely wordy, but I promise it’s still one sentence.)
But what if your statement isn’t exactly crystal clear? Sarah Maria features several exercises in her chapter on purpose. For starters, try to identify your desires. What do you love? If you could do anything in the world, what would it be? What might you be lacking in your life? Try not to let a bad body image or other insecurities blur your vision. While asking yourself the questions, jot down some notes.
In another exercise, she suggests meditating every morning and evening and asking yourself these questions before you begin: “Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose in life? How can I help? How can I serve?”
“Be on the lookout for answers; they may come in ways you hadn’t imagined. Finding your purpose sometimes simply entails becoming increasingly aware of opportunities that present themselves. It might not be a huge change or shift, such as a new career. It might simply be doing what you are currently doing with a sense of purpose, knowing that you are here for a reason, fulfilling what you were meant to fulfill.”
For me, meditation isn’t easy. In addition to my life purpose, I’ll be thinking about what to eat for dinner, what topics I can write about for Weightless, what gifts I need to get, what time it is…and so on. Zen Habits has a great post on meditation for beginners.
Have too many ideas? Taken too many paths? I set out to be a clinical psychologist but realized my passion was writing about mental health and body image. It wasn’t the perfect path but so what. I learned a great deal and my grad program was an incredible experience. A perfect single path is as unrealistic as our quest for perfection with our bodies.
On her Psychology Today blog, wellness expert Susan Biali, M.D., talks about the many different paths she took and what she’s learned:
In my life I started out determined to become a Solid Gold Dancer, but later abandoned that dream and followed a largely unplanned and very windy path: I became a (rather inept) gymnast and gymnastics coach, studied physics, studied kinesiology/human mechanics, modeled (rather unsuccessfully) for a while, got a degree in Dietetics, became a medical doctor, got into an Emergency Medicine residency, quit that residency and became a GP, became a salsa dancer, became a flamenco dancer, started a photography business, almost completed my first novel, became a travel writer, became a health writer, became an inspirational writer, planned to move to Italy, moved to Mexico, began working as a life coach, became a professional speaker, became a non-fiction self-help book author…and that’s just a brief summary, missing lots of details and other equally improbable tangents.
When you look at everything I’ve sampled in life, you can imagine why I often thought I was hopelessly lost. Yet when I look back now, it’s all perfect. Each sudden change in direction made an important contribution to the person I am today, by providing me with a unique skill, knowledge or experience that I now use today to help myself and others. The twists and turns in my life set the stage for the contribution that I’m now making to the world, a contribution and a role that I now appreciate as being uniquely mine.
If you’re blessed with tons of different ideas or talents, celebrate them rather than bending to pressure to “just pick one”. If you’ve got lots of different interests, and almost as many diplomas or degrees, embrace all the different things you know. As you give each unique aspect of you room to be, to breathe and to express itself, you’ll find that some naturally fall away, while others stick and become an essential part of you and your path. Each of us is unique: don’t compare yourself to others, unless there’s something about a person or their life that resonates with and inspires you.
I’ve found that living my way into my passion and purpose has been a process and a journey, not a single “aha” moment. I do have those, but I usually think that a certain “aha” is going to take me to a certain destination, and I end up in another place entirely. There’s one thing I can always bet on, though: that unexpected destination turns out to be far better for me than the original one I might have planned. It may not always come in an appealing package, but it’s always good for my development and my life.
So what’s your life mission statement? What is your bigger picture? Has a negative body image ever stopped you from realizing your dreams? I’d love to hear your thoughts!